Wow. I've just seen pretty much the perfect Fantastic Four
film imaginable. Impossible, you say? No, Incredible. Brad Bird,
the mad genius behind the criminally overlooked film The
Iron Giant does himself one better with this foray into
the realm of superhero action. If Marvel Comics has any sense
whatsoever, they would convince 20th Century Fox to fire director
Tim Story, tear up the script by Michael France and Mark Frost,
and turn the in-production Fantastic Four picture over
to Bird to do with as he will. Unfortunately for comics fans,
Bird would turn the offer down — why make the same movie
The Fantastic Four has always, at its heart, been a
story about family. The superhero aspect of the characters was
incidental. A pretty big incidental, granted, but the characters
and their relationships are what made that title work so well.
Bird has nailed that dynamic to perfection with The Incredibles,
creating lush and three-dimensional characters with the might
of Pixar’s dazzling animation behind it.
For all Bird’s unabashed love for classic Marvel Comics, the
coup de grace comes with a healthy and hilarious injection of
Keith Giffen’s Justice League International — the
good issues, mind you, where the humor is character-driven and
the stakes are real, before that book devolved into slapstick
and self-parody. For all the jokes present — it’s not
as funny as other Pixar fare, but there are sequences of good
belly laughs — the fact that danger and death lurk around
the corner for these heroes is always in sight. They’re afraid.
They hurt. They doubt. For being nothing more than computer-generated
pixels, these folks turn in emotional, even nuanced performances.
The premise itself is simple enough: Assailed by frivolous
lawsuits, superheroes are driven into hiding, given new lives
by a federal witness protection program. Mr. Incredible (voiced
by Craig T. Nelson), an incredibly strong Superman type, can’t
help himself when it comes to helping people. He sneaks out
on “bowling night” to listen to a police scanner with his old
buddy Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson), a scene-stealing ex-hero
with sub-zero powers. When Mr. Incredible is lured into an elaborate
trap by the nefarious Syndrome (Jason Lee), it’s up to his family
to come to the rescue. His wife, Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) is
a pragmatic, estrogen-charged version of Reed Richards; daughter
Violet (Sara Vowell) is a timid Goth chick who generates force
fields and turns invisible; son Dash (Spencer Fox) is a scarlet
speedster with a competitive streak a mile wide; and baby Jack
Jack apparently has no powers at all.
Much has been made of The Incredibles being the first
the first Pixar film to earn a PG rating, and while there’s
a good deal of superhero smash-’em-up violence, there’s nothing
more traumatic than that contained in The Iron Giant.
That’s not to say there aren’t consequences. In one affecting
scene, Mr. Incredible learns that a string of his fellow heroes,
his friends, had been lured into this same trap — only
they didn’t make it out alive. At another point, when he believes
his family dead in a plane crash, his grief and anger are physically
But don’t be misled. The Incredibles is first and foremost
a fun film, and when Dash and Violet finally unleash their powers
— after having to suppress them for years in order to
fit in with mundane society — the excitement erupts in
major ways. When Elastigirl infiltrates Syndrome’s fortress,
managing to get various parts of her body trapped in closing
doors several hundred feet apart while fighting evil minions,
the physical humor and choreography are nothing less than inspired.
The same could be said for the film’s music. Most of composer
Michael Giacchino’s work has been in television, with the exception
of the second Jurassic Park film, but he hits all the
right notes here with a jazzy, retro-cool score that evokes
all the best elements of the 1960s James Bond films. That’s
appropriate, as Syndrome’s volcanic fortress bears more than
a passing similarity to Blofeld’s in You Only Live Twice,
and another scene is lifted directly from Moonraker.
There are nods to the Star Wars films as well, and by
the time the narrative reaches the pivotal rocket launch sequence,
it is obvious that Brad Bird's grooving to the same pulp-culture
backbeat as Kerry Conran. If The Incredibles and Sky
Captain and the World of Tomorrow hadn't been in production
at the same time, I'd swear one was swiping from the other.
I can’t conceive of a better double feature than these two throwback
adventure films rendered with cutting edge computer-generated
visuals, preferably showing at a drive-in theater.
Good lord, can you imagine the carnage if these two visionaries ever joined forces? As mere mortals, we must all join in prayer that they use their powers only for good. Go check out The Incredibles for yourself, and see if you don’t agree.