Note: An early twist in the film is discussed. It is in some of the promotional material for the film.
The problems of cramming long-form comic book storytelling into a feature length film plague Big Hero 6. The slow-building origin story takes up over half of the film’s runtime. The heroes don’t suit up for the first time until the halfway point of the film. By the end of the film, only two of the six titular heroes have gone on any sort of personal character arc. There’s too much story crammed into the film’s modest runtime.
Hiro (Ryan Potter) is a brilliant pre-teen who spends his tech-savvy mind competing in illegal robot fights. Tadashi (Daniel Henney), his older brother, tries to show him another way by taking him to the local university. Hiro is left in awe of all the advanced science projects and aspires to join the school by demonstrating an astounding idea. But at the actual demonstration, a fire breaks out that kills Tadashi.
And this is one of several call to actions that culminate in Hiro teaming up with his brother’s medical robot Baymax and hunting down a mysterious figure who has stolen Hiro’s technology. Big Hero 6 gets off to a laboriously slow start to the point that the other four members of the team (unversity students who worked with Tadashi) don’t team up with Hiro until around the halfway point of the film.
What this allows the story to do is become an effective tale about the process of grief. Hiro goes through different phases of processing his brother’s death. Depression turns to anger and hatred when Hiro discovers someone might be responsible for his brother’s death. And how Hiro deals with that anger and hatred and how other people relate to it is one of the film’s strongest points. Big Hero 6 is an emotionally mature look at grief and anger, far more mature than films targeting older audiences that often use the same plot points and emotions to fuel shallow revenge fantasies instead of actually coming to grips with and exploring the full range of grief.
In order for the film to explore this theme, it has to dedicate itself to the Hiro character and his relationship to Baymax to the point that the film’s final ensemble feels week. At best, Fred (T.J. Miller), Go Go (Jamie Chung), Wasabi (Damon Wayans Jr.) and Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez) are colorful personalities. They never get solid character moments or have any personal growth. It’s not a unique problem, the early X-Men films faced the same problem of being Rogue/Wolverine films with other characters being static for most of the series.
Another interesting, sadly undeveloped is the film’s depiction of science. Hiro starts out using his scientific skill to build robots for battle. Tadashi shows him another way with the amazing, advanced ways in which science can be used for bigger things to benefit society. For a while, Hiro applies himself to this idea. Ss the film becomes more and more of a superhero story, it the film swings farther back towards the idea of using technology for battle.
Baymax remains a reminder of the idea of using technology for the benefit of humanity, constantly questioning Hiro’s attempts to turn him into a weapon. Even once Baymax is essentially a weapon, he continues to challenge Hiro’s use of him as as weapon and it remains an interesting and complicated tensions for most of the film.
In spite of a lot of these nagging flaws, Big Hero 6 is a solid film. It’s great sense of humor, big heart, and look at grief make for a film that works in spite of numerous flaws. Big Hero 6 accentuates the greatest flaws of many of the ensemble superhero films while simultaneously being much better than many similar superhero.
© 2014 James Blake Ewing