Walt Disney Co. via Everett Collection
As Captain America: The Winter Soldier hits theaters this weekend and officially kicks off superhero movie season, there will likely be a great deal of debate as to where the film fits in the lineup of great superhero movies. With the summer months becoming more and more crowded with heroes, villains and intense action, studios are constantly attempting to make the biggest, best film that the genre has ever seen, which has resulted in the movies becoming smarter, funnier, more compelling and packing in plenty more action. However, as critics and fans pit franchise against franchise, character against character and of course, Marvel against DC, they will inevitably leave out perhaps the greatest superhero movie of all time: The Incredibles.
In the current golden age of the superhero film, with the Marvel Cinematic Universe dominating every caped crusader that comes in its path and Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy winning Oscars, declaring Pixar’s 2004 film to be the greatest of all time is a controversial statement. And yet, there isn’t another superhero film that manages to not only combine all of the greatest elements of the genre into an exciting, hilarious 115 minutes, but also manages to actually add new elements to the stereotypical outline of a superhero story. Don’t believe us? Here’s why The Incredibles will stand the test of time as the standard to which all superhero films should be held.
It Has Everything We Love About the Genre
Exotic locales, gripping action sequences, compelling character development, crazy technological advancements… The Incredibles has it all. The film takes on the typical hero origin story, with Violet and Dash discovering and learning to control their powers, as well as bringing Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl out of retirement and learning to embrace every aspect of who they are. On top of the compelling character arcs, there are also plenty of intense fight sequences that leave audiences at the edge of their seats — some of which are even more impressive than your typical live-action film, since animation is free to bend the laws of physics. Despite being an animated film, the stakes are still high, the consequences are still serious and yet none of the character development is sacrificed for the sake of action, or vice versa. It’s about as close to a perfect hero story as you can get.
It Both Embraces and Skewers Superhero Clichés
Though people have been pointing out the impracticalities of capes for years, no movie had ever addressed it so succinctly until Edna Mode marched onto the scene. Though films have always featured sequences of heroes gearing up to get back in the field, most would never dare show their star struggling to fit his new gut into his old suit after all these years. Because it’s a comedy at heart, The Incredibles isn’t afraid to point out the sheer ridiculousness that is an integral part of any superhero universe. However, the people at Pixar are still fans of the genre, and so the film not only embraces those same clichés, but also adds plenty of in-jokes and references for good measure. In fact, the character of Buddy is practically designed as an homage to that love of superhero films, from his idolization of Mr. Incredible to the black paint he wears around his eyes like Batman.
It Deals with Real-World Ramifications
As anyone who has ever seen Man of Steel can attest, superhero films generally have no qualms about destroying whole cities in the name of justice, without so much as a casual mention about the damaged property or the massive cleanup that results. The Incredibles, on the other hand, makes this idea a central premise of the film, and the heroes are forced to hang up their tights after the lawsuits against them start piling up. In the film’s universe, the actions of heroes have consequences, and they need to be dealt with. The movie also looks at what happens to a hero after they retire and are forced to integrate back into the real world. Instead of helping people and protecting the city, Bob Parr is stuck working a desk job at an insurance company. It’s not glamorous or exciting, but it’s real, and it’s even more compelling watching him struggle through his now mediocre existence than it was watching Bruce Wayne climb out of that pit.
All of the Characters Are Layered and Engaging
One of the best things about The Incredibles is how all the characters have plenty of depth, no matter how much screen time they get, which makes their development over the course of the film even more compelling. We’re just as invested in Bob and Helen’s marriage as we are in their heroic mission, and like Violet, we understand how awkward and insecure being a teenager can be, even without the addition of superpowers. We get to see FroZone as part of a crime-fighting team and a bickering couple, rather than just as a one-dimensional character who exists solely for the purpose of assisting the hero. There are no bland love interests or exposition-spewing tech guys in the film; instead, The Incredibles treats them all as real human beings, with their own lives and hopes and goals, which makes for a richer world and a better movie.
The Villain Is Both Sympathetic and Terrifying
Before Tom Hiddleston turned Loki into the world’s most lovable super villain, there was a little boy who was dismissed by his idol. After watching the way that Buddy Pine’s whole world falls apart when Mr. Incredible refuses to let him fight crime, it’s easy for the audience to understand what drives Buddy and why he’s turned to a life of villainy. Even after he transforms himself into Syndrome and raises an army of evil robots, the disappointed little boy is still clearly visible inside of him. However, that doesn’t make him any less scary of a villain, and there are times during the film when it seems as if evil might actually triumph over good. His tragic backstory only serves to increase how terrifying Syndrome can be, especially since we know that he is fueled purely by the need for vengeance and has no sympathy or kindness left in him. Hell truly hath no fury like a fanboy scorned.
It Has the Best Supporting Cast of All Time
With respect to Nick Fury, Samuel L. Jackson has already given his greatest performance in a superhero movie, and it was Mr. Incredible’s smooth-talking and speed-skating sidekick, FroZone. Between “freezing” an officer for a quick getaway and misplacing his super suit, FroZone is the coolest superhero to ever show up onscreen, and he effortlessly stole scenes from the title characters. But of course, even he pales in comparison to the true star of the film, the woman whose sharp sewing skills and even sharper wit managed to make her one of the most memorable Pixar characters of all time: Edna Mode. Though she was never involved in the action, she’s become the film’s enduring legacy, and her derision of capes has become a catch-phrase for superhero fans of all ages. If Pixar ever decided to make a solo film about Edna or FroZone, we would be there opening night. We can’t say the same about a Warriors Three movie.