A Broadened Horizon

Recently I started getting into Marvel movies. (Yes, I know. Next decade I’m going to discover video streaming services. You’ll want to be around then.) I had been aware of them for years, like everyone else on the planet, and I had even been induced to watch a few. They were very close to me, the people who persuaded me to try Marvel, and so they didn’t mind that I brought my laptop to the experience. It proved an excellent diversion.

The subtle drift of all this is that I am not what marketing specialists would call “the target audience.” The whole idea of superheroes, comic books, and comic book superhero movies left me cold. I thought it all a little goofy, a little too cartoonish: the costumes, the tights, the poundingly obvious names. These prejudices – and that is what they were, because they were not based on any substantive experience with the thing itself – these prejudices deadened my interest.

Nor, in truth, did my initial viewings jump-start it. The movies were not terrible, of course, but neither were they anything I felt impelled to see. The fighting scenes, with their 84,000 punches thrown, seemed interminable and the movies altogether too long (though in fairness, most movies are these days). I thought the franchise put a premium on action over character and wittiness over profundity. I think much the same now; at least, these are the weaknesses to which the franchise trends, and some movies surrender more to them than others.

But if my estimation of the franchise’s weaknesses is the same, my estimation of its strengths has changed. I will say the movies are more enjoyable once you piece things together and your brain stops going What so much. The talent invested in them is plainly enormous, much like the budget. But what I came most to appreciate – the true inspiration of my newfound interest – was the Cap and Loki. I may be cold to the appeal of comic books, and I may be bored by explosions and CGI monsters, but I love good characters. The Cap is my favorite kind of hero. Loki is my favorite kind of villain – and my favorite kind of anti-villain, and my favorite kind of anti-hero. Once invested in the characters, I want to know the story; I want to see the movies.

A happy fact to be drawn from all this: It is possible to overcome a viewer’s (or reader’s) prejudices and even, to some extent, his natural tastes through excellency. Good for creators, because they can win unlikely admirers; good for the rest of us, because we can have our horizons broadened to new enjoyment. Snobs think that superior taste is proved by its narrowness, but some things are gained by the wider view.

It’s a limited grace. Natural tastes can only be stretched so far, and defied even less. All my enjoyment of Thor: Dark World has not translated into a twitch of interest in Captain Marvel. I will never be a Marvel enthusiast, but I am showing up.

Even if it’s mostly for Loki’s beautiful face. And the Cap’s.

Review: Big Hero 6

If you really want to get the bad guy, it’s logical to conclude you need a hero. You might further conclude, especially if you’re fourteen, that you need a superhero.

But to go from there to creating a superhero? For that, you need adolescent logic combined with genius-level skill. So enter, stage-right, Hiro Hamada, the protagonist of Disney’s just-released Big Hero 6.

I’ve never had much interest in superheroes; I don’t know why, although I suspect it’s related to why I never cared for comic books. But I knew I wanted to see Big Hero 6, due in large part to my memories of The Incredibles and Frozen. (This makes sense. Frozen was a Disney computer-animated movie, and it was very good; The Incredibles was a computer-animated superhero movie, and it was excellent; Big Hero 6 is a Disney computer-animated superhero movie. See? It follows.)

From the very beginning, Big Hero 6 exhibits its blended nature. It’s a superhero film, yes, but beneath the flash and action is an essentially sci-fi framework. The city of San Fransokyo – a delicious mesh of Tokyo and San Francisco – and elements such as bot-fighting create a world that is near to ours and yet misses it entirely. This may be the future, and it may be an alternate universe, but either way, it’s sci-fi. The story brings even “harder” sci-fi concepts into play, anchoring deeper into science fiction and eventually leading to one of the film’s most imaginatively beautiful moments.

The characters are likable (especially Tadashi) and often quirky (especially Wasabi and, uh, Fred). As in Frozen, a sibling relationship is the linchpin of the story. But here the relationship is less complex and far more positive. It’s also brother/brother, which I mention to bring up something I’ve long wondered about: Why, on those unusual occasions when sibling relationships really are important in a story, are they almost always brother/brother, or sister/sister, and not sister/brother?

There’s a dose of tragedy in Big Hero 6 – nothing new in that, even for a so-called “family movie”, but the movie digs deeper and darker than normal. It deals strongly, though with a light hand, in themes of revenge. The movie also raises the old comfort that “He lives on in our hearts” – a standard consolation when people want to provide some assurance of continuing life but don’t want to bring up heaven. But Big Hero 6 breaks form to portray dissatisfaction with the comfort: “He’s gone” – a simple counterpoint, simply expressed, but true and right at the heart of the matter.

Not that the movie seeks comfort in heaven, or that dissatisfaction is disbelief. All truths can seem like platitudes in the face of death, and to believe is not always to be comforted. But it was a sad moment and an honest one, and it felt almost subversive.

More than anything else, Big Hero 6 is a movie of enormous creativity. From the futuristic (or AU) world of San Fransokyo to a glimpse of what I can only imagine to be some sort of fourth dimension; from the robots and other tech to the incredible CGI that brought them to full glory – the cleverness of this movie is wonderful.

And so, for that matter, is its heart. As Big Hero 6 follows Tangled and Frozen, I think we’re on the wave of the third Disney Renaissance.