Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Movie Review: Big Hero 6

One of the fun things about watching TV shows and cartoons from Japan is to see their unique take on Western culture. They are experts in taking very common Western ideas such as superheroes, Christianity, and science fiction and giving them an incredibly fresh and fun spin. While Big Hero 6 is an American production, it is based on an idea by Man of Action (creators of Ben 10) who have a healthy dose of Japanese influence in their work.

Big Hero 6 is a computer-generated, action, adventure, comedy, science fiction, family film produced by Walt Disney Animation inspired by an obscure Marvel Comic created by Man of Action. It is rated PG and is appropriate for all ages.

The Good

Approach. Superheroes are big, and so you see a lot of people jumping on that bandwagon. Unfortunately, most of those attempts end up little more than love letters to the Silver Age of comics or a bad pastiche of the 1966 Adam West Batman (such as the Disney Pixar film The Incredibles). Big Hero 6 avoids the overused cliches and goes the route of a Japanese reimagining of superheroes like the anime Tiger & Bunny or Science Team Gatchaman. While it isn't the most original idea, it is a refreshing change with many more possibilities. The characters have new powers such as the magnetic discs, laser blades, a medical droid, and a fire breathing mascot suit instead of the usual stretching, flying, super strong, and freezing powers.

Production Design. The designers cleverly merged Tokyo with San Francisco creating a new world called San Fransokyo with the best of both worlds seamlessly combined into a world that is both familiar and fantastical. And the robot designs were a nice change from the usual mecha or homage to the 30s and 40s. The visuals were probably the strongest aspect of the film.

Characters. While the characters begin as usual cardboard stereotypes that regularly appear in this type of show (a White kid, a Black kid, an Asian girl, a mexican girl, a super capable protagonist who is living below his potential, a silly girl, and an angry girl who can fight). Fortunately they leave their "types" behind and become much more likable and unique. While none of them are groundbreaking in their characterizations, they stay far enough away from stereotype representations of their respective cultures and instead act like a group of normal friends would.

Action. The action was fun and really good for a family film. The super powers were ones we don't see often, and the robots acted in ways we don't usually see robots act which was nice.

The Bad

Story. The story followed the usual pattern and character arcs you see in every cgi film these days. While it wasn't boring, so much more could have been done.

Ending. I saw the ending coming from pretty early on. There were several twists, none of which were shocking or unexpected. Even the cameo by Stan Lee after the credits was so strongly foreshadowed by his portrait that it lost a lot of the punch it could have had.

Jokes. The little children in the theater were laughing hysterically for large parts of the movie, but for those of us over twelve, the jokes weren't as clever or as funny as they could have been. For such a fresh approach and brilliant production design, the jokes were a major letdown.

The Villain. The villain had a really cool visual look and a great power. Unfortunately they do so little with him that you're left shaking your head at yet another squandered bit of greatness. And the "twist" of who is and why he became a villain are so cliched and overdone.

Animated Short. One thing I love about Jonh Lasseter being in charge of Disney Animation is his love for animation and its rich history. So many wonderful shorts have been created under his guidance breaking new ground and trying out new ideas. From an artistic and technical standpoint, the animated short about a man's life and relationships as seen thru the eyes of a dog was successful. From an entertainment point of view, I could have done without it. I've never been a fan of computer-generated 3-D animation rendered in a flat cell style, and this short did nothing to change my mind. Another lost opportunity.

What I Would Like to Have Seen

I would have liked to see more creativity. While there were some funny jokes, the plot followed a pretty typical pattern with the expected emotional arcs and reveals we see in almost every animated family movie. Guardians of the Galaxy showed us you can deviate from the usual script, do something completely different and original, and still have a major hit. I wish others would take the risk. And the villain had such a strong visual look and such a cool superpower that made for a few cool action scenes, but so much more could have been done. And the redemption at the end was kind of weak.


Overall, Big Hero 6 was a thoroughly entertaining movie that will delight young and old. It is a refreshing take on the superhero genre. While the story was nothing special and the "twists" at the end predictable from pretty early on, the production design was a visual treat, the action pretty fun, and the characters likable. I give it a solid 4 boxes of popcorn out of 5.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Movie Review: The Maze Runner

I'm a big Teen Wolf fan. I never miss an episode. So when one of the cast, Stiles, showed up in a movie, I decided to go see it even though the previews weren't that good. And really, Stiles is the only reason to go see the movie.

The Maze Runner is a 2014 science fiction, dystopian future, action thriller based on a young adult novel of the same name that is the first in a trilogy. It is rated PG-13 for language and intense scenes. It is appropriate for tweens and up.

The Good

Dylan O'Brian (Stiles). Dylan O'Brian is a good actor and very likable guy and the main reason for going to the movie. He played the main character Thomas and did an excellent job making you feel the terror, frustration, and bit of hope that the character goes thru. Without him, the movie wouldn't be worth watching.

The Action. The movie had a good number of action scenes with several very tense moments that kept me on the edge of my seat. They were filmed well enough to generate the tension without being confusing as to what was going on.

Mihno. Mihno is a runner who ends up partnering with Thomas to explore the maze surrounding the Glade to find a way out. He starts out being a generic figure but shows enough bravery and skill to be memorable and interesting.

Newt. Newt is the second in command and

Pace. This movie has a dark and heavy feeling but moves along quickly enough to keep it from dragging.

The Bad

Alby. Alby is the token black figurehead that shows up in almost every movie and TV show for the last decade and a half (revised Nick Fury in Marvel's Avengers, the captain in Castle, the first boss on Bones, the President in 24, and every comic book from John Byrne). And like most token figureheads, this one is a dull, boring, cardboard cutout that displays no intelligence or skill worthy of being the leader. Supposedly he survived in the Glade all by himself for a month, and yet the writers forgot to give him any sort of skill or ability that would make that possible. He also doesn't show good judgment nor the charisma to attract followers. He is pure propaganda.

The Villain. The main antagonist is a generic bully character who picks on Thomas from the first scene until the very end. He is never developed as anything more than an ignorant bully who refuses to break out of his traditions or dogma. He isn't likable or hatable. He's just annoying and more propaganda.

Twist at the end. While the twists at the end were completely unexpected, they also negated the point of the whole movie reducing it to little more than a prologue with the real movie coming in the sequel. It cheapened the whole experience and was a dissatisfying payoff for sitting thru the whole movie.

What I Would Like to Have Seen

I would have enjoyed more substance to the movie. The film makers spent too much time showing how confused people were and suggesting that there is some big secret without ever giving the audience anything until the very end. And then when we do get a hint at the big secret at the end, it isn't very satisfying. I'm not all that excited to see the sequel scheduled for next year.


Overall the movie was entertaining to watch once, but I would never sit thru it again. It tries too hard to be mysterious and intense with insufficient payoff at the end and a twist that negates what little good there was. Other than Dylan O'Brian, the characters aren't interesting and the plot the pretty thin. Still, Dylan O'Brian does a brilliant job and the actions scenes are exciting. I give it a 3 out of 5 boxes of popcorn.