Forget what you know about the film versions of Superman, Batman, the X-men, or even Spider-Man. Simply put, The Incredibles is the greatest superhero film ever.
Mr. Incredible (voice of Craig T. Nelson) is a superhero at the top of his game. With super strength and go-it-alone attitude, he lives the glory of saving the day time and again, right up until a series of frivolous lawsuits destroys everything it means to be a “super.” The government takes charge and offers to relocate America’s superhero population to secret, normal lives and waive the lawsuits on one condition: they never do anything super again. A normal life isn’t what Mr. Incredible yearns for, however, and although it may cost him his family to do so, not taking the opportunity of a lifetime could cost him his soul.
There are so many things going on in The Incredibles that it’s hard to pin them down in one film (or one review, for that matter). On one level, the story is about being true to yourself and who you are, while on another it’s about family and being there for one another. On a third level it’s all about superheroes and supervillains, plus the entire story is set in a quasi-1960’s suburbia and yet also in a high-tech James Bond spy world (and the brilliant soundtrack inspired by 007’s own The Spy Who Loved Me orchestrations help complete the illusion).
Writer / director Brad Bird, the creator of the under-watched animated masterpiece The Iron Giant, proves himself again by reportedly mirroring his own frustration in trying to be the gifted creator he is while having to suffer the indignity of not being able to realize it. At the same time, he and Pixar’s finest prove that no one has a better grasp on the classic superhero genre: the indulgent monologues of raving megalomaniacs, incidents involving capes, and trying to maintain a secret identity (even if that means selling insurance for a living or not competing in sports you can easily win).
The animation is nothing short of amazing itself (and the best Pixar has accomplished to date), and the cast of voices is equally amazing, too. Craig T. Nelson’s Mr. Incredible is tasked with becoming equal parts hero and father with more than a few dramatic moments (and not the one’s you think). Holly Hunter gives voice and life to Elastigirl, a mother and former hero happy to play at being normal yet unable to deny that she and Mr. Incredible’s children are special, too. Samuel L. Jackson plays Frozone, but this potentially dominating character is wisely held back to make room for the family. Jason Lee goes over-the-top as the villain Syndrome while Brad Bird himself gets into the act as the “costume designer of the gods” Edna Mode (who steals every scene she’s in).
There’s something for all ages here, from classic furniture styles of the 60’s and characters living in Frank Lloyd Wright architecture to a hidden island fortress stocked with global-dominating gadgets enough to make S.P.E.C.T.R.E. jealous. While the film opens in a relatively quiet place, you’ll still be trying to catch your breath by the time the credits roll. Please let there be a sequel to this in the works!
Addendum: revisiting this film fifteen years later in preparation to view for the sequel (finally!) the 1960s-ish setting keeps it timeless enough to still work in spite of everything that’s come after, including ten years of Marvel Cinematic Universe flicks starting with Iron Man and culminating in Avengers: Infinity War. One thing that the MCU still hasn’t done to the extent of The Incredibles is combining powers to achieve an effect one superhero alone couldn’t do, but that could still happen… eventually.
Four skull recommendation out of four