The Incredibles (2004) might just be the best superhero movie of all time.
There are very few films as perfect as “The Incredibles”. Not only does it work flawlessly as one of the finest ever examples of a superhero movie, it also serves as an insightful deconstruction and analysis of the genre itself and still finds time to satirise the rise of entitled fan culture with a prescience that would be chilling if it weren’t so spectacularly on the money. Did I mention it’s terrific fun, too? Laugh out loud hilarious, clever, heartwarming and exquisitely structured, it’s one of my two all-time favourite screenplays. In case you haven’t twigged yet, I’m quite a fan.
With superheroes outlawed due to the increasing collateral damage and lack of oversight, the ‘supers’ live undercover lives, forever hidden by their secret identities. So it is for Mr Incredible (Craig T Nelson) and Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) who try to raise their family in suburban anonymity. But Mr Incredible is restless, spending his evening with his buddy Frozone (Samuel L Jackson) scanning the police band for opportunities to save the day and when the opportunity arises for him to do some real superhero work, he simply can’t resist.
Although it plays with many of the same themes and issues as its contemporaries and successors, “The Incredibles” is absolutely, unashamedly a happy, positive, silver age comic book movie; actively rejecting the fashion for darkness, brooding and violence and even going so far as to personify that view of superheroism in its villain, Syndrome, a twisted black mirror version of Tony Stark/ Bruce Wayne.
Having cut his teeth on “The Iron Giant”, writer/ director Brad Bird expands the hopeful, optimistic and deeply human themes into a larger narrative, bringing the world of “The Incredibles” to vivid, timeless life. Aesthetically extrapolated from a 50s/ 60s futurism and bolstered by a superb, James Bond-riffing score from Michael Giacchino, Bird creates a world which feels simultaneously authentic and fantastical.
There’s no aspect of the story or characters which feel short-changed, from the super-heroic set pieces and power combo moves (the hallmark of any multi-hero story) to the perfect little observations of family life. Each member of the Parr family is perfectly rounded and has a satisfying emotional arc through the movie and even Frozone and his wife are given added dimensions through a few expertly crafted lines of dialogue.
Syndrome (Jason Lee) is one of the superhero genre’s most completely developed and believable villains, doubling as the perfect commentary on the problems facing the genre today. In deriding Mr Incredible’s reluctance to kill, he places his finger on one of the deepest schisms in the genre, placing himself at the head of the ‘mature’ superhero fandom. His declaration ‘I’ve outgrown you’ is not simply a rebuke to Mr Incredible but to the genre as a whole for its perceived weakness. If it’s not snapping necks, killing miscreants or compromising moral and ethical codes in the name of the greater good, embracing gritty realism and a violent realpolitik, it’s just a childish fantasy violence and should be mocked and rejected by the truly ‘mature’.
Of course, The Incredibles eventually defeat Syndrome’s Omnidroid by working together as a family using cleverness and bravery in fun, creative ways. Yes, Syndrome does eventually meet a grisly end, but it’s largely of his own making thanks to his hubris and vanity. The Incredibles’ victory over Syndrome is a neat encapsulation of the whole MCU vs DCEU ‘battle’ and how that played out.
The best “Fantastic Four” movie we ever got (it simply beggars belief that with this template to work from, Fox couldn’t get Marvel’s first family right in three attempts), “The Incredibles” is one of Pixar’s finest and, for me, cemented Brad Bird as one of my guaranteed ticket purchase directors. Wholesome and pure yet still bitingly satirical and brilliant, “The Incredibles” is a work of genius and I’ll fight anyone who says otherwise (in a deserted area where there will be no collateral damage and, obviously, not to the death).