Philosophy, Film, Politics, Etc.

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Unintended Irony of Birdman and Big Hero 6

Birdman, Oscar's Best Picture of 2014, is a satire of Hollywood's lack of artistic gravitas.  The primary target is the dark hole of superhero films that attracts much of the industry's money and talent.  Birdman goes out of its way to repeatedly poke fun at superhero movies.  And yet, the Oscar for Best Animated Feature went to Big Hero 6 . . . a superhero movie.  Who said the Academy had to be consistent?


I just watched Big Hero 6 and enjoyed a lot of it.  Yet, it suffers from all of the problems that often plague superhero movies.  It is the perfect example of the sort of film that Birdman is making fun of.  (Warning:  the rest of this post contains major spoilers.)

The hero (subtly named "Hiro"), a thirteen-year-old boy of limited means, somehow manages to produce thousands of tiny 'microbots,' and gear for controlling them directly through his thoughts.  It's not even so ridiculous that he could come up with a way to build such things--it's that he actually was able to build them.  But okay, he does.  Absurd, but let's move on.

He builds them and shows them off, because he wants to impress the head of a school:  Callaghan, who is duly impressed and convinces Hiro to bring the new technology to his school for further research.  To repeat, Callaghan--who is in charge of what may be the most advanced technological research academy in the world--has successfully convinced Hiro to bring the tech to his school.  This would put this new technology in Callaghan's hands.  Callaghan wants the technology in order to exact some twisted revenge fantasy.  So what does Callaghan do?  He destroys one of the buildings at his school, fakes his own death and steals the technology.  He risks his life and gives up his career just to steal technology that he otherwise would have had complete control over at his school.  Nonsense.

Also, remember that Hiro thought all his microbots were destroyed in the fire.  Hiro, the person who built them.  If anybody knew how those microbots would respond to a fire, it was Hiro.  But Callaghan assumed that the microbots could protect him from the fire--that the microbots were actually fire-proof.  How did Callaghan know that, and how could Hiro not have known that?

Then there's the fact that Callaghan's plan is absurd:  he thinks the best revenge is to destroy Krei's building.  The building?  If he just wanted to destroy a building, he didn't need microbots.  And if he just wanted to destoy a building, he didn't need to put together that weird interdimensional teleportation device.  (And how'd he get that device to work without a power source?  Where were its controls?)  As with many superhero movies, we have a villain who is so poorly motivated and whose plan is so convoluted, we cannot possibly take it seriously.

The flaws don't end with Callaghan.  There's also the fact that Hiro knows every spec about the microbots and the headgear which Callaghan steals from him.  It should be very easy for him to regain control of the microbots, or just build new ones of his own--which could've been cool:  a microbot showdown--but he never even considers that.  Instead, he creates superheroes out of his late brother's fellow science students (and one mascot), people who have had no combat training at all.  How are they all of a sudden supposed to be super warriors?

At the beginning of the movie, we learn that Hiro is a hustler.  He does not respect authority or rules.  He is a loner, happy to use his skills to take advantage of others.  At the end of the movie, he has control over the most powerful technology in the world.  Why are we supposed to trust him?  Oh yeah, because he gave up his prior life and decided to commit himself to . . . to what, exactly?  To going to school, where he could develop even bigger and better technology?  To exacting revenge on the person who stole his technology and killed his brother?  At what point did Hiro become a good person with a convincing sense of social responsibility?  Never.

There was supposed to be some transformative moment when he watched the video of his brother.  He learned that we should heal people, not hurt them.  That's it?  One video, and he's a different person?  That's just the sort of magic moment that distinguishes popcorn entertainment from serious drama.  It's just the sort of narrative weakness we have come to expect from Hollywood.

In reality, Hiro does not seem interested in making Baymax the sort of health care provider his brother had intended.  Instead, Hiro makes Baymax into his personal slave.  Why isn't Baymax constantly trying to help as many people as possible?  Why is this "health care provider" only doing what Hiro wants?  We are supposed to think that Hiro is following his brother's altruistic footsteps, helping bring his dream of health care to life.  But in reality, Hiro is stealing his brother's invention and using it for his own personal betterment.  Sure, Hiro thinks he can save the world.  He's delusional.  He's selfish.  He's thirteen.  We should not be happy with how this movie ends.

Last point.  At the end of the film, before Baymax uses his super-punch to send Hiro back into our world, he takes out the disc which controls his programming and puts it in his hand.  That way, Hiro is able to make another Baymax just like the first one.  The problem is, how and why would Baymax send Hiro back into our world once he removed the disc?  Without the disc, he is nothing.  Baymax magically transcends his wiring in order to make sure that Hiro gets a hard copy of his programming.  Again, nonsense.  This plot hole could have been avoided.  Hiro could have returned home after losing Baymax and then found a copy of Baymax's program.  I mean, his brother must have made a back-up disc, right?  No?  Seriously?

Big Hero 6 is funny, exciting, touching and visually-entertaining.  It lacks well-developed characters and the plot is absurd.  Nobody acts in a way that makes sense, and the whole thing is an absurdly disturbing sort of wish-fullfilment.  It is everything that Birdman is against.  Yet, both films won Oscars.  Can we be fans of both?  Can we enjoy Big Hero 6 one minute, and make fun of it the next?  What does this say about us?  Are we just used to living with cognitive dissonance?  Do we enjoy it?  Or are we not even paying attention?