The Incredibles (PG)
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This is one of the coolest movies I've ever seen. It's full of... everything. Humor, yes, but not just wacky, kiddie humor. It's not a kiddie movie, but rather an excellent example (albeit just one of many more examples than the general public may think) of the fact that animation (CGI or otherwise) is not just for kids. There's real drama as well. Believable, serious problems, for believable, realistic characters... who just happen to have super powers. (I should mention that the movie is in many ways reminiscent of the seminal graphic novel Watchmen.) And btw, I thought the various powers were used, in many cases, rather inventively, particularly when used in conjunction with one another. There's just so much going on in this movie, I couldn't begin to relate it all... nor would I want to. It's far better to see it all for yourself, knowing as little as possible beforehand. Still, I do want to try to explain a bit of it. It's hard to know how much to say, and how much to hold back. And my writing can't really adequately convey how great it is, anyway. (But I'm afraid I am going to give too much away. Hey, the top of the page warns of spoilers, and I'm warning you again. Don't worry, though, the movie will still be eminently worth watching. Repeatedly. So buy the damn DVD, okay?)
Hmmm. It begins with a superhero of great strength and near invulnerability, called Mr. Incredible. (If I'd been casting this movie, I probably would have wanted the role to go to Patrick Warburton. For once, I'm glad I'm not in charge of casting movies. He was actually voiced by Craig T. Nelson, who nailed it. ...In fact, I thought everyone was pretty much perfect in their roles.) Mr. Incredible is on his way to get married, but he keeps getting sidetracked by various superheroic deeds, as well as by an annoying, but technically brilliant kid named Buddy, who claims to be his biggest fan, and who wants to become his sidekick. He calls himself Incrediboy. Mr. Incredible, in what seems an incredibly sound move at the time, flatly refuses. Leaving behind Buddy, and an escaped supervillain, he barely makes it to the church on time.
He's marrying another superhero, Elastigirl (Holly Hunter). As her name suggests, her power is stretching like elastic. This is the movie's first serious taste of real life, beyond mere heroics. These are two people who are in love, and they're getting married; a sort of adventure which, obviously, is common to many a mere mortal. It goes without saying that that will become a rather pointed moral, later on. But barely has this new adventure begun, when the more familiar adventures of heroes like Mr. Incredible, Elastigirl, and others, including Incredible's best friend and best man, Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson), comes to an abrupt end. The public is weary of superheroes. While on the surface it seems to be just an example of the ever-increasing popularity of frivolous lawsuits- suing superheroes for damages and injuries incurred in the course of heroics- it is in fact really based upon an even more insidious, deeper aspect of human nature. Envy, resentment, insecurity. This is a major plot point, that while it has become essentially a ubiquitous sentiment that "everyone is special," that is, as will be pointed out on two separate occasions by two separate characters, just another way of saying that no one is.
These lawsuits, in and of themselves, might not be enough to set up the premise for the main part of the movie, except for an interesting conceit. This movie suggests they are essentially government employees, rather like secret agents. They belong to the NSA- National Supers Agency. (Which, I suppose, also rather conveniently eliminates the question of vigilantism.) So, who foots the legal bills? Not to mention the repair bills for all the property damage? The government, obviously. And if there are two things the government tends to care about, they are money, and public opinion. When the two coincide as they suddenly do, to the unified detriment of superheroes, it is a foregone conclusion that there's about to be a mass retirement. Equally as obviously, all these now-unemployed heroes will have to be relocated, given new identities.
Flash forward 15 years. The former Mr. Incredible is now just Bob Parr (par, as in average), who works for an insurance company which desperately wants to avoid paying any more insurance claims than absolutely necessary. Bob finds a way to indulge in small acts of heroism, sharing loopholes with claimants to make sure they get the money they so desperately need and deserve... and this totally pisses off his boss (voiced by Wallace Shawn, always a pleasure, even when you hate the guy he's playing). In short, Bob hates his job. And he desperately misses being a superhero. He goes out some nights with the former Frozone, now just known as Lucius Best. (Remember, best friend, best man?) They talk about the old days. Occasionally they try to stop some small crime, hiding their identities, rather inadvisably, by wearing ski masks.
Meanwhile, Elastigirl (now Helen Parr) is a housewife and mother, and has to deal with her husband's general dissatisfaction with his life, and the problems of their children. Their oldest kid is Violet (Sarah Vowell), a very shy girl, who can turn invisible and create force fields. I must say, it seems a bit cliched to me, calling a shy girl Violet. But I'll allow it, as it fits in with one of the movie's running jokes, trying to give characters real names which are as apropos as their hero names. Anyway, I must say, I like her. There's also a son, whose power is super speed. His name is Dash (get it?) He's a trouble maker. It's natural for him to fight with his sister, and even to play pranks on his teacher... but his speed makes it easier. Of course, he has to vent his frustration somehow, as his mom won't let him get into sports, as he'd like (Smallville, anyone?) This is indicative of a major difference between Bob and Helen: he wants to be a superhero, and wouldn't mind his family being super, too; she wants them all to be normal. (Dash is the first to say that calling everyone special is another way of saying no one is.) They also have a baby named Jack Jack, who hasn't yet shown any evidence of super powers.
Well. It's a normal enough life. The kind of life any family could have, and be dissatisfied with. And I think most of us understand that it's harder to deal with mediocrity after having experienced any kind of greatness. Bob and Helen just had farther to fall than most. In the midst of all the super-angst and wistfulness, Bob gets fired, and is subsequently contacted by a woman named Mirage, whose employer wants Mr. Incredible to come to his remote island and try to shut down a sort of battle droid thing which has run amok. His victory reinvigorates him. He starts working out, losing the weight he's gained in the past 15 years, enjoying his home life more (all aspects of his home life, if you know what I mean). He also goes to see fashion designer Edna Mode, who is fed up with working with supermodels (as she says, there's nothing super about them). She used to design costumes for superheroes, and this is the work she loves, and misses as much as Bob misses his old life. Bob just wants her to do a patch job on his old suit, which she reluctantly agrees to, but she also throws herself into making a whole new suit for him, as well as new suits for his whole family (though they don't know this at the time).
Later, Mr. Incredible gets called back to work for Mirage again. It turns out her employer is Syndrome, a villain who is obsessed with destroying Mr. Incredible, because (and those of you who didn't see this coming shouldn't be reading anything on any of my review pages, because it means words like "the" are too much of a giveaway for you) 15 years ago, Mr. Incredible wouldn't let him be Incrediboy. (He still has his moments of fanboyishness, though.) Now he's become rich by inventing and selling advanced weapons to various nations, but keeps his best tech for himself. (One might think Mr. Incredible would have questioned the fact that he was designing things like the droid he was originally called upon to defeat, or the fact that Syndrome had the type of lair, on the type of island, commonly frequented by Bond villains.) Well, it's a good thing Mr. Incredible is so resilient, and not an idiot, either. He resourcefully survives Syndrome's attempt to kill him, but later gets captured, while trying to discover Syndrome's evil plot.
Helen, back home, has no idea any of this has been going on, starting with Bob's being fired, but when she finds out a small part of it, she starts thinking along the wrong lines... until she finds Bob's old super suit with a patch job, which leads her to Edna, which then leads her to Syndrome. And Violet and Dash tag along, much to her initial chagrin... but this, while utterly predictable, also becomes invaluable to the story in numerous ways. It adds to the drama. It adds to the realness of the movie. (Helen warns her children that the villains they're facing are not like the villains on Saturday morning cartoons; they won't hesitate to kill you, even if you are just kids.) It also provides a chance for super powers to be used in conjunction (as when Elastigirl becomes a raft and Dash an outboard motor). It provides a chance for the kids to learn more about who they are, and become more confident, and for all sorts of family bonding. (Gosh, Bob should have appreciated the greatest adventure of all, having a family!)
It's amazing... so many elements of this movie, on paper, have all so been done before, usually in very cliched and treacly ways, but The Incredibles makes it all seem so... fresh, and true, and genuinely moving. All sorts of things are predictable, but still work. Like Mirage helping the heroes, once she realizes Syndrome isn't someone she should care so much about. And despite the heroes rescuing each other, Syndrome escapes to enact his plot, which is to unleash upon the public a larger, more deadly version of the machine Mr. Incredible foiled in the first place... so that he could step in and stop it, becoming a hero in the eyes of the public. And later on... well let's just say, Syndrome is the other person to espouse the sentiment that everyone being special means no one is; he just arrives at this conclusion via the opposite end of the spectrum. It is of course fitting that the lie he originally had Mirage use to lure Incredible into his trap foreshadowed Syndrome's own downfall; his machine turns against him.
So, it falls to the Incredible family (with some help from Frozone) to stop it. Just when all seems right with the world, the day saved, the family closer and happier than ever... Syndrome kidnaps Jack Jack, to raise as his own, and turn into a sidekick, and turn against the Incredibles. Despite the fact that this possibility seemed a bit too Holtz and Connor to me (Angel, anyone?), I actually found myself sort of hoping (though greatly doubting) this might happen. I thought it could make for an interesting sequel, maybe. Once again, I found myself glad not to be involved in making the movie, for the way it played out was, if a bit more obvious and less operatic, also more enjoyable and probably for the best, from both the characters' point of view, and the audience's.
In the end, of course, the heroes get the best of both worlds: they get to be a happy, well-adjusted family, but they also get to be superheroes (cuz, you know, the public is fickle...) And you know what? I sit here in my mediocrity (or below), largely dissatisfied with my own life, knowing that even if my life improves, it'll probably never be anywhere near as good as it is in the movies... and I don't begrudge these fictional people their happiness or specialness one bit. I love them for it. For both their specialness and their normalcy. And gosh darn it, like plenty of other movies, it makes me feel like I could actually make my own life a bit less mediocre. You know. One of these days. When I'm not busy watching movies or writing about them on my website....
Among the DVD's bonus features are a couple of Pixar shorts, Boundin' (which played before the movie in theaters but is not related to it), and Jack-Jack Attack, which is related to this movie. And it is awesome, so you absolutely must watch it.
Followed by Incredibles 2