Monday, February 2, 2015

Movie Review: Big Hero 6


I can occasionally be heard to complain that I don't get to watch grown up movies at the cinema very often, due to a mix of the need to sort out babysitters on the one hand, and the fact that our 12-year-old is keen to come with us whenever possible on the other. It's not the hardest problem we face, and the dominance of 12A action movies in the summer months mean we still see a lot of the big films, but it does relegate the "grown up" films to DVD nights, which can be a shame. Especially when awards season comes around and all the cinema billboards are full of films I'm sure I'll like when I see them 9 months time. But then occasionally you troop into the cinema half-filled with kids and get to see a film that is just as affecting and serious as anything vying for that Oscar nonsense, it's just disguised under -  in this case - brightly coloured Carbon Fiber plating. 

Big Hero 6 is on the face of it a story about a boy and his robot, who takes to fighting crime with his equally brightly-coloured friends. Hiro looks like a pretty standard protagonist, too - spiky hair and a glib attitude, smart beyond his years. The robot, Baymax, is a cuddly balloon of a thing that evolves into a sort of Iron Man clone, and the main storyline hits a lot of familiar beats. In fact, its been interesting that a lot of critics have felt some sort of obligation to "yes, but" the film, pointing to the presence of action and fight sequences, a predictable final reveal for the villain, and so on. To be honest it's a little bit like my dad complaining that the rock music I like all sounds the same, which as any Rock fan can tell you, all that noise disguises a massive amount of quality and variety. 

It also misses the point that at a PG certificate, Big Hero 6 is talking to a very different audience that the vast majority of super-hero flicks are. Our eldest will be 13 when Age of Ultron hits (due to happy timing it may even be a birthday treat) and I expect that any depth and subtext it has will be heavily skewed older, like much of it's audience. It'll also be loud and overpowering and scary, and not the sort of thing that our super-hero obsessed 5 year old is going to get to see. However down at the PG rating a film can still be meaningful, and scary, but has to do it in a different way, with a different set of skills. 

So Big Hero 6 is a warm film with bright colours and a lot of the sort of action that holds your attention whilst it lets deeper themes run in the background. It certainly owes a lot to its spiritual predecessor, The Iron Giant, by making the central dynamic between Hiro and Baymax, and certainly lifts a couple of moments from that earlier playbook. Baymax, however, is a wonderful creation; the absolute star of the movie both in his cuddly form and the more powered up, ass-kicking version later on that never loses sight of who, deep down he is and what he was intended to be. 

It's also a film about grief and loss in a way that you rarely seen addressed in kids films. The closest is (obviously) Up, but a grown man's pain is maybe harder for kids to understand than Hiro's story here, even if it may not punch the adults quite so hard in the heart. The film sets up Hiros brother Tadashi much more conventionally, and he's around for much longer, than Ellie, but for a younger audience he's more real, and absence more felt. Hiro's pain becomes one of the central emotional pillars of the film, and therefore his growing bond with Baymax ever more important. 

The rest of the cast do stay pretty peripheral, although they're all pretty great creations. The action sequences I mentioned earlier are outstanding, clear and fluid, with the strong colour-themed designs helping you keep track of everyone. The villain - themed black, of course, with his wave of nano-machines, is eeriest in his early, silent appearances but the final confrontation is still pretty strong with moments for all the supporting cast and a great message about thinking your way around the fight. 

And yes, right at the end, I teared up. Big Hero 6 is a film about a robot made mostly of air that nevertheless has weight, and depth, all from it's huge, and very human, heart. 

"I am satisfied with my care."