Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Decade in Review (#4).

I don't know if you noticed, but Hollywood released a whole mess of comic book superhero movies in the 2000s. Sam Raimi's Spider-Man came out in 2002 and made piles and piles of money. Spidey wasn't the first profitable superhero movie--Superman was a hit in the 70s, and Batman was big in the 80s. But for some reason, Spidey's success was the one that greenlit a thousand comic book projects. Well, maybe not quite a thousand.

Like any genre, the quality of comic book superhero projects is all over the place. X-Men 2 is great, Spidey 2 is pretty solid, Watchmen is ambitious (if flawed), and X-Men Origins: Wolverine is a cold turd served on a paper plate.

But the decade's very best superhero movie, Brad Bird's The Incredibles (2004), isn't based on a comic book. Not officially, at least. Bird's movie owes a sizable debt to the Fantastic Four comic books--and, I suppose, a small debt to the original Watchmen books.

The Incredibles, animated by the geniuses at Pixar Studios, has an advantage over all of the decade's live action superhero films. Though modern special effects lets filmmakers put almost anything on the screen, the visuals in a fully animated movie like The Incredibles are truly limited only by the filmmakers' imaginations. That advantage is especially important in the superhero genre, where the characters are often engaged in... well, incredible feats.

Even without cutting-edge computer animation, The Incredibles would still be tough to beat, though. The screenplay, voice performances, editing, and score are all just about perfect. Bird's second film (his first is The Iron Giant, also animated, also excellent) set a high standard for superhero flicks, one that has yet to be bested (and, yes, I am counting The Dark Knight). It's a particular shame that the "official" movies based on The Fantastic Four comic books are so mediocre. Maybe one day some filmmaker inspired by The Incredibles will give audiences the great Four movie they deserve.

Honorable mention: the decade's other Pixar films

The worst thing I've ever said about a Pixar film (Cars) is, "It's pretty good." As much as I hate to throw around the "M" word, most of Pixar's releases are masterpieces. The Pixar gang doesn't make dumbed-down "kids" movies, they make family movies, movies that adults can enjoy just as much as the young 'uns.

If someone made a decade's top six list that contained only Pixar films--Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Wall-E, and Up--I wouldn't argue.

Tomorrow: "Son of a bitch, I'm sick of these dolphins."

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