Big Hero 6 / **** ½

big_hero_6_film_posterOver the last few years, I’ve gotten a reputation among my friends for being a bit grouchy and dismissive of the whole “Marvel Cinematic Universe” thing. And they’re not wrong, but what I say less is how disappointed I am that I don’t enjoy the MCU more. I grew up loving comic books – especially the X-Men – and so I should be right in the prime audience for the MCU. But as each new movie has come out, and have felt less and less interesting – and more and more interchangeable and generic – I found myself giving up on the whole thing.

All of which brings me to Big Hero 6, which is a Marvel movie at least in spirit, if not quite in canon. Based on an obscure Marvel property (one review I read said that Marvel had forgotten that they even owned the rights to it), Big Hero 6 bears the Marvel stamps, but without being tied into the MCU, and with the freedom that comes from being the property of Disney Animation. And so, while Big Hero 6 still has some of the Marvel staples – a tragic origin story, a theatrical villain, a requisite cameo (of sorts) – it feels not so much like the other Marvel films as it does itself, and that’s a step in the right direction – especially when that vision of itself is so much fun.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Big Hero 6 has such an interesting world to play in. Set in an alternate near future where San Francisco has been partially rebuilt and funded by Japanese investors and technology, the film wastes no time in diving into its setting, kicking things off with underground bot battling for money. From there, we rocket ahead with our tale, finding ourselves in a technology institute with college students on the verge of changing the world with lasers, chemicals, and more. And we see it all through young hero, well, Hiro – a precocious, gifted teenager who graduated at an early age and drifts through life without much purpose, until his brother shows him the wonders of life in an incredibly well-funded research lab.

In many ways, much of Big Hero 6 feels like a throwback to the original Iron Man; after all, both are about gifted, cocky characters whose gifts for science allow them to push the boundaries of technology and inadvertently create heroes. But what Big Hero 6 brings to the table is a sense of wonder and imagination, a feat assisted by its animated medium, which eliminates the usual restrictions of budget and effects. Instead, the film is free to create whatever it wants, and its use of nanobots ends up being a blast, creating something fluid and nearly sentient out of the technology. And, of course, there’s Baymax, the medical robot turned lackadaisical superhero, whose charming nature and calming voice bring both a hilarious sense of humor and a much needed dose of levity to a genre that too often takes itself overly seriously.

Sure, in broad strokes, you’ve seen this story before. There’s an awful tragedy, and as a result of that, characters are forced into growth, finding in themselves a heroic side that they weren’t aware of. Meanwhile, a mysterious villain – motivated by revenge, naturally – is using some of our heroes’ own research and ideas against them. And it all comes down to a big, theatrical final confrontation (though luckily it avoids the usual “big beam of light into the sky” trope that’s been plaguing comic book movies).

And yet, I keep coming back to just how fun the whole thing is, and how it reminded me of what I loved about comics as a kid. It wasn’t always the plotting and the characters, though I loved that; it was the style, the action, the sense of glee at being “special”. And Big Hero 6 cashes in on that in spades, even going so far as to letting one of its characters be a gleeful fanboy who’s just excited to fight. And when it does get serious? It works pretty well, engaging with the emotions of loss and revel more thoughtfully than I expected.

In a lot of ways, Big Hero 6 is nothing special – another superhero movie, another kids movie about a misfit with a lovable sidekick, another unlikely hero story. And yet, there’s something really winning about the film, which gives us all of that, but does it in an interesting world, with good characters, a nice sense of style, a sense of humor and fun, and makes itself feel like its own product instead of another piece of a multi-part crossover event that you’ll finally see in ten years. In short, it’s a blast, and I’m glad I finally sat down and saw it.


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