Never one to shy away from unequivocally stating my opinion, I would like to officially nominate Pixar’s THE INCREDIBLES as the best super-hero movie ever made. Period.
Admittedly, such a statement is debatable, not only because of the number of films in this particular genre — a rather narrow field in which to find works containing any sort of excellence whatsoever — but also because of the difficulty of pinning down exactly what constitutes a super-hero flick. My own personal definition of what comprises a super-hero movie boils down to two criteria:
- The film in question must have as its source material a work in which the main character or characters are considered to be in some way “super,” whether they possess powers as part of their own physical abilities or not. Or:
- The film in question must have characters who are in some way “super” regardless of whether they come from a pre-existing source or not.
“So what makes THE INCREDIBLES so fucking good?” I hear you sneer. Let me break it down for ya:
An engaging story with characters you really give a shit about.
All good movies begin with a solid story, a vital ingredient overlooked by the majority of super-hero movies (and, if truth be told, the vast majority of major motion pictures released for the past quarter-century). The first two Superman films and the first two Spider-Man movies were winners because they took the time to let you get to know their heroes and that’s very important for engendering viewer interest. THE INCREDIBLES establishes a world in which super-heroes exist — or rather existed prior to being censured and banned by the government — and we are expected to take that as a given. The characters have the quality that made so much of Marvel Comics' output from 1961 on so much fun, namely they are written as normal, feeling individuals who just happen to have cool powers and a relatable quotient of everyday dysfunction. In the case of the Parr family, we are presented with a married couple of “supers” who have been together for fifteen years, had three kids (two of whom engage in the usual sibling warfare only with super-human abilities thrown into the mix), cope with the inevitable signs of aging such as increasing girth, hair loss and sagging asses, life in a cookie-cutter suburban home, and, saddest of all, having no choice but to hide their fantastic abilities or else face prosecution. You really feel for Bob “Mr. Incredible” Parr as you witness the crushing mundanity of his job at an insurance firm and share in his frustration and feelings of impotence when confronted with his pint-sized asshole of a boss and company policies that care nothing for the people that they purport to help; gone are his days of fighting the good fight and making a difference in a world that needs him and those of his crime-fighting ilk, and now his only excitement is had by covertly listening to police radio bulletins with fellow unwilling super-retiree Lucius (aka Frozone) in hope that they can secretly once again aid society at large. He deeply loves his wife Helen (aka Elastigirl), who has been relegated to the role of stay-at-home mother to painfully shy tweener daughter Violet (whose power of invisibility is a physical manifestation of her insecurities), rambunctious super-speedster Dashiel ((Dash for short), and adorable infant Jack-Jack. Bob and Helen argue about Bob’s projecting his need for recognition of superness onto Dash’s desire to compete in sports, an endeavor that would be unfair for obvious reasons (even a young Clark Kent had to painfully deal with this particular problem), and it is plain that this is an argument they have had many times before. Helen also fears her husband is involved in an extramarital affair and her suspicions are only bolstered by a mounting batch of evidence that leads her down a path of sadness and eventual anger at the assumed betrayal. (Bob would never dream of it.) Super-powers or not, we know these people from our own experiences and we cannot help but be drawn in when they are all forced into action by the machinations of Syndrome, once a brilliant boy who idolized Mr. Incredible and whose irritating fanboy attentions lead to a long-ago snubbing by his hero, a snubbing that festered into sociopathic madness, a spree of mass murder against “supers” and insecurity-fueled megalomania.
Thrills up the ying-yang.
One of the major failures of many super-hero flicks is that fact they simply are not exciting in even the most minute of ways. Name me even one truly thrilling moment in any of the Batman movies…You can’t, can you? Well, rest assured that THE INCREDIBLES kicks the audience in the ass once things start happening, and the plot leading up to the action is compelling in the first place, so the cool stuff is all gravy! We have displays of super-powers from the second the films starts, but the truly adrenaline-pumping bits start with Elastigirl’s plane journey to Syndrome’s James-Bond-villainesque island lair in search of her husband — her two eldest kids having stowed away on board — and the missile attack that drops mom and the kids squarely into a situation that means life or death for the entire family. Upon reaching the island, Elastigirl informs her children in no uncertain terms that the bad guys they are about to face will not hesitate to kill them and they should take the spot that they are in as seriously as a heart attack; if threatened, they are to look after each other and use their super-powers without hesitation. So with parental approval the kids can finally cut loose with what they can do and that’s a damned good thing too, since their mother was absolutely right and these bad guys are out to exterminate them with extreme prejudice. We can actually feel Dash’s joy and exhilaration at being able to run at fantastic speeds, even as he’s being chased by heavily armed hovering pursuit vehicles; it’s what he was born to do and it’s glorious to see him revel in his own specialness. Violet also shines when she discovers strengths and levels of her own powers that she didn’t even know she possessed, and we are right there with her, sharing in her triumph. Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl kick much ass as well, and when the action swiftly migrates back to the big city we are treated to a downright spectacular display of teamwork, sheer bravery and just plain damned cool visuals of super-people doing super things. And Frozone’s style makes the dyed-in-the-wool comics fan scream, “Eat your heart out, Bobby Drake!” NOTE: for the non-geeks reading this, Bobby Drake is better known as Iceman, one of the original five X-Men.
Visuals to delight the eye.
Comics have always been a buttload of fun for many reasons, but the colorful images are one of the linchpins of the medium. No super-hero movie before this film has really gotten across that particular aspect of the genre’s appeal and the digital wizards at Pixar have pulled out all of the stops, unleashing a palette of vibrant colors, flawlessly animated movement, appealing character designs and intelligently-thought-out depictions of super-powers. When the big budget and awful FANTASTIC FOUR movies came out, Reed Richards’ famed stretching powers were little more than a pitiful, wet fart when compared to the work done in THE INCREDIBLES on Elastigirl; the animators really put a lot of thought into how her powers would look and work, and if she were a professional stretching hero like she is, she’d have her malleable skills down to an art, with a quick-witted reaction time to go with it, and Elastigirl has that in spades. Best stretchable hero ever, and that's in a narrow field of memorable pliables.
A stellar voice-acting cast.
Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Samuel L. Jackson, Jason Lee…’Nuff said, although special mention should be made of writer/director Brad (THE IRON GIANT) Bird’s turn as the tiny cross between James Bond’s Q and legendary Hollywood wardrobe designer Edith Head, Edna Mode; Edna steals every scene she’s in and is a comedic masterpiece. If there were an Oscar category for best supporting animated actress, Edna would have gone home with a little gold nekkid guy.
No bullshit, folks, THE INCREDIBLES could only be better if it handed you a six-pack, a righteous blunt of Maui Wowie, a Beef Wellington prepared by Wolfgang Puck, and a night of bedframe-destroying, fluids-a-flyin' quality fucking with the fantasy celebrity of your choice, complete with the willingly-agreed-upon option to get it on videotape to prove that it actually happened. If it ever gets a theatrical re-release, do yourself the favor and make sure that you see it on the big screen so you can be awash in the film's spectacle as it was truly meant to be seen. (It's still great on DVD but some of its grandeur and scale is lost in the translation to home theater size.) There is movie magic aplenty to be had in THE INCREDIBLES and in these days of soulless films-by-committee, that’s a precious commodity indeed.
So that’s my argument for THE INCREDIBLES, so please write in with your own nominee for the best super-hero movie ever made, along with a decent argument to prove your point. And I don’t give a damn what any of you say: all of the live-action Batman movies sucked ass, with the notable exception of THE DARK KNIGHT, which was buoyed by Heather Ledger's excellent portrayal of the Joker. They are visually murky, boring, void of anything resembling real action, and they're scripted by talent-free hacks (Akiva Goldsman, anyone?). The only truly excellent Bat-flick is the animated MASK OF THE PHANTASM and I thank the gods of cinema that I got to see that one on the big screen during the fifteen minutes when it was in theatrical release! So there! Oh, and the runner-up for the title of "Best Superhero Movie Ever Made" is INFRA-MAN. Believe that!