Saturday, August 22, 2015

Best of the 2000s: The Incredibles

4.5 Stars

The Incredibles is one of the best animated superhero films ever made. It is certainly one of the best of its genre.

Writer-Director Brad Bird postulates an alternate world populated by superpowered criminals and crime fighters. Especially noteworthy are Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) wielding super strength, Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) able to stretch her body as if it were made of rubber, and Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) who wields ice. As the film opens, Mr. Incredible, Elastigirl, and Frozone foil a series of villainous schemes on the wedding day of Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl. Everything seems fine, until the people they save sue the heroes for the damages the heroes do saving their lives. Public sentiment turns against people with super powers, and the “supers” are forced to go into hiding, and lead ordinary, boring, unfulfilling, not superheroic lives. Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl have two children Violet (Sarah Vowell) who can become invisible and Dash (Spencer Fox) who is superfast. Mr. Incredible discovers that his old friends from the superhero days are dying off, and he is contacted by a secretive billionaire (Jason Lee) and sent on a series of secret missions that may or may not hold the key to discovering the fate of his friends.

I really liked The Incredibles. It tells a good story. It pokes fun at the conventions of super hero stories (capes, villain monologues, secret volcano lairs). It crafts a realistic portrayal of sibling relationships. Most unusually for a movie aimed at children, The Incredibles paints a fairly nuanced portrait of marriage. It depicts the relationship as a potential fount of unconditional love, but also a place where the partners’ insecurities paradoxically make it hard to feel safe with the person they should feel safest with. The Incredibles is the only kids film I know of that credits both high school romances and mid-life crises as important formative psychological events. All of this character stuff is perfectly balanced with a series of well executed action sequences that steadily raise the stakes for the characters and provide appropriate cathartic release.

So why not 5 stars?

I feel like Brad Bird stacked the deck here. He doesn't seem to think much of ordinary people. He portrays the non-super powered populous as fickle, greedy, out to make a buck and unwilling to take responsibility for their own lives. In many ways, the villain of this film is the ordinary populace these heroes protect. The law suits that force the supers into hiding seem unlikely, and calculated to make us like the heroes and hate the plaintiffs rather than feeling like disputes with any actual legs.

The Incredibles has also become a bit harder to swallow in the modern American political climate. Too many American politicians now espouse too much faith in Ayn Rand for my taste. So, when the ostensible heroes of The Incredibles speak contemptuously of the ordinary people and accuse ordinary people of unduly restraining extraordinary people because they are extraordinary, I felt uncomfortable this time around. No doubt, Mr. Incredible would say that I am simply punishing him because he is exceptional.

Nevertheless, I appreciate the fact that these special people had very ordinary home lives and problems. I liked that they were motivated to use their powers to protect the ordinary people who they sometimes disparaged. I liked that The Incredibles found a way to be so entertaining and such a complicated text. It’s just so much better than it had to be in so many ways. If you haven’t seen it, you really should.

The Incredibles finds itself on this list because 4 of the 37 reviewers sampled named it as one of the 10 best of the decade. No reviewer selected it as the best film of the decade. It holds the same rank on the Metacritic best of the decade list as Zodiac, Y Tu Mama Tambien, and my next feature, The Hurt Locker.

From Out in the Void


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