So, today I went and saw Big Hero 6 with some friends of mine. Here is my little review on it. I’m trying to be fairly spoiler free, but as always, I can’t promise my idea of spoiler free is the same as yours. Keep that in mind and be warned.
The good, the bad and the ugly: first off, the film is beautiful and a ton of laughs with the right heartstrings being plucked, etc. I also love the obligatory Stan Lee cameo, which I won’t spoil, just stay after the film and watch your jaw drop. That said, if you’re a comic purist, stay away from this one, or at least try and forget that it is a comic movie. Big Hero 6 the comic team and Big Hero 6 the film have only a passing resemblance. It’s not even set in the same city (in fact, they made up a city just for the film, for reasons that I don’t entirely understand, but more on that later). As for the ugly? Well….honestly, that one is going to take at least a paragraph to sum up, so let’s get into the review proper, shall we?
So, let me start with saying that I consider myself a bit of a comic buff, though not so much of one that I remembered the team prior to sitting down. These things happen, and Big Hero 6 really didn’t have a huge following prior to the film anyway (though they did have a Spiderman team up in End of the World, and I loved it, even if it was rather truncated). That said, I’m honestly kinda afraid that those who watch the film might try and go after the comics.
The two are so different that it almost feels like they were pandering to the IP like Marvel did with The Wolverine, rather than actually trying to bring their story to a larger audience. The cast is different, almost all of them have a vastly different backstory if nothing else, and several characters have their powerset changed even. Granted, the changes did make some awesome heroes (GoGo Tomago becoming more like Ricochet made for some awesome visual effects, for instance) but some left me really going “why”, such as Fred(zilla). Granted, some of those changes, I think, are because of Marvel’s bizarre thing about keeping power sources limited to one type at a time outside of Avengers (in this case, they’re all Science/Technology type heroes, instead of a mixed bag including several tech types, an alien (sort of), a Qi user and so on). Granted, yes, this makes exposition time much shorter as you don’t have to explain things, but honestly, I think we would have swallowed “I never told anyone this, but I can turn into a giant kaiju” as an acceptable answer as well, and simply left it at that.
So, HUGE changes there, hence my previous statement about needing to think of it as something other than the Marvel Comics version. It isn’t, they have a lot of the same names (Wassabi-no-Ginger had his name truncated, but I honestly don’t mind), and they do look kinda similar (most of the time) but that’s about the end of it. Instead of Japan’s version of S.H.I.E.L.D. (or possibly H.A.M.M.E.R., depending on how you look at things), these are just a bunch of college kids (and one 14 year old super-genius) trying to do the right thing. Honestly, no qualms about the story archetype, it’s part of what I love about Spiderman himself, and to be faithful to the actual origin of BH6 would easily have bumped it up from a cute all ages superhero story into a dark tale about bad choices and their consequences (I mean come on, the first villain in the comics is literally the embodiment of the people killed from the nuclear assault on Japan in World War 2). Not likely a good fiscal move, really, which I can respect.
Instead what we get is a much more kid friendly film about loss, dealing with said loss, and reaching for the sky. It’s cute, sure, but it’s also fun and has some Incredibles style butt kicking, so all around good fun. Honestly, as long as you can get the comics out of your mind for a few hours, definitely worth a watch.
Now, about that ugly though: here’s my one big gripe on the film. Big Hero 6 (the comic) is set in Japan, and you can tell that they wanted to keep this frame of reference through the film, which I actually like. What I don’t like though is how they pander to do it. Instead of just going with setting the film straight up out of Japan, they instead set it in “San Fransokyo”, and no, I didn’t make that one up. It’s basically what you’d get if you mixed San Francisco with Tokyo, and makes very little logical sense. Just about every time I was confronted with the name it just completely dropped me out of emersion. Why is it called San Fransokyo? What happened that would create this fusion city, presumably in the USA? Doing some internet searching tells me that it was done intentionally because they wanted it to be a mashup between Tokyo (where the original story was set) and San Francisco in the same way that Marvel and Disney were mashing up to make the film, but honestly, I suspect it had less to do with that and more to do with trying to market a kid’s film like that set entirely in Japan with Japanese frames of reference was again, going to hurt the bottom line when it came to ticket sales, but setting it in America would not have that problem, BUT the entire setting was already built as a Japanese setting, and it would cost to much to change all the dialog and art pieces to represent normal America. The set pieces rarely (if ever) truly seem American, just generic Southeast Asian. Oh, except for the beds (typical Japanese houses use futons instead, but even those are being phased out due to the extra work they take).
As good of a film it is, there’s just a lot of moments like that where it makes my brain wonder if they didn’t have some sort of IP issue with the Big Hero 6 brand name that making a film would help correct, so it had to be Big Hero 6, but instead of giving it a good Marvel treatment like Phase 1 films did, this one is instead entirely cut to the bottom line. So, in the end, I don’t really know what to make of it on that sort of a meta level. Maybe it’s just because they knew it was so obscure (in an interview, Don Hall does remark that it might be THE most obscure Marvel comic in fact) so they figured they could cut the corners. Or maybe they did the film in preparation for a new Big Hero 6 launch with a rewrite to match it more closely to the movie’s story rather than the original late 90s comic, honestly I don’t know on this one.
Bottom line though, it’s a kid safe, tons of fun film that plays into the same all-ages pocket as Incredibles, Shrek and Bolt. A darling film to the kids, with enough adult moments that even mom and dad will enjoy it without getting bored.
I hope the review was useful to you. As always, if you have any thoughts of your own, or just want to bash me for completely missing some fact or another, or just want to say hi, feel free to hit me up in the comments below.
The Ranting Loon