A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 140 – The Incredibles

The Incredibles – July 18th, 2010

Andy suggested watching this tonight as a follow-up to our X-Men fest of the past few nights. Truth be told, we really should have done it after Fantastic Four, but we were in the middle of our Kevin Bacon thing and while Craig T. Nelson, Helen Hunt, Samuel L. Jackson and Jason Lee (not to mention Wallace Shawn) could have gotten us places, we already had a plan. So we didn’t. Which is a pity, as the parallels are pretty obvious. There’s one hero who’s all stretchy, one who can go invisible, one who’s super strong and okay, we’ve got a speedster instead of Johnny Storm, but there’s fire eventually. It’s pretty obvious that the Fantastic Four were an influence, but not so much that I think it runs the movie. It’s really more a homage type thing, and it borrows from all over the superhero genre.

We join the world of the Incredibles with disasters in progress. The basic introduction plot has a similar theme to Watchmen but without the nastiness and blood and all. It’s a cleaned up version. Despite the fact that superheroes do amazing things and save people they also cause problems. Hancock touched on this too, which is good, because I’m serious here. Meta-human insurance! So eventually the government makes all the superheroes go into hiding so they can stop paying out huge sums of money to people whose buildings get wrecked by them. And so we come to Mr. Incredible and his wife, the former Elastigirl, who are now married with three children and trying to live normal lives in a sort of superhero version of the witness protection program. Mr. Incredible’s not having too easy a time of it. He works for a nasty insurance company and hates his job. His wife’s doing okay as a stay at home mom, but is frustrated by her husband’s lack of dedication to keeping a low profile. Their daughter and elder son both have powers and are also frustrated, though they’re frustrated at having to hide what makes them special. It’s all a perfect set-up really. Of course it’s easy for the villain Syndrome to lure Mr. Incredible out of hiding, eventually drawing all four superpowered family members to his evil lair on Nomanisan Island before the real climactic battle back in Metroville, where Mr. Incredible’s old friend Frozone pitches in to stop Syndrome and save the day.

If I had to make one complaint about the movie it’s that it seems so clearly delineated into two parts. Ignoring the introduction, there’s the before and the after. There’s the boring regular life, and then the action. Sure, there’s a mid-point where Mr. Incredible’s going behind his wife’s back and doing what he thinks is hero stuff while she maintains their ordinary lives, but it doesn’t take long to go from ordinary to super. There’s a montage, for goodness sake. It’s a minor quibble, given that I enjoyed both parts, I just wish they’d been meshed a little bit better. But given that the movie is almost two hours long anyhow, I can see how that might have made for a time crunch.

It’s a fun movie, really. For a lot of reasons. The voice acting’s fun, and it’s great to see the two younger Incredibles come into their own with their powers. Dash’s wild-eyed enthusiasm and Violet’s growing self-confidence are really well-portrayed, both by the animators and the voice actors. Maybe a couple of the action scenes could have been shortened a tiny bit, but watching the animation of the various powers – especially Elastigirl’s – is definitely worth it. Edna Mode is a truly great minor part and I’m genuinely sad that there’s no real chance of a superhero costume challenge with Edna as a guest judge on Project Runway. But what really makes it for me is all the call-backs to various superhero tropes, like Edna’s No Capes montage (which makes me wish they’d worked in a Dollar Bill reference there) and the overall style of the world, which is a sort of retro 50s vibe that fits right into the classic superhero mood. It’s sort of a parody? But a loving one that wants to be part of it all at the same time and manages it just fine.

July 18, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Incredibles

July 18, 2010

The Incredibles

It’s been a while since I last watched this movie and I gotta say, it takes its sweet time getting going. The first forty minutes of the movie are concerned with establishing the world and the characters. Some of it is slightly complex stuff for a movie that’s aimed at children to attempt. Difficult because one of the central points of the movie revolves around a super hero with a mid-life crisis. This was considered revolutionary back in the eighties when Allan Moore did it with Watchmen, and that was intended for adults. So a whole lot of work has to be done before we can get to the meat of the movie.

The world itself is quickly introduced through a series of interviews. We meet Mr. Incredible, Elastigirl and Frozone, three of the super heroes that defend the world. It introduces the tone of the film, the way that the super heroes seem like almost normal people who have to save the world because they have these super abilities. (Mr. Incredible fumbles with his microphone, Frozone talks about secret identities.) Then we get a sort of typical day in the life of Mr. Incredible. On his way to an important appointment he saves a cat from a tree, foils some bank robbers, defeats a purse snatcher (with help from Elastigirl,) prevents a suicide attempt, almost succeeds in stopping another robbery and bombing, and prevents a train from falling from a broken track.

After all this daring-do Mr. Incredible gets sued a lot. Indeed the floodgates open and “Supers” left and right get sued for all the damage and injury that their profession results in. This forces the government to pass the Keene Act encourage all the super heroes to abandon their super activities and hide amongst the populace as regular human beings. Which is where the mid-life crisis comes in. We finally arrive in the present, and Mr. Incredible has settled down. He’s married to Elastigirl and they have three children. He works an awful job at a soulless insurance company and his boss looks like Lumbergh from Office Space and has the voice of Vizzini from Princess Bride. His son is a speedster named Dash and his daughter Violet has the powers of the Invisible Woman from the Fantastic Four. (His other son, the baby, apparently has no powers.)

In his regular life as Bob Parr, Mr. Incredible is miserable. He just wants to help people, but he’s not allowed to. And of course his home life is filled with chaos, as any home life with four super powered people would be. He secretly goes out with his buddy Frozone to fight crime once a week and tells his wife that he’s bowling. (In what I assume to be another Watchmen reference his first on-screen heroism in this part of the movie is saving people from a burning building.) Ultimately he even loses his job when he snaps at his boss and the government is threatening to uproot his family so they can hide in a different community. So when he’s contacted by a secret organization that needs the help of a super hero he cannot resist.

Then, finally, the true movie begins. Bob is whisked off to a secret island facility where he defeats a nasty robot gone amok. It’s like he’s his old self again at last, even if he has to hide his new super activities from his family. But when he is captured on the island by an evil mastermind his entire family gets caught up in the action (except for the baby Jack-Jack) and the four of them have to band together and learn to act as a super-team together to defeat the evil Syndrome and stop his nefarious plan.

Once it gets past all the exposition at the start this movie really takes off. Some of the action scenes are amongst the most amazing ever done in an animated film (particularly the amazing “Dash’s run” segment.) It pokes fun at a lot of super hero tropes (such as when Frozone reminisces about the foolishness of bad guys who “soliloquise” and yet another Watchmen reference when costume designer Edna Mode rants about the danger of costumed heroes wearing capes.) And mixed in with the action and the humor there are some serious issues to address like how the kids can ever fit in with their peers and weather or not Bob’s marriage can be saved.

But what I enjoy most about the movie, and what really makes the whole thing work for me, is the slightly retro art-deco style of the whole thing. The technology being used in the film is generally futuristic or modern day, like the clip-on microphones in the opening and the extensive cool gadgetry, but the general aesthetic is more sixties. Bob’s home is a classic sixties one-level abode that reminds me in many ways of my grandparents’ old house when I was growing up. Syndrome’s huge volcanic lair is heavily influenced by the lairs of James Bond villains that have gone before him, all rounded corridors, transportation pods on monorails and of course flowing lava.

Further enhancing the James Bond vibe is the extremely cool Michael Giacchino score, which often sounds directly out of Goldfinger or Diamonds Are Forever. It’s all blaring exciting horns and mellow jazz themes. It fits the visual style perfectly, and keeps playing in my head long after the movie is over. “Bah-da-BAH-da-bahhhh!”

Also a word on the technical wizardry on display in the animation of this movie: It’s a strangely mixed bag, combining some almost sparse environments at times with some real accomplishments in computer graphics. The character models themselves are very simplistic (which sort of fits the retro look of the movie) but I can’t help being amazed by their hair! It blows in the wind, it hangs wet around their faces, it even gets realistically mussed. There are also a lot of very nifty water effects employed, that clearly demonstrate that Pixar at this time was beginning to explore the limits of just what can be accomplished technically with computer animation. Watching this tonight I got the feeling that technical breakthroughs were taking place as the movie was being made, and that as new techniques were developed they were instantly folded into the fabric of the film. It’s strange how it can be simultaneously simple and jaw droppingly complex.

I’ve ranted before about my love for director Brad Bird’s work. I will say that because of the, probably necessary, very long time that it takes to get to the meat of this movie it is not my favorite of his. (Iron Giant holds that place in my heart.) But it’s nonetheless easily identifiable as all his, and I love him for it. And of course he somehow ended up also voicing the funniest and most enjoyable character in the movie as Edna Mode. I look forward now to reviewing Ratatouille and can’t wait to see what he does next!

July 18, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment