The Incredibles: An Argument for Original Superheroes
The Incredibles is a movie franchise that proves that you do not need a comic book origin in order to make a good superhero movie. Both movies are amazing. The Incredibles, released in 2004, and Incredibles 2, released fourteen years later, were both written and directed by Brad Bird. That sentence alone was insane to write. People loved the first movie so much that they wouldn’t stop praising it for fourteen years. That amount of time blows me away. Today is actually my 28th birthday, and for half of my entire life, people would not shut up about the first movie. And the second movie holds up.
I actually looked up the definition of “superhero” at multiple sites and in dictionaries and what I found was disappointing. All of them were along the lines of “a fictional person with super human abilities or exceptional skill” and I strongly disagree. A real superhero may have powers or skills but that isn’t what makes them a superhero. Caring about other people, putting yourself in danger in order to protect. Doing the right thing for no other reason then doing the right thing. Perhaps we, as real humans, disagree on a lot of things, but I think, or at least hope, most of us share the same idea of “the right thing”. This movie franchise does have super human people dressed in fancy tights using their powers to protect the people in danger. However, what I think these movies do more is highlight what being a hero really is all about.
The Incredibles movies are about a family of superheroes. Or more specifically about three superheroes and a few kids with powers. Mr. Incredible/Bob, voiced by Craig T. Nelson, and Elastigirl/Helen, voiced by Holly Hunter, are two retired heroes that have put away the capes (figure of speech) and have been raising a family in the suburbs. They have three kids. Violet, voiced by Sarah Powell, Dash , voiced by Spencer Fox (and then in the sequel is voiced by Huck Milner), and Jack Jack, who is a baby and babies can’t talk so I’m not crediting the people who just make baby noises and counting them along side thee Craig T. Nelson. There also is a family friend Frozone/Lucius, voiced by Samuel L. Jackson. All of these characters are legitimately good people. Yes they are flawed, because they are grounded, but they are still good people. That just want to use their powers to save people, because they know they can. The movie more so focuses on the individual and their desires for happiness. When Bob quits being a hero, he works as an insurance agent and is chastised for helping the clients get the insurance claims they rightfully deserve. That character is so morally good that being a hero is really the only thing that he can see is being fulfilling and worthwhile.
That being said, these movies also are action packed. The animation on the first movie is a little dated in certain scenes, but it still is great for being fourteen years old. The sequel is a real triumph and shows how far graphics have comes. The effects for Frozone’s ice and Violet’s force bubbles look just as good as Iceman’s powers in the X-Men movies or the fire cracker magic shields in Dr. Strange. And when you have the entire family working together, you cannot help but be dragged into the action. I don’t know which scene is better, the family fighting together for the first time on Syndrome’s Island or the sequel’s opening sequence where the family fights the Underminer. Both scenes are great. Or maybe it’s the scene where multiple brainwashed superheroes are fighting the kids and Frozone at the house. Actually, no, my favorite action sequence is Jack Jack vs the raccoon. I still am laughing about that one. Action in a superhero movie is a staple, a rule, a bloody commandment; and The Incredibles franchise delivers and then some. These movies show me grand displays of superheroes working together that really are only paralleled by the current Marvel juggernaut that is the Avengers.
I have heard dozens of people refer to the first film as “the first good Fantastic Four movies” and I kind of agree. Obviously they are not the same, I mean, well I guess, alright both teams have a stretchy character, and a strong character, oh and an invisible girl with force field powers. But at least The Incredibles didn’t copy Johnny Storm with…. oh wait, Jack Jack can light himself on fire. Alright, let me start over. What makes this movie better the Fantastic Four franchises is the family dynamic. We actually believe these characters exist even though they are doing incredible and heroic things because of the scenes where they aren’t. The first movie mainly centered around Bob being an aging man wanting to relieve the glory days of his past. If you don’t have a father like that, then you at least have a friend with that father. In the second movie Bob struggles to be a good stay at home dad while his wife actually gets to relive her glory days. Helen Is ecstatic after saving a train full of people, but first she asks her husband about the kids, like a real parent would. The kids acted like real kids, not understanding the burden that is on their parent’s soldiers while the parents try their hardest not to let their kids know the burdens exist at all. One thing that really made me fall in love with this family is the line “If everyone is special, then no one is.” It’s said twice in the first movie. Yes, it is about super powers, but it’s more about how everyone wants to be unique and needed. It is a feeling we all have. But in the real world, not all of us are equally special, that’s life. I’ve never heard a line as powerful as that in any other superhero movie.
These films are definitely spoofs on the superhero genre. Also they spoof 50’s action movies, old spy movies, some teen drama, and Edna Mode, voiced by Brad Bird himself, whom basically is a reference to the fashion industry. Aside from being hilarious, her character is an answer to a question rarely seen in these types of movies; “where do the costumes come from?” A good satire movie, and this is something the Scary Movie developers never figured out, was that you must have the call backs and references, but also they must have a point. These movies don’t have the luxury of being based on a comic book. The first one didn’t have a huge fan base when it first came out so they had to reference the genre itself instead of just the stories that were already written with the characters. They answered questions audiences have always wondered, like Edna and the costumes. And then they went above that and put these characters in a real world. They took the classic ‘worlds strongest man’ and weakened him with lawsuits, took a sidekick and had him rejected by his hero. Elasticgirl was a strong independent woman who ended up settling down and having kids. The children grow up with powers and aren’t written as a troupe. This is the only movie I can find where the children don’t run away from home and get trained to “just focus really hard on your powers.” The first time Violet actually needs to use her force field most of the family is going to die, and she fails. that is a real moment, failure. The Incredibles films don’t just make a good superhero story, they outdo a great number of the other superhero movies in the process. One thing both of these movies satire on, and do so much better than majority of other movies, are the antagonists.
Great villains are made by their heroes. Their existence is what causes super villains. Sure there are always bad people, but the best villains are the ones with motives driven by the actions of their nemesis’. The villain in the first movie Syndrome/Buddy, voiced by Jason Lee, is a direct result of someone with immense potential being turned evil by the actions of a superhero. Buddy was in love with the idea of being a hero like his idol Mr. Incredible. He could very well have been one in his own right too but all it took was one event, like meeting his hero and being turned away, to cause him to go down a path of terrible choices. These movies gave us grounded heroes, at that means they are flawed. I don’t blame Bob for not wanting to endanger the kid, but yes he was the reason Syndrome was born. He created the path that led to Buddy murdering all those other heroes. Screenslaver/Evelyn, the villain in the second film, voiced by Catherine Keener, is amazing. Her character is basically the best Lex Luthor story I’ve ever seen in a movie. She hates heroes because of people’s reliance on them. Her father was killed because he trusted being saved by superheroes over using common sense. That is a villain I can get behind. She thinks she is the protagonist of the story and that supers are making humans weaker. And she’s not exactly wrong.
The villains in these movies are phenomenal, and like their hero counterparts, I believe they are satire. Not so much on comic book villains, though they are, but more on the audience. Like Buddy and Evelyn, we the viewers do not have powers, were just observers watching the people in tights do incredible things and judging them. Buddy is the type of fan that get’s warped into the Fandom Menace. With comic/nerd movies growing and dominating pop culture, I assume everyone knows that one person that takes the movies way too serious. A fan that defines themselves by these superheroes and take the movies, as well as other people’s reactions very emotionally. Syndrome at one point is literally geeking out to the fact that Mr. Incredible is still alive and got past his security and then flips out at him because he thinks Bob radioed for help. “That’s not what Mr. Incredible would do!” Audience members like that are toxic, and they are perfectly represented by Buddy. He is someone without powers (the gifts to make movies), complaining about what a hero should or shouldn’t do (a director or writer making a creative choice), and instead of being constructive and helping in his society in his own way, he vows to destroy the hero (rant online about how much the movie sucked and people who liked it are the worst). Evelyn on the other hand is the cynical audience member that hates the culture entirely. I’m sure you also know a person who thinks the superhero movie genre itself is garbage. People that will actively undermine your enthusiasm for the next comic book movie you want to go to because “it’s for kids” or “they’re only making money” or “they don’t push any boundaries like a real movie.” Screensaver goes on a rant at one point in the second movie about how we are all just sheep who don’t think for ourselves. “You don’t play games, you watch game shows” and how the people that happen to enjoy something shouldn’t just because it’s not real/meaningful/what they like. But movies are an escape, entertainment is distraction sometimes and it’s fine. These villains are as real and grounded as the heroes in The Incredibles franchise. And in the superhero genre, that’s unfortunately more rare than you would think.
I want more movies like these. I don’t think that Marvel and DC have some exclusivity to the genre. Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing those movies as well. I geek out when I see a shot for shot replication of the comics I love on the big screen. I just think we deserve both. The Incredibles are fantastic movies and although they draw from other films, they are original. These movies will stick around forever and I hope there is a third one. They are classic superhero movies but also they connect with us on a real level. It is a story about a real family. That is something many of those other comic book movies struggle with. These characters aren’t some mythological beings from another world or someone with a terrible back story involving dead parents. The Incredibles franchise are movies that prove you don’t need a comic book in order to make a good comic book movie, you just have to make a good movie.
Movies watched and article written by: Troy Smith