The creators have a good recent pedigree including Wreck-It Ralph, Frozen and Tangled, and it is based on a Marvel comic. Expectations were therefore reasonably high – it centres around a robot, it has superheroes and I’m expecting a style that balances sentiment and action. What could go wrong?
Plenty, obviously. Recent films I’ve watched with similarly high expectations such as Prometheus have left me feeling hugely disappointed. This wasn’t one of those films, though. This exceeded expectations, with a warm and charming style that balances tragedy and comedy. Sure, various plot twists are at best largely predictable, so there’s few moments where you feel really shocked at the way things go. Instead you have a degree of loss, a key tragic moment, and the scene is set for coming to terms with reaiity, finding one-self, and building a superhero team and fighting a supervillain along the way. I make it sound like Spiderman, and aside from not being quite such a loner figure, perhaps that’s right. The villain certainly looks like they took some queues from Venom along the way.
Here’s the thing, though. There may be a nod towards Spiderman, to Iron Man and so on, but at no point does it feel like it’s ripping off those, it feels more of a friendly homage to the others. The robots, while far-fetched in some ways, also seem to have taken inspiration from recent trends in robotis – going for primitive, non-humanlike faces which are expressive (perhaps inspired by Wall-E, but it also seems to be a popular approach in real-world robots of late, too, staying well away from the ‘uncanny valley’ effect when trying to be too humanlike). Similarly, the clustering robots which can build structures and which are controlled by a sensor band has parallels in clustering bots which can form larger compound structures, quadrotor clusters which can build towers between them, and efforts aimed at giving paraplegics the ability to control a robot arm. We’ve moved somewhat away from the idea of embedding complex electronics in our brain (at least for now), as at least some of what we hoped to achieve can be done without invasive surgery and questioning what we can do to ourselves and still be considered ‘human’. The characters weren’t presented as instantly coming up with a working solution, either, but working away through trial and error until they hit a key milestone.
In that, it’s a characterful and smart film. The audience was laughing out loud at the funny bits, and I’m sure there were more than a few tears at the saddest moments. You can look at some of the technology and be inspired to look at where current efforts can take us. It’s great also that it presents being a geek as cool – this isn’t some tough kid, but a genius who’s struggling with his emotions. It’s perhaps unrealistic that it stays away from bullying, but it’s a withdrawn, shy kid who steps up on the stage to present his project, not a cocky, irritating know-it-all. Just as Wreck-It Ralph had a character who struggled to find who he was while embarking on a big adventure, so we have the same here. As much as this film has robots as a key element, it’s the human element that draws you in, and makes this one of the best family-friendly (or any) films I’ve seen in a long time.
9/10. A modern classic from Disney.