2004: The Incredibles
Written and Directed by Brad Bird
Poor Marvel. After years of fits and starts — and one horrendous, never-released attempt by Roger Corman — they finally got their Fantastic Four movie off the ground in 2005. And it wasn’t terrible. Oh, they completely botched the greatest villain in comic history, and as an actress, Jessica Alba is a very pretty lady. But it had a little bit of that old school Lee/Kirby charm, and it was a perfectly inoffensive bit of diversion that grossed over $150 million back when that number still sort of meant something. They even managed to get a sequel out of it. No, Marvel’s woes had nothing to do with Fantastic Four‘s quality or its success, but its timing. Because Fantastic Four got out-Fantastic Four-ed eight months before it even came out.
If I tend to wax ecstatic over The Incredibles, it’s because no film better captures what it is about super-heroes that makes me a kid again. It’s a perfect distillation of Marvel in the 60s and 70s, with its vividly-drawn characters, its breathless pace, its sheer exultant joy at what it must be like to be stronger or faster than everyone else. It’s pure unadulterated gee-whiz heroism, in an era when it seemed everyone wanted their super-heroes brooding and introspective. What The Incredibles did best was remind us of how much fun the genre could be. Like the Spider-Man films that preceded it, it had time for some serious moments — death is a very real, very near possibility numerous times in the film — but those moments came as a chance for the characters to prove their mettle, not doubt themselves. We wanted to root for the Parr family. We liked them. Something too many super-hero films seem to forget.
And what’s really remarkable is that while The Incredibles was showing Marvel how to do a Fantastic Four movie, it was also going about being one of the better James Bond movies in years. This came along in the fallow period between Pierce Brosnan’s last outing as Bond and Daniel Craig taking the reins, and it’s a wonderful homage to the old-school glory days of Connery. Syndrome’s base looks like something right out of the SPECTRE catalog, and Michael Giacchino’s music sounds like he was pretty convinced he was scoring a Bond movie. Although undoubtedly set in the modern era, the film has a real Swinging 60s vibe to it that both evokes the period and makes it feel timeless.
The Incredibles passes perhaps the most difficult test a movie can take. The first time I saw the Underminer emerge and threaten the world, and the Parr family don their masks over steely, determined looks, I would have gladly watched that movie right then and there. I wanted to spend another two hours in that world, with those characters. Rewatching it, that thrill is still there. I know the credits are about to roll, but every time, I hope this is the viewing where I’ll finally see what happens after Mr. Incredible rips open his shirt to reveal his uniform. With all the complaining about how Pixar seems to be happily sequelizing itself, this is the one film that just screams out for more. But maybe it’s better that it exists as this exquisite, solitary gem, unsullied by any attempt to recapture its magic. The tantalizing promise of more is almost preferable to the actual delivery of that more. That’s the real power of The incredibles. It sparks the imagination to hold on to it long after you’re done watching. And that’s something truly heroic.