Film: The incredibles - Livre d'Or

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Film: The incredibles
Wednesday, 03 December 2008 at 09:41 pm

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Reasons for watching it: cartesiandaemon recommended it to me, and was curious to know what I would think of the controversies raised by it.

Circumstances of watching it: While cartesiandaemon was here, we'd planned to spend some time just curled up together watching Firefly. But he'd lent out his Firefly DVDs and not been able to get them back, so we watched this instead. I actually really like watching a film with a friend like that, when they've already seen it so don't mind if I make occasional comments during the action, and we can discuss it straightaway afterwards. And it's something I don't always think of doing when I have a visitor because I assume I ought to be paying more direct attention to them; I should consider it for future, at least when I have someone staying for a few days.

Verdict: The incredibles is good fun but doesn't quite live up to its potential.

I'm probably not the best audience for this, as I haven't seen any of the classic superhero films it's responding to. I think it does work at both levels, as a fun action cartoon that a child could enjoy, and also as commentary on the genre. The premise of superheroes being forced into retirement doesn't make a lot of sense, but if you could buy that it makes a nice setup for the subsequent adventures. The plot was twisty and I believed in the characters getting into and out of jeopardy repeatedly. I thought Elastigirl was a little over-powered, since she could shape-shift into things like a parachute or hovercraft and therefore get out of almost any situation, but it was entertaining to see what she'd try next.

I have to admit, I was rooting for the evil robot of destruction a bit, because it's just so cool and it wasn't its fault that Syndrome programmed it to be evil. But apart from that, I thought Syndrome was one of the best cartoon villains I've ever seen; he was suitably evil and vindictive, but he actually had a plausible motivation for his evil ways. He made some evil overlord mistakes, such as betraying Mirage and spending too much time torturing his victims instead of just killing them, but not too gratuitously many, and I'd say he had pretty good reasons for believing they were already dead when he killed them the first time.

I know a lot of people have declared that The Incredibles is sexist; I think it is a little bit, but not much worse than your average action movie with a male lead. The female characters are excessively sexy in terms of having exaggeratedly feminine features, but that's as much a superhero thing as a sexism thing. J and I debated whether the film passes the Bechdel test, and we think it marginally does (do mother-daughter conversations count? Helen and Edna have a conversation that is only partly about the hero, too.) I didn't have a problem with the portrayal of the relationship between Helen and Bob in their domestic life, with her nagging and blocking any fun, and him being irresponsible and childish, because I think the point of that was not to tell us that this is how men and women behave, but to criticize stereotypical suburban life, in contrast to the time when they were superheroes and had a much more equal relationship. The biggest problem I had with the film is that I just didn't believe in their relationship; their banter came across as bickering and there was no real chemistry between them.

If I was going to take offence, it would be at Frozone; ok, it's somewhat positive to have a superhero who's not white, but why make him so stereotypical? Also, the dieting stuff seems completely unnecessary; Mr Incredible is so over-muscled he's shaped like a giant upside-down triangle, he's never going to have a "good" BMI, so having him worry about putting on weight is just silly. It would have been just as effective to simply show him working out to get back in shape, and the lazy point and laugh at fat people bit could have been left out.

I don't think the philsophical underpinning of the film, the thing where "if everybody's special, nobody is" makes any sense at all. The film itself undermines this; Dash's fast running isn't any less special because Mr Incredible is really strong. And Syndrome's idea of providing everybody with the technology so they can achieve superhuman feats seems like obviously a good idea, even if it comes from an evil mouthpiece. Because I didn't buy the thing with the superheroes being banned in the first place, so I didn't accept its message about people preferring mediocrity over excellence. Some people do, such as the middle managers in the insurance office, but it's not a general social problem. And it's not a solution to set up obviously unequal competitions like Dash's race. But that doesn't prevent it from being good fun, with some very pretty animation and backgrounds.

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Discussion: 5 contributions | Contribute something

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rho: default
Date:December 4th, 2008 03:56 am (UTC)
7 hours after journal entry, 04:56 am (rho's time)
There's a fairy well-established history in the superhero genre of superheroes being banned or otherwise restricted. The two examples that spring most readiy to mind for me (and I'm by no means an expert) are Watchmen and the Mutant Registration Act in X-Men.

The idea, typically, is that superheroes tend to act as vigilantes, and that there needs to be an element of accountability. Who do they report to? What are the conditions of their employment? What checks and balances are in place to ensure they don't abuse their power? And so on and so forth.

Obviously, all these problems have solutions, but it's also perfectly possible to realise a situation in which these problems combined with people's fear of things that are different might lead to superheroes being banned.

I don't think that the portrayal in The Incredibles was particularly realistic or convincing, but I also don't think it was meant to be. It was mostly played for comedy value. When I watched it, though, I didn't think "gosh, how unrealistic" but just accepted it as one of the genre conventions, that this sort of thing could happen, and was slightly amused at the subversion of the convention by doing it in such a ridiculous way.

I can see how that part could ring false without the background knowledge of the genre, though.
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livredor: fangirl
Date:December 4th, 2008 06:27 am (UTC)
9 hours after journal entry, 07:27 am (livredor's time)
Ooh, thank you, that's a really helpful bit of background. I was thinking I liked the idea of having a world where there's more than one superhero and they're part of the culture and this has political consequences, but I guess that's not exactly original to The incredibles. I agree, you're not supposed to worry about realism in a superhero cartoon, but the premise didn't seem to make sense on the terms set up by the film. Knowing that it's a trope from the superhero genre makes it make a lot more sense.
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lisekit: dolly
Date:December 5th, 2008 02:50 pm (UTC)
1 days after journal entry
I quite liked that they coupled the idea of "suspiscion of superheroes" with the 90s litigation culture. I guess it might not be the most original premise in the world, but had a nice feel of "what oft was thought but ne'er so well expressed" about it!
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sonicdrift: default
Date:December 6th, 2008 03:23 pm (UTC)
2 days after journal entry
I thought it was good fun. I saw the cut scenes which annoyed me. It looks like they cut alot of the sexism out of the film - including, I seem to remember, a scene about how even if a woman has ultra superpowers the best thing she can do for society is to stay at home and look after the kids. I think it was the writer on the intro who was saying he couldn't understand why it was cut out!
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pingback_bot: default
Date:March 14th, 2009 04:59 pm (UTC)
100 days after journal entry

Film: Watchmen

User livredor referenced to your post from Film: Watchmen saying: [...] on, both comics and films. ( had to explain some common tropes to me so that I could understand The incrediblesand this is obviously far more sophisticated.) For an inexperienced viewer, though, I thought it did a good job of both being ... [...]
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