Sunday, July 30, 2017

Sunday Best: Top 25 Superhero Movies of All Time #9 - The Incredibles

This is the greatest Fantastic Four movie ever made.

And make no mistake: this is the Fantastic Four.  Even the most casual observer of Marvel's first family can see the parallels.  In power you have the stretchy one, the invisible one, and the strong guy.  They substitute out speed for fire, but both imply impulsivity.  And the personality dynamic is on display as well: there is the father-figure, the mother-figure, the one who tries to hide, and the hot-head.  Do I side-by-side comparison of the uniforms (NO CAPES!) and it is even more apparent.
The Incredibles are the Fantastic Four.   But it goes even further than that:

The Incredibles are a BETTER Fantastic Four.

First of all, writer-director Brad Bird needs to be given an great deal of credit for this film: it is gorgeous in that visually stunning PIXAR way.  There is a lot of mediocre computer animation out there, but The Incredibles draws you in so well.  The visual design with its retro-'50's aesthetic evokes a sense of innocent nostalgia while still feeling modern.  Watch Bird's use of color and shadow, especially with the color red, which creates some intense mood and emotion.

But lots of superhero films have a strong spectacle.  What sets this apart is how The Incredibles taps into something much deeper while still maintaining it as a fun adventure.  We watch the adventures of a family of "Specials."  Chesterton said  The Iliad is only great because all life is a battle, The Odyssey because all life is a journey, The Book of Job because all life is a riddle.”

The Incredibles is great because all families are Specials.

Inside every family there is that primal thing in us see everyone in it like superheroes.  Dad is Mr. Incredible: even if he weighed down by age and weight, there is a Goliath lurking inside of him waiting to fight for you.  Mom is Elastagirl: she will twist and stretch herself beyond human comprehension to take care of you and protect you.  One child is Violet: shy and retreating and uncomfortable out in the world but growing increasingly alienated at home.  One child is Dash: emotional and impetuous, burning with the desire to shine.

This is one of the most pro-marriage, pro-family films made in last few years.  Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl have their problems, chief among which is that Mr. Incredible is keeping secrets.  The movie shows how secrets in a marriage eat away at its foundation.  But the love they have for each other brings them back together and gives their children a solid foundation.

It does a great job of showing that horrible transition parents must go through where they have to let go of protecting their kids and let them put themselves into harms way.  I am always moved by the scene in the cave where Elastigirl tells Violet and Dash that they are both going to be in horrible danger and that they are going to have to look out for each other.  Watching Dash's smile fade always breaks my heart because there is a small loss of innocence at that point, which is something that parents have to witness as the years go on.

But ultimately its about facing the problems of the world together as a family.  Mom and Dad will always be out there fighting for their kids, but the kids have to learn to step up and fight their battles too.  They look out for each other and have each other's backs.

The villain also is very prescient as a model of modern internet troll society.  I am amazed how much of today's social media outrage is fueled by envy.  Syndrome is someone who wants to be like Mr. Incredible but is consumed with jealousy that he is not.  Rather than work hard to raise himself up, all he can do is tear everyone else down.  He says he wants to sell normal people his Syndrome technology so that everyone will feel special but that "no one will be."  Like Lex Luthor in Batman v. Superman, Syndrome cannot stand to see anyone have advantages in life that he does not have.  The Incredibles reminds us that envy can destroy the soul and lead to utter destruction (especially if you wear a CAPE).

Even with all of the rich thematic elements, The Incredibles is still a great deal of fun.  Michael Giacchino's score reminds me like a comic book version of James Bond.  I absolutely love the moment Dash finds himself running on the water and is so tickled by it that he lets out a child-like chuckle that is absolutely perfect.

Finally, The Incredibles has the most quotable moment in any PIXAR film:

As of this writing they are developing The Incredibles 2, set to be released 14 years after the original.  If it is even half as good as this movie, it will have been worth the wait.

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