The Films of Brad Bird
The Iron Giant
The Incredibles (November 4/04)
The Incredibles marks the first Pixar film to feature an "outsider" behind the camera - ie someone who's had no involvement with the company until now - and this is certainly one of those cases where the old adage "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" applies. The film - which follows a retired superhero (Craig T. Nelson's Mr. Incredible) as he (and his family) are forced to spring into action after a nefarious villain arrives on the scene - essentially plays out like a slightly above-average summer movie, complete with big explosions and underdeveloped characters. It's because of writer/director Brad Bird's sharp dialogue and the expected visual splendor that accompanies every Pixar production that the movie remains a cut above most big-budget fare. But when you're talking about the company responsible for such instant classics as Toy Story and Finding Nemo, it's hard not to walk into each new endeavor with extremely high expectations. The Incredibles never quite makes it up to the level of its predecessors, however, primarily due to the fact that most of these characters aren't even close to as engaging and intriguing as Toy Story's Buzz Lightyear, Finding Nemo's Marlin or even A Bug's Life's Flik. When you get right down to it, Mr. Incredible is basically just a guy suffering from a mid-life crisis - a personality trait that would've been fine in a drama, but just seems strangely out of place here. As a result, the first hour of The Incredibles - which focuses almost entirely on Mr. Incredible - is far from engrossing (to be fair, the film is never boring). Fortunately, Pixar has once again outdone themselves in terms of creating a world that's full of jaw-dropping visual splendor. The Incredibles is fascinating virtually from start to finish on a purely visceral level, and one wonders how Pixar will manage to top this (something that's said after every new movie by the company). The voice acting is expectedly stellar, with Craig T. Nelson and Holly Hunter perfectly cast as Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl. But the real winner here is Jason Lee as bad guy Syndrome, with the actor giving a performance that's best described as animated (bad pun, I know). In the grand scheme of Pixar's films, this is probably their least effective project to date. But still, this is the sort of movie that demands to be seen on a huge screen - if only to soak in the amazing effects and computer imagery.
Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol
Though it does, for the most part, seem to have emerged directly from a Mission: Impossible template, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol nevertheless comes off as a superior sequel that benefits from the charismatic work of its stars and from the inclusion of several thoroughly engrossing action interludes. The storyline follows Tom Cruise's Ethan Hunt as he and three cohorts (Jeremy Renner's Brandt, Simon Pegg's Benji, and Paula Patton's Jane) attempt to prevent a diabolical madman (Michael Nyqvist's Hendricks) from acquiring nuclear launch codes, with the quartet's continuing efforts complicated by the complete and total shutdown of the IMF by the American government. Filmmaker Brad Bird, working from a script by Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec, kicks off the proceedings with a thrilling prison-break sequence that immediately captures the viewer's interest, with the movie's inevitable segue into standard Mission: Impossible territory - ie disavowals, megalomaniacal villains, nuclear launch codes, etc, etc - subsequently alleviated by an ongoing emphasis on high-energy, over-the-top action set pieces. And although Bird's overuse of shaky camerawork and rapid-fire editing drains the life out of the film's one-on-one fight sequences, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol's propulsive narrative makes it rather easy to overlook the few missteps that crop up along the way - with the movie's highlight undoubtedly Ethan's hair-raising jaunt on the (very high) exterior of Dubai's Burj Khalifa skyscraper. It's a breathtaking interlude that can't help but lend virtually everything that follows a fairly anticlimactic vibe, as the film's lulls become more and more pronounced past that point and it ultimately does seem as though Bird is treading water in the build-up to the final confrontation (which is, admittedly, well worth the wait). The end result is a perfectly watchable (yet undeniably overlong) entry in an almost remarkably consistent series, with the movie's overall impact heightened on an ongoing basis by its eye-popping, jaw-dropping IMAX presentation.
A tremendous disappointment, Tomorrowland details the muddled, futuristic exploits of two extremely disparate characters: George Clooney's grizzled Frank Walker and Britt Robertson's comparatively wide-eyed Casey Newton. Filmmaker Brad Bird, working from a script cowritten with Damon Lindelof, has infused Tomorrowland with an unabashedly imaginative vibe that is, in the movie's first half, impossible to resist, with the narrative boasting a heaping handful of exceedingly creative sequences that are heightened by some seriously impressive special effects. (The scenes set in an unspecified future are, to say the least, jaw-dropping.) It's clear right from the get-go that scripters Bird and Lindelof aren't interested in offering up an easily-digestible storyline, as Tomorrowland initially unfolds as a series of seemingly unconnected vignettes involving the two central characters - with the viewer's confusion allayed by Bird's often astonishing directorial sensibilities. (There is, for example, a breathtaking single-take shot following Casey's first experience within the film's Jetsons-like future landscape.) There reaches a point, however, at which the movie's indecipherable plot becomes a serious impediment to one's enjoyment, as it grows more and more difficult to work up any interest in or sympathy for the protagonists' head-scratching endeavors. The progressively arms-length atmosphere ensures that the action-packed climax comes off as noisy and meaningless, and it's hard to deny that Tomorrowland concludes with as palpable a thud as one could possibly envision - which is a shame, certainly, given the incredible promise of the movie's early scenes.
An erratic (and ultimately disappointing) sequel, Incredibles 2 picks up immediately after the events of its predecessor and follows the Parr family (Craig T. Nelson's Bob, Holly Hunter's Helen, Sarah Vowell's Violet, Huck Milner's Dash, and Eli Fucile's Jack-Jack) as they're forced to once again utilize their superpowers to battle a villainous figure bent on world domination. Filmmaker Brad Bird delivers a striking opening sequence that seems to promise a fun, briskly-paced adventure story, and yet the movie, much sooner than one might've preferred, settles into a hopelessly uneven and only sporadically compelling midsection - with the less-than-engrossing atmosphere compounded by Bird's reliance on somewhat routine and even hackneyed elements. (There is, for example, an almost eye-rollingly tedious subplot revolving around Bob's ongoing jealousy of Helen's newfound success within the superhero realm.) It becomes more and more clear, in fact, that none of the movie's story threads wholeheartedly work (eg it's hard to work up much interest in Violet's ongoing boy troubles, to be sure), and there is, as such, little doubt that the picture's momentum grows increasingly tenuous as the narrative unfolds - with the primary saving grace here a typically vibrant animation style and a smattering of admittedly electrifying action sequences (including a fantastic interlude involving a helicopter chase around the city). By the time the decent yet palpably padded-out climax rolls around, Incredibles 2 has certainly confirmed its place as a pervasively underwhelming followup that often feels much, much longer than its 118 minutes.