Following on from points raised in the last 20 minutes or so of episode 124 of the Nerds Assemble podcast, where a bunch of us discussed how comic book movies needed to “do more”, I wanted to expand on one of the issues I keep finding in comic book movies: poor pacing that leads to poor character development.

What’s pacing?

In a storytelling sense, it’s the frequency and amount that big revelations and action moments happen. For some films, there is a long build-up, a slow tease, before anything Earth-shattering happens to the characters in the film. In others you’re straight in there, with fist flying after fist, car exploding after car – the good films here will still give you ample time to breathe, as an audience, and make a point of showing how and why characters grow, the bad ones? The bad ones never give you a chance to breathe and show little concern for true character development.

BirdmanBut why am I picking on comic book movies in particular? Well, before watching Birdman and even more so after watching it, I’m someone who has become tired of the usual way that comic book movies go through the motions. I’m now tired of watching scene after scene of spectacular effects used to convey huge, impossible moments of action. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t want all comic book films to turn into adaptations of Raymond Carver short stories, but I am definitely getting bored of the way things keep going down in comic book films.

Guardians of the Galaxy vs Big Hero 6

guardian-of-the-galaxy-poster1Guardians of the Galaxy and Big Hero 6 are comic book films that I have recently either rewatched or watched for the first time, so they’re both very fresh in my memory. They’re also two films out of the canon of Marvel, and films that were made with family audiences in mind. But guess which one I now prefer over the other? Yes, I know I’ve had a recent moan about Guardians of the Galaxy, but I definitely now don’t like it as much as Big Hero 6. Regardless, these are two films that while sharing similar aspects (a group of people come together to battle for the common good), one does this much better than the other.

Big Hero 6Big Hero 6 is, in my opinion, a more competent film, in comparison to Guardians of the Galaxy, when it comes to pacing and character development. How? The formation of the “team” in Big Hero 6 happens at a far more natural speed and way. Both groups come together as part of necessity, but where the team in Guardians of the Galaxy is thrust together, it’s a slower process for Hiro and the gang in BH6. Main protagonists Hiro (BH6) and Star-Lord (GG) are both different people by the ends of their respective films, but BH6 does a far better job of showing the causality of changes to Hiro as a character. In GG, Star-Lord goes from mercenary thief to saviour without us really being shown why he thinks he needs to change his ways beyond a sudden compulsion to believe that he should save the galaxy.

And in terms of action, while Guardians of the Galaxy definitely puts on a glitzier show, the moments between fight scenes almost feel forced and unnatural, whereas the breaks between Big Hero 6’s scenes are measured and don’t feel like filler. Big Hero 6 also has a lot happening outside of its action moments, from Hiro thinking through life decisions to the team slowly coming together, to dealing with the fallout from other moments in the film (without resorting to fighting), but in GG they just seem to be constantly thinking about what they’re going to do to stop the Kree or Star-Lord is trying to make some kind of move on someone.

Big Hero 6 gave me a chance to feel something, and I cried loads while watching it in the cinema. Guardians of the Galaxy, meanwhile, offered up a tear-filled opening and then went plunging off into the abyss.

So what, why should any of this matter?

x_men_days_of_future_past_banner-wideMaybe you like punch after punch, explosion after explosion, but me? I like seeing my characters do things other than kick the crap out of something. I like to see characters grow, to go on both a physical journey and a psychological one. I didn’t have to pick Guardians of the Galaxy for this piece, I could have gone with many of the other main Marvel universe films or the Nolan Batmans or Man of Steel or X-Men: Days of Future Past, but they all have the same problem: their characters hardly grow and action is lauded over this.

If comic book movies continue to focus too much on action and never give characters and audiences a chance to stop and think, then it’s not real storytelling: it’s just sequential fight scenes. More comic book movies need the thoughtfulness and pacing of Big Hero 6.