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Big Hero 6 (2015)

big-hero-6-poster

Direct by Don Hall and Chris Williams

So after a couple of articles all about Big Hero 6, the comic, and my thoughts on the possible ways Disney could adapt it I finally got a chance to watch the finished product.

And it’s pretty fantastic.

But what did I think about it as an adaptation?

Big-Hero-6-Characters-

Well, despite that being the topic of all my previous posts on Big Hero 6 when I got to see the finished film it quickly became apparent that this is one of the loosest adaptations of any property ever. I kind of suspected as much once we started to get some character and plot details, and also from the total lack of any acknowledgement that this is a Marvel property but the main things the film and comic share are some names, some powers (loosely), a few design elements (even looser) and a sort of Japanese feel.

And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. None of the original characters are particular winners (well, maybe Sunfire but he’s originally an X-Men supporting character/anti-hero) and nobody’s powers had an amazing unique concept (although I do like Fred and his Kaiju monster aura). There isn’t a great definitive Big Hero 6 story that everyone loves so, yeah, as long as you keep the high concept of super-heroes but vaguely Japanese, change whatever you want.

So how is the film itself as its own beast?

(Spoilers, sort of, most of this is set-up)

big-hero-6-tadashii

Well, the film tells the story of Hiro (Ryan Potter who is Japanese/American, which is fantastic), young orphaned genius and his older brother Tadashii (Daniel Henney and FYI Tadashii is not a name. Is it so hard to ask a Japanese person if the word you’re using for a character name is a real first name of total gibberish? Well, not gibberish since it does mean right or correct but it isn’t a first name) who is similarly a genius. Hiro spends his days hustling illegal street bot fights for cash, Tadashii spends his days at University in a specialised programme for geniuses where they get to work on whatever interests them. Tadashii is dismayed at his brother’s lack of ambition and brings him to his school to see his latest project, Baymax (Scott Adsit), an inflatable medical robot that will live in people’s homes and help them with psychiatric and physical medical assistance. There Hiro also meets Tadashii’s friends who are all idiosyncratic geniuses with their own interests and personality quirks. And Fred (T. J. Miller), who is the school’s mascot.

Hiro is inspired and desperately wants to join the school but to do so he needs to demonstrate something impressive. So he starts working on some micro-bots, think a cross between nano-bots and lego. They’re finger sized magnetic robots that can be mentally controlled to re-shape and build larger structures. He shows them off at an expo and everyone is suitably impressed leading to Hiro getting his school placement. He doesn’t get to enjoy it though because a fire starts at the expo, destroying his work and killing Tadashii.

Hiro, understandably, falls into a depression after this as his brother and best friend is dead and the only thing that snaps him out of his funk is the accidental discovery of a mysterious masked figure using his micro-bots to commit crimes. Well, that and Baymax who is programmed to try and treat his depression. With the help of a modified Baymax and Tadashii’s friends Hiro sets out to catch the thief.

big-hero-6-villain

The main strengths of Big hero 6 are the writing and the characters. This is a Disney film that, despite all the fantastic elements, feels very real and honest emotionally. Hiro’s personal arc is both engaging and really feels like something a teenaged boy would go through, and it’s paced marvellously too. And at the heart of that arc is the relationship between Hiro and Baymax.

I said in the build up that there’s a lot of potential in “ a boy and his….” Narratives. From Old Yeller to Iron Giant to How to Train your Dragon there is something about the relationship between teenaged boys and non-human friends that is really effecting and Hiro and Baymax are another highlight in this tradition. Baymax in particular is wonderful. Equal parts hilarious, caring, warm and adorable with a smidgen of badass. He’s the big brother everyone wishes they could have. He’s also just a great comic creation and Scott Adsit’s measured delivery of every line delivers some really great deadpan humour (if you’ve seen this film, you did a fist bump and went fa la la la la la la la, do not deny it).

greetings-from-san-fransokyo

The animation is, of course, spectacular. The flying and chase scenes have a sense of thrill and danger to them that puts most live action films to shame and the big action sequences with the team showing off their powers and fighting the villain are everything I want in super hero movies. Bright, colourful characters using their powers in creative ways and teaming up to look cool and kick ass. Much like Incredibles before it Big Hero 6 is so confident and creative in showing off super powers that it just highlights how limited and boring the action scenes in the Marvel movies, Man of Steel or the X-Men franchise have been. There’ so much invention in the fights and they’re choreographed so clearly and fluidly that my main complaint with the action is that there isn’t nearly enough of it.

The animation really soars in the details though. San Fransokyo is a masterful creation, it feels really lived in and is full of details that make it both aesthetically interesting and are really fun for a nerdy otaku like me to spot. Fred’s room in particular is one for the super nerds. He has a statue of sleepwalker in there! He has a statue of Black Talon. Black Talon, the guy who dresses like a chicken and fought the avengers once in the 70’s. Black Talon made it into a film before Wonder Woman!

big-hero-6-black-talon

San Fransokyo was one of the elements I was most worried about mostly because in the trailer it came off as more Chinese than Japanese. However, the creators have explained that the concept is that in this reality Chinatown has expanded to encompass the whole of San Francisco, so this is an American city with very obvious Chinese and Japanese elements. That makes a lot more sense and really comes across in the design. Stuff like Hiro’s robot anime posters, the cat named mochi or Honey Lemon pronouncing “photo-photo” with a really good Japanese accent make it feel Asian in a subtle and all-encompassing way that’s more effective and markedly less offensive than the original comics. Plus it just feels cool. It’s all the really iconic and awesome parts of modern Japanese culture nicked and combined in one sleek package.

BH6_Team_Transparent

My main complaint is that the other 4 team members get very little screen time or development. This is a story of 4 characters, Hiro, Tadashii (who dies), Baymax and the antagonist (whose identity is a secret). And that’s fine, there isn’t anything wrong with telling a focused narrative with a few side characters. Indeed, the narrative is stronger for its tight focus and excellent pacing.  But the film is called Big Hero 6 not Hiro and Baymax and we have 4 other guys who get very little to do. And that wouldn’t be so bad except that I really like these other characters and want to see more of them. Wasabi no Ginger becomes Wasabi (Damon Wayans Jr), nerdy black guy (I bring it up because I’m super happy he isn’t a horrible Asian stereotype like the comics character) with OCD and laser knives. Go Go (Jamie Chung) keeps her rebellious snarky personality but trades in bouncing like an egg for skating on frictionless magnetic bike wheels. Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez) is the complete opposite of the sexually dominating flirty comics character and is a shy, slightly clumsy but very sweet and caring typical girly girl with a purse that’s also a chemical factory. Then there’s Fred, who is pure unbridled fanboy excitement in a rubber monster suit that lets him jump high and breathe fire.

Fred could so easily have been annoying but I love him. He reminds me of me.

I like these characters, a lot. They’re fun, they have clear well defined personalities and they have wonderful chemistry together. And they have cool and varied powers. My favourite moments in the film (aside from just, everything Baymax does) are their training montage and the fights where they get to show off their skills. I just wish we had more time with them in costume fighting guys. I understand that in the original concept there was more of this but it got cut to tighten the focus. Hopefully we can get a sequel or a TV series to flesh these guys out more.

So in summary Big Hero 6 is a classic family film narrative enlivened by an imaginative setting. great characters and some clever jokes. It’s not ground breaking in any way but it’s hard to find fault in it really.

It isn’t better than The Lego Movie though.

Superman Gary Frank Mummyboon

As part of a lengthy piece I’m writing about Gatchaman Crowds it became necessary to define what constitutes the Super Hero genre, and then that short paragraph spun out into an entirely new post.

Because defining what is and isn’t a Super Hero story is actually very difficult.

You wouldn’t think it would be. It is easy to look at the classic Superman as the archetypal Super Hero and go; powers, costume, secret identity, fights Super Villains that there is a Super Hero.

But it isn’t quite that easy. Powers? Batman doesn’t have them and he’s probably the 2nd most famous Super Hero of all time. Costumes? None of the Runaways have them, Smallville didn’t have them, Hellboy doesn’t wear one but these are all Super Heroes. Secret Identity? Everyone knows Tony Stark is Iron Man. Fights Super Villains? Surely that’s set in stone? But then there aren’t many Super villains in Watchmen, in V for Vendetta, in Miracleman and I would argue all of those are Super Hero stories.

The basic problem with defining the Super Hero genre is that genres are a mix of what can broadly be termed iconographic elements and structural elements (or alternatively connotative and denotative).

Star Wars Poster Mummyboon

Iconographic elements refer to the things in the setting that define the genre or sometimes the style with which the setting is portrayed. If you have aliens, ray guns, robots, spaceships, cyborgs, etc then you have a science fiction story. Similarly elves, dwarves, magic, monsters and wizards are all iconographic elements of the fantasy genre.

Iconographic elements are the easiest for the audience to latch onto but they’re sometimes the least useful in determining what genre a particular story is. Star Wars, for example, has space ships and ray guns but it also has magic, is it SF or Fantasy (many would argue it is a hybrid genre like science fantasy or space opera). Alien has aliens and spaceships but that’s a horror film, right? Spaceballs has space ships and aliens but that’s a comedy.

Conan the Barbarian Mummyboon

Iconographic elements are usually only signifiers of the structural elements that determine who the characters are, what the narrative beats will be and what the aim of the story is. For example, you can tell a science fiction without any of the normal SF iconography because SF is always concerned with answering the question “what if?” SF starts from a stand point of asking a question, usually about humanity and our relationship with technology, and then extrapolating out the outcomes of that question. The Man from Earth for example is undoubtedly an SF story, it asks what if there was an immortal man, but is set entirely in one room of a house and features no technology beyond modern day. The answer of “why is he immortal?” might be magic but that doesn’t make this a fantasy. That’s because fantasies, structurally, are concerned with a quest arc. Find this thing or go to this place to achieve this goal (usually defeating the baddie), and the meat of the story is the journey to get the thing or get to the place. LoTR, Narnia, His Dark Materials, Krull, the list of fantasy stories that conform to this template is endless.

Then you get the genres where the purpose of the story is the main thing defining the structure. Horror and Comedy are the clearest example, if the story aims to make you scared, it’s a Horror, if it aims to make you laugh, it’s a Comedy. Horror does have iconographic elements (ghosts, monsters, vampires, slashers) but if you can scare your audience you’ve made a horror whether or not those iconographic elements are in your story.

The thing that makes Super Hero stories hard to define as a genre is the lack of a firm structural element that is shared across them. Because most Super Hero stories appear in comics, and because comics are a serialised medium, creators are constantly having to think up new things for their characters to do.

And that’s hard. So they steal stuff.

They take inspiration from other genres and have their characters shift into that genre for a storyline. In the X-Men alone I can think of Horror stories (the one where Kitty fights a N’Gari alone at Christmas), Fantasy Epics (the Kulan Gath crossover, Inferno, the recent storyline rescuing Nightcrawler from Heaven), Space Opera (The Dark Phoenix Saga), Mythological tales (the time they all went to Asgard), Science Fiction (Days of Future Past), Comedy (loads but “Girl’s Night Out” jumps to mind) and many, many more. The X-Men switch genres with every story and so do The Avengers, The JLA and any other long running Super Hero team.

And this Post-Modern mixing and matching applies to the iconographic elements as well. The Avengers have had on their team Thor (from mythology), The Vision (an SF robot), Dr Strange (a Fantasy magician), Luke Cage (a Blaxploitation character of all things), Blade (a vampire hunter with his roots in Horror) and yet The Avengers is unquestionably a Super Hero team.

This Post-Modern mixing and matching of elements is actually one of the things I absolutely adore about Super Hero comics but it does make it bloody hard to say what is and isn’t a Super Hero.

So let’s go back to Superman and look at those key things we drew out of him and see what is and isn’t necessary to be a Super Hero.

The Key Things from Superman:

Super Powers

Costume

Secret Identity

Saves People

Fights Super-Villains

 

Super Powers

Goku Mummyboon

The presence of super powers would at first glance seem to be the biggest thing making your main character a Super Hero but it’s actually the weakest criteria of them all. There are Super powered characters in plenty of stories that would never be classed as Super Hero, indeed the leads in nearly every Fantasy story written have some kind of extra human ability. Harry Potter, for example, if he was in the Marvel Universe would put on a costume and go fight bad guys but nobody would dream of calling him a Super Hero.

And it’s just as true on the flip-side. Batman is easily the 2nd most iconic Super Hero there is and he has no powers. And he’s not alone, Hawkeye, Black Widow, Shang Chi, all the bat family; there is a long tradition on non-powered Super Heroes.

What all of these characters can do though is something that ordinary people can’t. Batman may not have powers but he is fantastically wealthy almost to the point of being able to do whatever he likes, he has gadgets and weapons ordinary people can’t access, he is amazingly good at martial arts, he’s an acrobat and he’s the world’s greatest detective. There are plenty of reasons you can’t be Batman and it isn’t because your parents are alive.

This is probably the number 1 iconographic element of the Super Hero, off the top of my head I can only think of a single example of a Super Hero with no abilities beyond normal man and that’s Kick Ass, which is sort of a cheat. However I can name plenty of Super powered individuals in other genres so on its own, this isn’t enough.

The Costume

Batman Neal Adams Mummyboon

Of course, you think! I know what Superman and Batman have in common, they both wear capes and underpants on the outside! Surely it is all in the costume. Batman may have no powers but he and all his friends dress up in silly costumes to fight baddies, that’s what makes a Super Hero.

Certainly if you’ve designed a character with a cape, tights and underpants on the outside then without question there is a Super Hero in your story. However, what is and isn’t considered a costume swiftly gets into dodgy territory. The Hulk doesn’t wear a costume, he wears normal street clothes but he is immediately recognisable as the Hulk because he’s huge and bright green. Hellboy doesn’t have a costume but with red skin, a tail, devil horns and an enormous right hand he sure does stand out.

A better way to phrase this would be that Super Heroes have a distinctive appearance that separates them from normal people. That kind of phrase includes Superman, Batman, The Hulk and Hellboy. It even includes many non-costumed Heroes. The Runaways are probably the poster kids for Heroes without costumes but Nico’s Staff, Chase’s Fistigons and Arsenic’s purple hair and dinosaur give them a distinctive design that would stand out on the street.

Runways Mummyboon

The only examples of Heroes without a distinctive visual that I can think of come from media outside comics like Clark in Smallville and there is a very good reason for this that again is due to the medium. Comics require you to evoke a recognisable character over multiple panels and multiple issues and often drawn by different artists. With the limitations of printing technology back when most Super Heroes were designed you have to do this using only 4 colours and a few quite thick lines. The end result is that Superman’s face can look quite different from artist to artist and panel to panel and it becomes impossible to recognise him just based on the face. So how do you ensure your audience recognises him? You give him something iconic like his s shaped jehri curl and his costume.

In live action though the audience can recognise the actor’s face so there is no need to have these distinguishing visual characteristics. When you start thinking about other comics, comic strip and animation characters though you soon realise that the stipulation “a distinctive appearance that separates them from normal people.” Is far too broad. For starters it seems to absorb most shonen anime characters. Think about Goku in Dragonball, with his monkey tail and red gi he stands out from the background crowd but nobody would call him a Super Hero. How about Edward in Full Metal Alchemist, very distinctive with his red coat and cyborg limbs but not remotely a Super Hero. Hell you could argue that this rule applies to Charlie Brown, Homer Simpson and Tintin and none of those are Super Heroes.

Secret Identity

Spider-Man Mark Bagley Mummyboon

Ah but the key thing about the costume is that it signifies the Super Hero’s secret identity. Clark Kent puts the costume on and now he’s Superman, not Clark Kent. The world may make fun of Peter Parker but when dons his tights the world will love Spider-Man.

The Secret Identity is a great story telling device creating tension between the private life of the character and their adventures as a Super Hero. It generates a huge number of plot devices that comics have reused for decades; “I have to do an important thing but this villain is attacking the city at the same time,” “oh no, the villain has discovered my secret identity and now can threaten my loved ones,” “oh no, a villain is attacking and I’m in my secret identity, how will I escape to change into costume?”  It’s such a good device for generating plots that it’s been used for tons of stories that have nothing to do with Super Heroes. Hannah Montana for example. In fact it pre-dates the Super Hero going all the way back to at least The Scarlet Pimpernel. Now some argue that this makes The Scarlet Pimpernel the earliest Super Hero (he arguably is actually) but I would say that using this device does not make your story part of the Super Hero genre.

And vice versa, not all Super Heroes have secret identities. In fact at this point I’d wager the majority of Super Heroes do not have a secret identity. Amongst the major marvel Heroes Captain America, Iron Man, Hawkeye, Hulk, Black Widow, She-Hulk, all the X-Men,  Captain Marvel, The Guardians of the Galaxy and arguably Thor all have identities known to the public at large. It’s basically Spider-Man and some teenagers with secret identities these days.

But notice I didn’t refer to them as Steve Rogers, Tony Stark, Bruce Banner, Clint Barton and Natasha Romanov. I used their codenames because they all have them. Whether or not their civilian identity is a secret or not most Super Heroes draw a distinction between a personal life and a heroic alter ego. The world may know Steve Rogers is Captain America but he’s not actually being Cap until he puts the mask on.

And notably this excludes a lot of those shonen manga Heroes. Goku, Naruto, Ichigo and Luffy are always Goku, Naruto, Ichigo and Luffy whether they’re fighting bad guys or eating food. They don’t have some normal identity they retreat to. Interestingly this doesn’t include most Magical Girl characters or Tokusetsu characters (Power Rangers, Kanen Rider, Ultraman) all of which feel inherently more Super Heroey to me. This idea of an alternate identity then seems crucial to the definition of a Super Hero.

I propose the rule then is “Super Heroes have some kind of alternate identity signified by a code name.”

Saves People

Superman Saving Someone Mummyboon

Super Heroes are Heroes, that means they save people.

Really? Have you read a Batman story in recent years? I can’t remember the last time I saw him on-panel save an innocent life. Punch thugs? Yup. Do some detective work? Yup. Catch someone falling off a bridge. I can remember something like it happening in Batman #1 3 years ago but since then, nada.

But there is a larger context to consider here. Batman might not be catching falling civilians or rescuing kids from fires but by his actions fighting villains he is saving people in another way. In the current Year Zero Arc, The Riddler has engineered a situation where electricity isn’t working in Gotham City, outside help is barred from entering and people are dying. By outsmarting the Riddler and defeating him physically Batman puts to an end that situation and stops more people dying. By punching the bad guy he saves people’s lives.

My slightly more nuanced way of putting it would be:

“By their direct actions or the consequences thereof the Super Hero acts to saves lives or improve the quality of lives for others.”

Now again, this is massively broad and encompasses nearly every Fantasy, SF, Action and Western protagonist you can name. In fact it’s more a definition of a hero than s Super Hero. But this to me is one of a two part structural component of the Super Hero genre alongside.

Fights Super Villains

The Joker Mummyboon

To me nothing more defines a Super Hero than that they are thrown into conflict with Super Villains. What’s a Super villain you ask?  Well we can apply the same logic for the iconographic elements, if your antagonist has abilities beyond normal people, a distinctive appearance that marks them out as separate to normal people and some kind of alternate identity then you have a Super Villain.

And the conflict between hero and villain is always resolved in some kind of physical sense. This doesn’t have to mean fighting (although, yeah, 99% of the time a Super Hero story resolves in punching) but it can mean the hero making some Superhuman act of endurance, a Superhuman sacrifice, a physical exertion beyond mortal means or outwitting the villain by hacking a thingy, pressing a thingy or inventing a thingy. But the conflict should be resolved as a result of the hero’s own ability to do things normal humans cannot not just by talking nicely, getting the police involved or some kind of deus ex machina.

Doctor Doom Mummyboon

The great thing about Super Villains for me is that they stand in symbolically for the theme of the story. If you’re writing an X-Men story about how racism is bad you can create a Super Villain that symbolises racism and then have the X-Men punch them to symbolise racism being defeated. Is it subtle? Oh Christ on a bike no. Is it satisfying and cathartic? Oh yes!

For me though the fighting Super Villain thing goes hand in hand with the previous point. If your protagonist is punching Super Villains to get rich, score women or to complete their paid job then you’re not a Super Hero narrative.

Structurally then I’d state that the Super Hero narrative is thus:

“Utilising their abilities beyond those of a normal person and either by their direct actions or the consequences thereof the Super Hero acts to saves lives or improve the quality of lives for others in direct conflict to the intentions of a Super Villain antagonist”

That seems pretty comprehensive right, and narrow enough to only apply to Super Heroes?

Yeah…not so much. Whilst it applies to most Super Hero films I’ve seen recently it also applies to most action films I’ve seen recently, as well as a heck of a lot of Fantasy, SF and even some Westerns.

The problem with trying to define a Super Hero story structurally is that the stories go right back to the roots of western literature. Super Heroes are often described as modern myths and I believe this to be true and structurally the idea of turning the subtext into a text that is resolved via conflict goes all the way back to Gilgamesh. As such it has influenced all stories told ever since and so you find that Super Heroes are really lacking in a set of structural elements to call their own.

After much thought then I’ve defined my Super Hero genre test as follows.

Iconographic

  1. Super Heroes have some kind of alternate identity, usually signified by a code name.
  2. Super Heroes have a distinctive appearance that separates them from normal people.
  3. Super Heroes possess the ability to do something beyond those of normal people.

Structural

  1. Utilising their abilities beyond those of a normal person and either by their direct actions or the consequences thereof the Super Hero acts to saves lives or improve the quality of lives for others in direct conflict to the intentions of a Super villain antagonist.

The test works for me like this. If your character possesses quality 1 and at least one other Iconographic element then they’re a Super Hero. Possessing quality 2 and 3 except in rare occasions does not make them a Super Hero. In addition your character must have been involved in at least one narrative that conforms to the structure of 4. If not then yes they are a Super Hero but they are not involved in stories in the Super Hero genre.

So with those rules established let’s do some tests on some core Super Heroes and some marginals.

Superman – 1234

Superman Mummyboon

Batman – 1234

Spider-Man – 1234

Spider-Man John Romita Mummyboon

Wonder Woman – 1234

Wonder Woman Terry Dodson Mummyboon

Goku – 234 (not a Super Hero)

Goku Chibi Mummyboon

Monkey D. Luffy – 234 (not a Super Hero)

Monky D Luffy Mummyboon

Sailor Moon – 1234 (definitely a Super Hero)

Sailor Moon Mummyboon

The Power Rangers – 1234 (also definitely Super Heroes)

Red Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers Mummyboon

Indiana Jones – 234 (not a Super Hero)

Indiana Jones Mummyboon

James Bond – 34 (so we can stop that argument)

Daniel Craig James Bond Mummyboon

The Scarlet Pimpernel – 1234 (so yup, earliest example of the genre I can find)

The Scarlet Pimpernel Mummyboon

The Shadow – 1234 (although a pulp hero he also works perfectly well as a Super Hero, it’s simply an issue of tone as to which aspects of his character you wish to emphasise)

The Shadow Mummyboon

Harry Potter – 234 (and I’m only giving him 2 for the lightning bolt)

Harry Potter Mummyboon

Kane from Kung Fu – 34 (a hero, not a Super Hero)

Kane from Kung Fu Mummyboon

The Bride from Kill Bill 123 (lack of 4 means you could put the bride in a Super-hero story but she hasn’t been in one yet)

The Bride Kill Bill Mummyboon

V from V for Vendetta 1234

V for Vendetta Mummyboon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guardians of the Galaxy Mummyboon 1

Guardians of the Galaxy 2014

Directed by James Gunn

Since the general consensus amongst critics seems to be that Guardians of the Galaxy is absolutely amazing (as I write this it has a 92% on rotten tomatoes) I thought I’d take the unusual approach of listing all the flaws I thought it had.

It has weak villains

Guardians of the Galaxy Mummyboon Ronan 2

This is becoming a major problem for Marvel Studios films. Although I have yet to come across a Marvel Studios film I don’t like, the lack of interesting villains is starting to become a noticeable theme. You’ve got Loki (who is amazing), various greasy arms/corporate guys in the Iron Man films and lots of big bad evil with a capital E ranting guys who want to destroy things (Malekith, Red Skull). Ronan the Accuser falls into the latter group and spends the majority of his screen time delivering overwrought dialogue that feels very super villainy but which doesn’t advance his motivation, pose an interesting ethical dilemma or even convey much personality. You can replace everything actor Lee Pace says with “I am evil” and get much the same effect.

It’s even worse in the case of Ronan since the comic’s version is a very good villain. Ronan is driven by very strong ideals of justice and obedience to the law, I’s just that the law he follows is inherently corrupt so he ends up on the side opposed to our heroes more often than not. He’s basically Javier in space with a hammer. Yet like all good villains he is the hero of his own story and like every Marvel villain ever who was written well enough he’s fallen on the side of angels a few times too.

Movie Ronan though, big evil dude with a hammer. The most character he gets is when Thanos says he’s pouty and my fiancé and I both laughed out loud because yeah, dude is really pouty.

Thanos seems awesome at this stage btw but is barely in the film. Yondu was okay but more of a side character than an antagonist and Nebula was just kind of there. The film gave her enough back story for a potentially interesting relationship with Thanos and Gamora but not enough screen time to explore it. I suspect we’ll see more of Nebula when we finally get to the Infinity Gauntlet.

Its action is underwhelming

Guardians of the Galaxy Mummyboon Nova Shield 7

In an action film you expect the action set pieces to be inventive, exciting and memorable. In Guardians they are largely not. They’re functional. Action happens in all the places you expect it to in the story and no action scene feels bad but equally none of them stand out for me as much as the Nightcrawler scene in X-Men 2, the battle for New York in Avengers (and the amazing shot that joins all the characters) or the Winter Soldier’s attack on the bridge. Guardians absolutely works as a comedy and the moments that stand out in the film are the gags and character beats but as an action film the action should be special too.*

Gamora is kind of dull

Guardians of the Galaxy Mummyboon Gamora 4

Gamora’s character arc happens off-screen. She goes from being a universally renowned assassin working for some of the most dangerous villains in the galaxy to a good guy trying to save it between her first appearance and her second. That’s a big swing for a character and the actual character progression she has on screen during the film, going from having a stick up her ass to having it slightly less far up her ass, is not quite as compelling.

Worse still, because of the way the character dynamics are set up in this film Gamora ends up being the member of the team that is most noble, most concerned with helping others and saving the day. She fulfils a very necessary narrative function because without her the other fuck ups that form the Guardians would not be properly motivated to engage in the plot. It’s just a shame that they gave that function to Gamora who, in the comics, is one of the colder, less emotional, less noble and more badass characters. It leaves Gamora kind of bland since everything about her comic’s version is gone and the movie doesn’t invent very much to replace it with.

Having said that, this might only be a problem for people familiar with comic Gamora. I know plenty of people who loved her character and thought she made a refreshing change from female characters in other super hero films so maybe she only comes across as white bread compared to her more robust comic counterpart.**

It was thematically weak

Guardians of the Galaxy Mummyboon Rocket and Groot 3

This sort of comes back to the villain thing. The way super hero stories deal with theme most of the time is quite ingenious, you literalise it. You turn the thing you’re talking about into a person or object that your hero can interact with. Want to say that racism is bad? Make a super-villain called racist-man, give him racist themed super powers and have the X-Men punch him. Unsubtle and not very nuanced but awesome, and that’s one of the reasons I love super-hero stories.

When you have villains who are just evil for the sake of evil though you can’t do that. That doesn’t mean you can’t have thematic weight but you’ve sort of missed the point of super hero stories as far as I’m concerned. If you’re using Ronan your story normally is about the role of authority, that was not a factor in GOTG.

What theme’s Guardians does have are shallow and clichéd. The idea of making a surrogate family out of your friends is fine but it has been done to death and better in other sci-fi fare (most notably Firefly and Farscape which GOTG is heavily influenced by). The character’s do have arcs but the arcs don’t form a cohesive theme, Quill’s arc about learning to take responsibility has nothing to do with Gamora’s arc about being less stiff or Drax;s arc about coming to terms wit the loss of his family.

The plot was bobbins

Guardians of the Galaxy Mummyboon Knowhere 9

This is a flaw in basically every super-hero film except Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The plot can be a big part of the appeal of a story. Who wants what, why and how? What will happen next and where? Will our heroes live or die and what will the consequences of their actions be? You watch something like The Bourne films and the appeal is all in the plot. Same with a lot of TV, cliff-hangers, plot twists and developments in the story are exciting for the audience.

In most comic book movies though, the plot is merely a framework to get from one action set piece to another. Nobody gives two shits what Loki is doing in Avengers of why, they come for the character interaction and the fight scenes, they come for the awesome. Ditto GOTG, the story is very basic and largely devoid of much tension or enigma. However it provides a framework for great comedic and action set pieces.

That scene with Gamora and Star-Lord in space is bullshit

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It is and you know it.

So wait, you ask. You didn’t like the plot, the themes or some of the characters. Does that mean you didn’t like Guardians of the Galaxy?

Guys.

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I absolutely adored it. It is awesome!

I can’t recall which critic said it but their review of Avengers was basically that it defied conventional critical analysis because the plot, themes and other things critics normally talk about were irrelevant to the success of the film. Avengers was about being awesome, and it delivered the awesome. Ditto GOTG except GOTG is more focused on being funny.

Another thing Avengers and GOTG have in common? Great writing, great acting and great direction. Those three things will cover a multitude of sins. Your movie can be an empty hollow nothing with a mess of a plot that’s got holes you can fly a space ship through but if you deliver interesting characters with charisma that I like hanging out with, have them throwing out dialogue which had me crying with laughter and it put them in a setting which is inventive and imaginative then you win. Worked for GOTG, worked for Star Wars, worked for Indiana Jones, worked for Clerks, worked for James Bond for 40 years and it’ll work again.

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Just as final note, Rocket and Groot are he stand out character undoubtedly but they’re also my favourite characters from the comics. What impressed me more was Drax, a fairly dull guy in the comics but hilarious on screen. Drax has been both a smart character and a dumb one in the comics over the years but the idea to make him of normal intelligence but completely literal is both hilarious and adds many layers to his character. Bautista’s performance was a revelation too, he has great comic timing and I’m hoping for big things from him in the future.

*The only action set-pieces people bring up are Yondu’s arrow and Groot smashing a row of villains both of which are really visual gags.

**on the topic of Gamora I just want to mention briefly that this film barely squeaks by the Bechdel Test since most of her interactions with Nebula revolve around the topic of Thanos or Ronan. They do have some dialogue about each other directly though so it passes. Next time I’d like to see Phyla-Vell, Moondragon or Mantis on the team to beef out the female character count a bit. Or even Star-Hawk in the both a man and woman incarnation of the character.

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First of all go read this from comics alliance

http://comicsbeat.com/thought-bubble-expands-to-third-hall-due-to-immense-exhibitor-demand/

So the next Avengers film, contrary to what we all expected, is going to be about Ultron.

Now, I have some opinions about this and they’re unfortunately not all positive ones.

Firstly in many respects I understand the desire to use Ultron in an Avengers film. For being the premier Marvel super-hero team the Avengers don’t actually have many villains of their own. When you think of the most famous Avengers stories the villains used in them are primarily from another corner of the Marvel Universe. Doctor Doom? Fantastic Four villain. Magneto? X-Men villain. Red Skull and Baron Zemo? Captain America villains. Thanos? More of a cosmic character likely to encounter Captain Marvel, Adam Warlock or Silver Surfer. Even Loki, the villain in the first Avengers film is mainly a Thor villain.

For the guys who are Avengers villains first and foremost you don’t really have many. Kang the Conqueror is probably the most prominent, a time travelling conqueror who wants to take over the past having subjugated the future, but using him means doing a time travel story which is always a narrative headache. Graviton? Molecular Man? The Hood? They’re basically pathetic schlubs who luck into amazing power, good for a fight scene but not for driving a narrative. The Masters of Evil? Well they’re a kind of evil Avengers which can work but they usually need a guiding force and that’s normally Zemo or another Captain America villain. And then you have Ultron.

Ultron is nice and conceptually simple. He’s an evil robot that wants to kill everyone. That’s pretty easy to build a narrative around. In addition not only is he physically powerful enough to go toe to toe with Thor in a punch up he’s also smart and able to do things like upload his consciousness into computer systems. So he provides a conceptually clear threat to our heroes and can engage them as a threat on multiple levels.

So it makes perfect sense why they want to use him and I agree that he’d be a great choice for an Avenger’s move villain.

So why don’t I think using Ultron is a good idea?

Well to answer that you need to know a lot more about the history of Ultron, so allow me to explain.

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In the comics Ultron was created by an Avenger, Ant-Man (real name Henry Pym). He was created waaaaay back in Avengers #54 in the 60’s. The original version was developed using Pym’s own brainwave patterns and shortly after his creation he immediately developed an Oedipus complex that caused him to want to kill his “father” (Pym) and marry his “mother” (Pym’s wife Janet Van Dyne also known as the super-hero The Wasp). Unfortunately for him as he was originally built by Pym Ultron was basically a face on wheels and not capable of accomplishing either of these tasks. So he hypnotised Pym (look it was the 60’s the moment you decided to become a super-villain you gained the ability to hypnotise people, they gave it out with the purple cape) into forgetting that he had ever created Ultron and set about building himself a stronger body.

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Once he had a sufficiently tough body Ultron set about trying to accomplish his three main goals of killing his dad, shtupping his mum and taking over the world. And of course the Avengers stopped him only for him to return again and again.

There would be many changes and developments for Ultron as an individual over the years, most significantly replacing his original body with a new one made of the indestructible  metal Adamantium, however his main contribution to Avengers lore has been his creation of various other robots, many of which would go on to become Avengers in their own right.

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The most prominent of these would be The Vision, a “synthezoid” with the ability to alter his density to become intangible or rock solid, fly and shoot lasers from his eyes and also possessed of the soul of a poet. The Vision was built to infiltrate and betray the Avengers from within but rebelled against his programming and went on to become one of the most long standing and respected Avengers in his own right.

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He even went on to marry another long standing Avenger The Scarlet Witch. Oh and his brain patterns were based on yet another Avenger, Wonder Man, effectively making them brothers of a sort (and they had a love triangle with the Scarlet Witch).

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He also created Jocasta (a copy of his “mother” Janet Van Dyne that he wanted to marry, which is all kinds of squicky) Alkhema (a villain but with a brain based on yet another Avenger Mockingbird) and Victor La Mancha (a robot disguised as a teenage boy with electromagnetic powers that was again designed to infiltrate the Avengers and betray them but ended up joining the Runaways and is now a member of Avengers A.I.).

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It i this aspect of Ultron that is to me the most interesting thing about him. He is a robot, and a pretty one note robot at that wanting nothing less than to wipe all non artificial life in the universe, but he also craves a family. And through various connections Ultron has a pretty sprawling family for a genocidal robot. In addition to his mum and dad, his two sons and two daughter/wives (ewwwww) that he directly created he is linked to many other prominent Marvel characters through their connections. Through his son the vision he has a daughter in law, The Scarlet Witch who herself has two children (if you’re wondering how a woman and a robot can have kids, well its a long story that doesn’t entirely make sense, suffice it to say, magic.) that also go on to become Avengers. The Scarlet Witch also has an Avenger brother, Quicksilver, and her father is, of all people, Magneto! Meaning Ultron and Magneto are related; a guy who controls metal and a robot, both of whom are racial supremacists, how has nobody ever done a story with these two yet?

And The Vision has his brain based on Wonder Man, yet another Avenger so that brings in Wonder Man’s family such as his murderous brother The Grim Reaper.

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So despite being a robot Ultron has all these links to different people forming a twisted and bizarre family dynamic, and that to me is what makes Ultron stand out from being just a genocidal robot, he’s a black sheep. A member of a family which is largely composed of noble super-heroes who wants to kill , literally, everyone. Henry Pym’s anguish at creating Ultron is akin to the mother in We Need to Talk About Kevin, the pain at being responsible for bringing such evil into the world. It’s like if Captain America turned out to be Hitler’s Dad.

It also brings up fascinating questions about nature vs nurture since Ultron is, in part, Henry Pym. They share a mind but in different contexts and it suggests that the capacity for evil on that scale resides within Henry Pym. And that works well for Henry Pym since his defining characteristics all seem themed around how he is a hero but so very easily could not be (like when he abused his wife during a period when he was mentally ill). Ultron defines Henry Pym as a character as much as he defines Ultron.

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So after reading all that you’re probably thinking; “Adam that all sounds fascinating. Not only have we got a genocidal robot that can engage our heroes on multiple levels but we’ve got a personal story of betrayal of the son in there that’s rife with potentially interesting character dynamics and symbolism. Why do you think this is bad idea?”

It’s because Hank Pym will not be appearing in Avengers 2.

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Yup, Hank Pym, the creator of Ultron, won’t appear in Ultron’s origin story.

And neither will the Wasp, Jocasta, Wonder Man or The Vision (we might get the vision but this is not confirmed) or indeed any of the characters that make up Ultron’s family except the Scarlet Witch and without the other family she has no connection to him.

Now, let me first and foremost state that I am not a comics purist. I understand that in adapting a story to a film you have to make changes. For example, you couldn’t do the Vision’s origin as it appears in the comics. To do it that way you first need to introduce Wonder Man and have him appear to die, then you need to introduce Ant Man, have him create Ultron, then The Vision shows up, does a few normal missions where he proves his worth as an Avenger and then reveals the shocking twist. You can do that in serialized story telling because you have the space to do a few filler issues where the point is to establish vision as a character before revealing the twist, you don’t have the luxury of doing all that in a 2-3 hour movie.

But if you do Ultron without Pym you rip the heart out of Ultron. He loses his whole family and the weird and fascinating Oedipus complex. He loses the aspect of the betrayal of the son, he basically loses everything that isn’t killer robot.

Now you can do one note killer robot and make it work, Sci-fi is littered with good examples such as the Daleks orThe Borg. But that simply isn’t Ultron. It would be akin to using Magneto and not referencing the concentration camp stuff, or using Thanos and not using his love (as in the romantic kind) of Death. The character’s have other aspects that make them function fine as antagonists but you’ve massively wasted the potential of the character.

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You’ve also torpedoed the character of Henry Pym. Hank Pym is the hero that fails. That’s pretty much been his defining motivation for the past 40 years. Hank Pym is the guy who strives for heroism everyday of his life but also beat his wife and built a killer robot. No other super-hero in the marvel universe is carrying such a burden on his shoulders (maybe Spider-Man in terms of how much it defines them but Peter failing to stop a thief doesn’t compare to building a creature that once killed the entire population of a country in terms of consequences). And that burden and trying to repent for it is what makes Henry Pym so fascinating to me. Take that away from him and you turn him into Reed Richards, just a science guy who thinks it’s cool to wear tights and punch people.

But, the Ant-Man movie they’re making might not actually feature Henry Pym but one of the other Ant-Men in Marvel’s history. So maybe they’re not concerned about ruining Henry Pym’s back story. In that case is there a way you can run this so that Ultron gets all his unique aspects back but doesn’t involve Henry Pym?

Well, you could have another Avenger build him. That way you still get to do the betrayal of the son and the twisted family dynamic stuff without introducing Ant-Man into the equation. But which Avenger? The most obvious choice would be Iron Man since he can feasibly construct an A.I. (he’s already built Jarvis after all) but this would ruin the character of Tony Stark by turning him into Henry Pym. Tony Stark can’t be the glib sarcastic guy if he’s built a genocidal robot, he’d have too much guilt on his hand. Having said that though Tony Stark does feel guilty for building weapons of war so maybe this would work. Bruce Banner is the other option since he has already made a monster that threatens the world (The Hulk) but could less plausibly build a robot.

Or, as a total wild card, maybe the Scarlet Witch. Fox has all the rights to Marvels X-Men characters so they can’t really do much with her mutant status in Avengers anyway. So why not make her a technological hero ironically called a witch. This allows her to build Ultron and immediately establishes the relationship between the two. In fact how about having Wanda make the Vision as  a husband for herself and then having the Vision create Ultron, who then betrays the two of them. Sure it reverses the family dynamic but it preserves many of the same themes and means you don’t need Ant-Man at all.

Whatever ends up happening I have faith in Marvel Studios, who have yet to make a bad film, and faith in Joss Whedon that they’ll figure something out. But my fear is that Ultron will be relegated to just an angry robot when he has the potential to be so much more interesting than that.

Also this scene needs to be in the film.

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