At least for now. In which case I’ll write another critique on my “new favorite superhero movie.” And what is my favorite superhero movie? There certainly are a lot to choose from, and I’ve seen a fair few, and have strong opinions on them even. And it is true that my universe of choice is Marvel. However, my favorite superhero movie is non-canon: that is, it features neither Marvel nor DC. My favorite superhero movie is Pixar’s The Incredibles. And I’ll even try to explain why.
(SPOILERS) The plot is briefly – the world was once full of superheroes but after a public relations nightmare they are rejected by society and essentially forced to no longer be superheroes. The story centers on the Parrs, Bob (Mr. Incredible) and Helen (Elasta-girl), and their three children. Bob longs for the glory days and Helen is entirely absorbed by being a stay-at-home-mother. Their marriage is on the rocks. When Bob gets a chance to return to superherodom, he goes for it, even though he has to lie to his family. Eventually this turns out to be a plot by Syndrome, who wants revenge against superheroes. The Parrs all get involved and save the world and their marriage.
This movie, despite being marketing as “children’s entertainment,” is not dumbed down in any way (not that I think children’s entertainment should be dumbed down). The themes of trust, betrayal, and family are treated with due seriousness. So is the danger of being a superhero. Honestly, I think this movie is dark, espeically for something marketed as children’s entertainment. You may think I have a broad definition of “dark,” but this is why I think this is dark:
1) Lots of people die, both off-screen and on-screen. The list of Syndrome’s victims that Bob scrolls through is pretty extensive. He finds the corpse of one of those victims. Many of Syndrome’s minions are killed even though there is no body (a flying vehicle crashing into a mountain and exploding means the pilot is pretty conclusively dead).
2) Syndrome is a psychopath. I’ve watched my share of kids’ movies (because often I prefer those to “adult” movies) and kids’ TV shows and rarely have I seen a villain so thoroughly evil. Syndrome makes it clear he has zero regard for human life over and over again throughout the movie. The only other animated villain close to Syndrome’s level of evil is Negaduck, and at least it was never shown that Negaduck killed anyone (I wouldn’t put it past Negaduck, but that wasn’t confirmed in the series).
3) Helen’s lecture to her children. As though the writers were using Helen as an author avatar to break the fourth wall, she tells her children that the situation is not like their Saturday morning cartoons. She tells her children, who are 9 and 13 (approximately) that the bad guys on the island will try to kill them, and by extension tells the audience that this is not a happy Disney movie either.
4) Violence against the children. Think about how often movies rated PG actually feature violence against children from adults, or even PG-13 movies. But in this movie, Helen is right. The minions do try to kill the children, and it is obvious that Dash and Violet are children. There is no way the minions can mistake them for adults. Dash and Violet are shot at, chased, and one point each of them is actually struck by a minion.
This doesn’t diminish the movie in my eyes; I just wonder if the PG rating was too weak. Granted, the violence isn’t, “Do you want to see a magic trick,” but again, there is a lot of it. Honestly, I think this movie does a better job of presenting the “grim reality” of being a superhero better than most superhero movies.
Another aspect of this movie that I like is that the characters seem honest in their motivations and actions. Bob, who is a flying brick minus the flying part, exemplifies the “world of cardboard” trope. Bob also ended up a job he hated, which probably made him long for his former life even more. On the other end of the spectrum is Helen, who seems happy giving up her superhero career to devote herself to her family. Her power is elasticity, so perhaps this was a metaphor for her ability to adapt to the new circumstances, whereas Bob as a non-flying brick just couldn’t. Much of the drama is not drawn from Syndrome’s scheme but from watching Bob and Helen’s marriage dissolve. They don’t talk to each other enough, and when they do, it’s clear both have valid points the other is not acknowledging. The children are caught in the middle, and it’s teenaged Violet who understands the depth of the problem. The younger Dash clearly takes after his father and longs to express his powers. The characters are a family with superpowers, not superpowered beings who are a family (this is an important distinction to me). This movie does a better job of portraying that than either of the Fantastic Four movies, which is too bad because this movie clearly draws inspiration from the FF (Dash with superspeed doesn’t quite fit but Violet’s power is to turn invisible and create invisible force fields).
In other words, the characters are absolutely relatable. I understand the motivations of the heroes and the villains. Syndrome’s origin is like many Golden or Silver Age villains, in which a seemingly minor slight sends them on the path of villainy. Yes, Bob was the cause of that slight, but I think the movie makes it clear Syndrome is responsible for his fate. I understand that Bob is trapped in a career that he doesn’t want and doesn’t suit him, but I also understand that doesn’t mean he can neglect his family. I understand Helen is happy with her new life, but I also understand that doesn’t mean she can expect Bob to completely forget those glory days.
The seriousness is balanced by the humor. The movie pokes fun at common superhero tropes (“I can’t believe it! You got me monologuing!”) as well as some common action movie tropes (like the old “throw the rock” trick which actually works). And I love love love Edna Mode. I have lots of thoughts on super-costumes and her part in the movie is brilliant (“No capes!”). I love the series of increasingly hysterical phone calls from the babysitter watching the youngest Parr, Jack-Jack. I also like the DVD short that explains what the heck was going on in between those phone calls.
Overall, everything just comes together for me. The humor, the seriousness, the characters, the plot. I won’t say it’s perfect, but right now it is my favorite superhero movie.