The Incredibles (fight 3 of 3)

Freakin’ robots, man.

3) The Incredibles and Frozone vs Omnidroid

The Fighters:

  • The Incredibles: Bob/Mr. Incredible, Helen/Elastigirl, Dash and Violet. An ersatz Fantastic Four family that’s finally embraced their destiny as a crime-fighting team– an old job for the parents and a new one for the kids.
  • Lucius Best aka Frozone, a close friend of the Parr family (he was best man at their wedding) and another superhero. Although retired and adjusted relatively well to civilian life, he’s been going on occasional covert vigilante outings with Bob, and is doesn’t hesitate to spring back into action when he sees the Omnidroid wreaking havoc in the city– there’s a very funny segment where he argues with his wife about where she put his old superhero gear.
    • Armed with: Roughly analogous to Marvel’s Iceman, Frozone’s powers are related to ice and cold. He can instantly freeze nearby water or even moisture straight out of the air, and failing that can use the moisture in his own body. The boots on his super suit can transform instantly into a sort of high-tech snowboard. Voiced by Samuel L Jackson, who’s clearly having fun.
  • Omnidroid version 10.0, the biggest & baddest one yet.
    • Armed with: In addition to being the size of a large house, this Omnidroid has SIX weaponized tentacles (the claws of which can detach or be manually launched) and a swiveling laser cannon near its sensor.

The Setup: The end-stage of Syndrome’s plan with the perfected Omnidroid is to launch and then re-drop it from orbit into a populated area so that people will assume it’s an alien craft, then eventually have it attack everything in sight– it’s kind of the inverse of the plot of The Iron Giant, come to think of it. Syndrome will then show up and “defeat” his creation, passing himself off as a new superhero. It goes off pretty well at first, but the robot has actually grown sentient enough to rebel against Syndrome, and before knocking him out was able to separate the villain from the wrist-gauntlet he’d been using to control Omnidroid. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Syndrome, the Incredibles have escaped from captivity and made their way to the site of Omnidroid’s debut.

There’s a really beautiful moment between Bob & Helen, where the big guy shows his vulnerable side as he reluctantly reveals that he’s “not strong enough” to face the very idea of losing his family. Unfortunately this nice family discussion is interrupted by the arrival of a giant murder-bot. I hate when that happens.

What follows is something superhero fans had been waiting to see actualized on the big screen for decades: a team of superheroes fighting against an honest-to-gosh giant robot attacking the city. In 2004, that was a revelation. Heck, it hasn’t been re-attempted since, though Joss Whedon deserves credit for having a team of superheroes fight off an alien armada that had been attacking the city, even if it’s not fair to the aliens because they didn’t have a Hulk.

The Fight: The initial onslaught from Omnidroid scatters the family and leaves the kids too frazzled to react properly. Violet gets her wits about her in time to save herself and Dash from the robot with a shield. She can withstand several blows from the machine’s limbs, but the force of it dropping its entire body on the shield is too much for her, breaking the force field. Mr. Incredible then stops the robot from crushing the both of them by bench-pressing it with all four limbs, which gets him seized and thrown through a nearby office building. He responds by jumping out and knocking Omnidroid down with a flying tackle. He’s helped by the arrival of Frozone, whose ice attacks against the machine’s joints don’t seem to do more than annoy it.

When Bob finds and realizes the importance of Syndrome’s remote, the tenor of the scene changes. Omnidroid does everything it can to keep the Incredibles from holding on to and using the remote (before the fight ends, random button-mashing will knock off another whole limb from the robot, and launch it several hundred feet in the air), which necessitates its changing hands a lot. In a clever callback to an earlier scene which combined their respective powers (a superhero twist on the typical “Dad tossing the football” thing), Bob tells his son to “go long” and throws the remote so far only a speedster like Dash could catch it. Helen– seizing a manhole cover and bending her arm around a light pole to create enough momentum to launch it, a rather awesome move– knocks out Omnidroid’s cannon, which is kind of too bad because it was cool as heck to watch Dash dodge all those laser blasts.

pew pew pew

The robot is still dangerous enough even with its offensive capacity diminished and pursues Dash onto a body of water, but fortunately Frozone is there to skate to Dash’s rescue, creating ice walkways for them to slide around on. There’s another fun bit where Frozone insta-freezes a giant splash from Omnidroid to cushion everyone’s fall.

We learn that the machine is still projectile-capable when it launches a claw at Robert to keep him from seizing the remote, though the loss of that claw causes the robot to stumble on one of Lucius’ ice slicks. An invisible Violet finally seizes the remote, and that, combined with Bob’s recollection that the robot’s shell is not strong enough to withstand blows from its own limbs, leads to the family launching the forgotten claw straight at Omnidroid’s metal heart, ripping its power source right out. Thunk.

Really great work is done here. The city setting is a change of scenery, since the majority of the film’s action having been on varying parts of Nomanisan. As with the previous dynamite sequence, everybody gets at least a thing or two to contribute, scoring lots of little victories against Omnidroid while never undercutting just how nigh-unstoppable and relentless it is. Giacchino’s jazzy music is as fun as ever.

As good as the staging is, I think there might be one or two “last minute saves” too many in this scene– a temptation that’s hard to resist in scenes with multiple protagonists moving in & out of the action. And as noted, the nature of the scene changes greatly when the remote is introduced: away from being a “fight” to more of a chase/defensive/keep-away sequence. After that, aside from Helen’s sweet move taking out the blaster, there’s not much in the way of back & forth with Omnidroid, just a lot of looking for an opportunity to exploit its weak point with one fatal blow. Still, it’s superheroes vs a giant robot attacking the city– how much can you really quibble with that?

Grade: A-

Recommended Links: It appears that Brad Bird felt a disturbance in the Force, because while I was writing the drafts of these posts he happened to mention that he might get to work on making an Incredibles sequel after all. I rather think we should already have had like one or two of those already, but I won’t complain.

Coming Attractions: I’ve been too easy on myself for a while now, what with these positive examples and all. For the next series my disappointment will be…

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The Incredibles (fight 2 of 3)

In describing this fight scene to you, I am burdened with glorious purpose.

I know, I was overwhelmed too.

2) The Incredibles vs Syndrome’s Henchmen

[On the audio commentary, Brad Bird says that they called the bulk of this sequence “100-Mile Dash,” because Brad Bird is awesome.]

The Fighters:

  • Dashiell Robert “Dash” Parr, the ten-year-old son of Bob & Helen Parr. His brash and feisty nature fits in perfectly with his superpower; both elements have gotten him into trouble at home & school in the past. Early in the movie he vocalized some of the resentment that quietly gnawed at his parents, namely that for the family to deny their true greatness in order to spare the feelings of the “ordinary” is to do a disservice to everyone. Voiced by Spencer Fox.
    • Armed with: his superpower of blinding speed, not just at running but with his whole body. It’s something he’s grown up with but never truly unleashed, thanks to the restrictions placed upon him by his family’s secret exile.
  • Violet “Vi” Parr, Bob & Helen’s older daughter (age not specified but probably 13-14). Violet is at that painfully awkward stage of adolescence, simultaneously yearning for and terrified of attention. Her power set is even more appropriate to her personality than her brother’s. Voiced by Sarah Vowell.
    • Armed with: the ability to make herself invisible and, more importantly from a tactical standpoint, the ability to generate force fields in her immediate vicinity (in this aspect she is more than any of the other family members clearly modeled on a member of the Fantastic Four– namely Invisible Woman, who has the exact same seemingly unrelated pair of powers). She’s had even less exercise of this power than Dash has, owing largely to a lack of self-confidence. This is about to change.
  • Helen Parr aka Elastigirl, the matriarch of the Incredible clan. Like her husband, she’s a former professional superhero forced into retirement, though she’s worked harder to adjust to “normal” life. But this little expedition to Nomanisan proves she’s still got plenty of chops. Voiced by Holly Hunter.
    • Armed with: the power to greatly elongate her limbs, torso, neck, etc. Coupled with the speed & practice she has, the ability is amazing for offense, mobility, and stealth– though I’m not covering it for the blog, one of the movie’s underrated sequences has Helen using her rubbery skills to infiltrate Syndrome’s supervillain fortress.
  • Bob Parr aka Mr. Incredible, needing to be rescued after his introduction to Syndrome and an ill-timed distress call got him captured. Same powers as before and still voiced by Craig T. Nelson.
  • Syndrome’s henchmen, a bunch of particularly nasty goons.
    • Armed with: some are on foot and carry small arms, but most of them are piloting a nifty sci-fi vehicle of Syndrome’s own design. Shaped like a one-man flying saucer and surrounded by a spinning/gyrating blade (ideal for both offense and cutting through the dense jungle foliage), the machines are fast, agile and each equipped with twin machine guns. Though they’re never named in the film, the Internet tells me the devices are called “Velocipods.” Which… sure, okay.

Note that all four of the Incredibles are also wearing their spiffy new outfits, courtesy of master super-suit designer Edna Mode. Each one is highly durable, resistant to extreme temperatures, tailored specifically to match each individual’s power set, and outfitted with a distress beacon in the chest.

The Setup: Mr. Incredible has been called in for a rematch with Omnidroid on Nomanisan, culminating in his aforementioned capture and the discovery of Syndrome’s scheme. Helen, suspicious about her husband’s absence but ignorant of his captivity, used Edna’s tracking device to get Bob’s location and flew to the island on a borrowed plane. Dash and Violet had secretly stowed aboard, but before she could take them back, Syndrome sent missiles to blow the plane out of the sky. They escaped, but Mr. Incredible is left bound and thinking his family’s dead.

Having swam to the island, Helen hid the kids in a nearby cave while she ninja’d her way into the villain’s lair. Before leaving, she tried to communicate to them the enormity of the danger they’re in and how they’ll have to fight to protect themselves. It’s a really quiet & powerful scene, with a mother who doesn’t want her children to have to grow up so fast but resolving that she has no other choice under the circumstances, so no point whining about it. A nearby rocket taking off (long story) floods the cave with fire and flushes the children out of their hiding place and into the open. They sleep in the jungle and wake up to a robotic sentry detecting their presence and sounding the alarm, so shortly after, they’re quickly surrounded by Syndrome’s guards. Violet vanishes from sight and reminds her brother to follow mom’s advice (in Dash’s case, to run “as fast as you can,” a prospect that filled him with awe). The boy zooms off with goons in pursuit, one of them remaining behind to look for Violet.

The Fight: An embarrassment of riches. To try to describe it “blow by blow” style would be to do it a disservice, not to mention exhausting.

So much good stuff happens, mostly involving the pint-sized speedster. All of his antics are entertaining, but there’s a clever escalation to his scenes here– he gets not just faster as the scene goes on but also more crafty and confident. Early on he makes some mistakes and runs into a swarm of bugs, then later a swing on a vine sends him flying off a cliff only to be accidentally (and conveniently) saved by a Velocipod that was swooping by. Standing on the deck face-to-face with the pilot, Dash’s blinding speed lets him dodge all the adult’s punches, and when he first hits back with a quick punch he has a look of amazement that’s perfectly natural from any ten-year-old: “Did I just punch a grown-up and get away with it?” He increases his assault but when he’s distracted by the sight of the cliff the pod’s hurtling toward (the pilot’s back is turned from the flight path), he gets clocked right in the face, and the resulting fall saves him from the crash. Soon, however, he will get by less on luck and more on skill.

There’s no shortage of other fun beats & gorgeous animation: Dash bobbing & weaving to avoid machine gun strafes, Dash bending a tree to cause a pursuing pod to crash, Dash running upside down and all around a watery cave to get two bad guys to collide with each other, etc. But it all pales next to the film’s finest moment:

The kid finds three more pursuers on his tail at one point, and after it’s too late to change course he sees he’s heading out onto open water. Assuming he’s in for a painful splash, he flinches… only to look down and discover that he’s moving so fast, he’s skimming along the ocean’s surface rather than sinking. Finally encountering the reality of his unlocked potential, of seeing what he can do after ten long years of being told what he can’t, he just… laughs. He laughs for maybe a second before zipping off quicker than ever, but there’s so much packed into that one gleeful giggle. It’s the laugh of someone who’s truly, ridiculously, stupidly happy. If this were a different kind of Disney movie he would go into a five-minute musical number about this awesome new power he is (witness the songs about flying in Peter Pan and Aladdin, for example), but The Incredibles accomplishes more with one laugh than other films could with an entire opera of songs.

I know it’s subjective, but it’s hard for me to overstate just how indelibly wonderful this moment is. It’s up there with Quint telling the story of the USS Indianapolis, Michael Corleone closing the door on Kay, Kikuchiyo lecturing the other samurai about a farmer’s life, and “you’re all clear kid, now let’s blow this thing and go home.” It’s poetry, full stop.

Dash shaking off the last of his pursuers leads to a nice break where we see Helen arriving just as her husband’s being freed by Syndrome’s assistant Mirage (herself in the middle of a Heel Face Turn). They storm out to look for the kids, who are actually doing all right on their own. Dash reunites with Violet just in time to save her from a canny guard who threw dirt at her to detect where she’d been hiding, and she immediately repays the favor by asserting her ability to create force fields just before the guard was about to gun down Dash in retaliation. The two improvise a neat trick where Dash runs in place within Vi’s spherical field and turns the thing into a giant, invincible hamster ball. Some more pursuing Velocipods bounce off before they finally encounter (and non-fatally run over) their parents.

The brief reunion is interrupted by a few straggler guards, which the Incredible parents dispatch with ruthless, Papa & Mama Bear efficiency. The hilarious moment where they look at each other and simultaneously say “I love you” in front of an enormous explosion they just caused is priceless, even in a sequence filled with priceless moments. Another squad of goons arrive to spoil the fun, and while last time the kids looked on in awe at a whole new side of their parents, this time the whole family works together.

The next bit is as brief as it is spectacular. These four had never fought as one unit until now (heck, until ten minutes ago half of them had never fought a single bad guy at all), but to see the way they work together now you’d think they’d been practicing for years… and why wouldn’t they? They’re family.

Everybody contributes. Dash runs circles around the group in order to kick up a dust storm to limit the enemy’s visibility. Violet (her devilish grin signaling the definitive end of her “wallflower” phase) puts up a shield to block automatic fire, while Mom protects her against enemies sneaking up from behind. Dad starts to wreck one of the ships but, unfortunately, it all comes to an abrupt end when Syndrome arrives and instantly traps all four with his cool but narratively boring “zero-point energy” gauntlets, capturing the whole family. Grr.

Let’s take a moment to note here that this is not the old G.I. Joe cartoons, heck it’s not even the Ninja Turtles movie– people die in this fight scene. Several of them, in fact, and though it’s all done through bloodless explosions there’s no doubt what happened to the pilots. Causing the death of a human being, even in a justified self-defense context, can be a traumatic thing even for most adults, so on the one hand it’s odd to see Dash and Violet react so casually the first time they do it (maybe they went through some therapy after the credits rolled?). But on the other hand, it’s refreshing for a big movie to take such a no-nonsense approach to the issue of genuinely bad guys, and what happens when you’re up against them in a kill-or-be-killed situation.

This scene, though: like it, love it, and gotta have it. Dash is the breakout star but everybody gets something to do. The bad guys are generic but they and their implements are suitably intimidating. Giacchino’s music soars. The staging is fantastic and covers a wide range of terrain. Even in the relatively quiet break in Bob’s prison cell, the pacing never really slows down. And this remains the greatest depiction of a superhero speedster to ever grace a movie scene.

There are things to object to, if we’re being thorough. Again, the bad guys are nameless & generic, Dash is way luckier than he should be, and that wonderful final bit where the Incredibles fight together is over almost as soon as it starts, thanks to Syndrome and his Win Button of a weapon. But then again:

Grade: A+

Coming Attractions: A giant robot is attacking the city, as those are wont to do.

We’re gonna need a bigger boat.

The Incredibles (fight 1 of 3)

The Incredibles is my favorite Pixar movie. This is not a title I bestow lightly.

Released in 2004 and directed by nerd hero Brad Bird (The Iron Giant, Ratatouille, the Mission Impossible movie where Tom Cruise is framed by bad guys and has to go rogue from his own organization– no, the other movie where he does that. No, the OTHER other one), The Incredibles is a joyful celebration of old school superheroics. It manages the strange feat of being deeply nerdy about its comic book inspirations but not self-consciously so; smart comic fans will spot the story’s roots in everything from the Fantastic Four to Watchmen but the movie never disappears up in its own butt with overtly winking geek references. It’s also surprisingly Randian but we’ll not get into that. Instead we’ll get into….

1) Mr. Incredible vs Omnidroid

The Fighters:

  • Robert “Bob” Parr aka Mr. Incredible, a major-league superhero who’s been in forced retirement thanks to hyper-litigious American society. In the years since he’s become overweight and frustrated with his mundane life, yearning to exercise his full abilities once again. Voiced by Craig T. Nelson.
    • Armed with: Nothing but his supernatural physical strength and heightened durability.
  • Omnidroid version 8.0. An autonomous robot with a learning A.I., built to kill superheroes and being molded through much trial & error into the ultimate war machine. It’s already on its eighth incarnation and is plenty dangerous, currently in the shape of a huge metal sphere walking on four tentacles.. I’m not sure of the overall practicality of that design but certainly its uniform roundness leaves it with few apparent weak spots.
    • Armed with: Its main weapons are its metal tentacles which are long, flexible, retractable and equipped with gripper claws. It’s also not shy about using its enormous size as a weapon.

The Setup: Fed up with hiding his true nature, Bob Parr is an easy mark for a weapons contractor who tracks him down & hires him to stop his “malfunctioning” Omnidroid. In time it will be revealed that this employment offer is actually a trap for Mr. Incredible: the robot’s owners have programmed it to kill him or, failing that, observe enough from its defeat in order to be made even stronger in its next iteration. But for now Bob, uncomfortably squeezed into his old outfit, goes along with the fake story, gets dropped on the lush jungle island of Nomanisan (get it?) and gets to tracking down his foe.

The Fight: Even at his prime Mr. Incredible was hardly the Dark Knight Detective so he spends a good deal of time searching aimlessly for the giant machine, and he stumbles onto the telltale signs of Omnidroid mere seconds before it arrives and attacks. Despite his girth, Bob’s uncanny agility is still intact, and each swipe from the robo-beast’s grasping tentacles is a near-miss. This isn’t a slugfest; the one good punch Incredible gets in on Omnidroid launches it far backward but it’s not much worse for wear when it lands.

A lot of fun stuff happens from here on. When Parr tries to vault over the approaching robot, it calculates (we keep getting brief views from Omnidroid’s internal HUD) the trajectory of his leap and swats him out of the air effortlessly. At one point it fully retracts all its metal limbs and rolls into a ball, chasing after Mr. Incredible in a way that would probably trigger Indiana Jones’ PTSD if he were watching. That also leads to a chase down a cliff side and Omnidroid hurling rocks at a distant Bob; there’s a kind of hypnotic grace to the fluid movements of the machine’s arms.

The fight gets a lot more serious when it moves into a nearby volcano and Bob finds himself with his back against a lake of lava. The superhero is able to jiu jitsu his grasping enemy into the lava and seemingly cut the fight short– he even enjoys some gloating victory laughs which throw out his already over-stressed back. Unfortunately the machine is apparently capable of withstanding even the most extreme of temperatures and it rises from the liquid hot magma looking rather ticked.

Omnidroid even demonstrates a new technique, holding two of its arms stretched out directly in front of it and spinning the claws into whirling propellers of death. Parr escapes getting pureed by jumping out of range but the machine still seizes and slams him to the ground (should have just dropped him into the lava, silly robot), but when it tries to finish him off by ripping him in half lengthwise, the pulling motion inadvertently repairs his back– instant chiropractor!– and gives him the burst of energy he needed to escape.

Mr. Incredible opts to use the big muscle in his head for once, and in the confusion he immediately gets directly underneath the robot– while Omnidroid has sensor cameras on both its top and bottom, they don’t have a full 360 degree view, and Bob exploits the blind spot. He then rips off the bottom sensor and climbs inside the machine. As it tries futilely to get at him, Omnidroid pokes several holes in itself, and finally Bob lures it into stabbing directly into its own power core. It sinks to the ground, inert.

Though there was all sorts of spiffy superhero antics in the movie’s delightful opening prologue, this is where The Incredibles really starts to flex its action muscles, and I’m very pleased with how it delivers. The fight’s staging covers quite a bit of ground, from a dense green jungle to rocky cliff to the inside of a volcano (shouldn’t being this close to the lava be too hot for Bob, even in his suit? And shouldn’t it take longer for Omnidroid to cool off after emerging from the lava? That stuff’s like a thousand degrees). Michael Giacchino’s masterful score is appropriately menacing in the early part of the fight, but quickly turns triumphant (the movie bucks expectations with deliberately retro music motifs that sound more appropriate to a 60s spy show than a modern superhero flick) when it’s clear that Bob is going to turn the tables.

Speaking of appropriately menacing, Bird does an excellent job of selling the threat presented by the Omnidroid. Mr. Incredible gets by with some clever moves and his fair share of luck, but after seeing that metal beast in action there’s no question the fight could just as easily have gone the other way. This is important because our pal Omni is going to come back in a big way.

Strange to think that this movie’s nearly ten years old. Superhero films have come a long way since then, but few have rivaled this shining gem. This fight that closes out the first act serves as a strong opening statement as to what the master storytellers at Pixar could do on the genre’s canvas. And it will get even better.

Grade: B+

Coming Attractions: Dash runs away with our hearts.

No, he can be cocky. He earned it.