There are a hundred ways to measure what makes a great movie, but nothing speaks more highly about a film than how closely you can read it. In his new feature, Deadshirt Editor-In-Chief Dylan Roth explores one of his favorite films by demonstrating just how much there is to talk about, writing at length about Every Five Minutes of runtime.
Written and Directed by Brad Bird
(c) 2004 Disney/Pixar
“Bowling Night” (20:46-24:23)
Many Pixar movies are about exploring fantastic worlds through the eyes of characters for which the impossible setting is actually mundane. Toy Story is about sentient dolls and action figures, and that’s normal for everyone involved (except for poor Sid); half of Monsters Inc. is a wry workplace comedy about the monsters who scared you as a child, and it’s all just a 9 to 5 job for them. The Incredibles is no different. For Bob, Helen, and Lucius, looking back on their old lives as superheroes is like reminiscing about their old band. Helen is a little embarrassed by it, Lucius remembers in fondly but is a different guy now, and Bob, well, Bob can never get over having his big break fall out from under him.
So it’s not surprising that, when Lucius and Bob hang out, they’d swap stories about their dangerous, colorful lives as costumed crimefighters as casually as you’d recall a wild night of bar-hopping with your friends. The idea of superheroes shooting the bull about their former escapades over coffee goes back at least as far as Watchmen (again, this film’s single greatest influence), but Samuel L. Jackson’s Frozone sells this dialogue with the same flair as his back-and-forth with John Travolta in Pulp Fiction.
While it starts out funny, this scene takes a sobering turn as it begins to address Bob’s adrenaline addiction. Bob and Lucius don’t go bowling on Bowling Night, instead they sit listening to a police scanner while Bob champs at the bit for an emergency in which to intervene. Lucius plays along (and provides the wheels), but is himself clearly uninterested in illicit hero work. But Bob won’t be stopped, even if pursuing this thrill means breaking the law, ignoring his best friend, and repeatedly lying to his wife. One gets the impression that Lucius comes along not to humor Bob, but to keep an eye on him and keep him from getting into any real trouble.
The conversation turns briefly to the missing Simon “Gazerbeam” Paladino. “He had trouble adjusting to civilian life, too,” Lucius warns Bob, and as we’ll soon learn, he’s right to do so. The harbinger of Paladino’s grisly fate is, in fact, watching them right now from a nearby alleyway. Her name is Mirage (voice of Elizabeth Peña), and she’s reporting the pair’s (admittedly boring) actions back to base on her cell phone. Ironically, she’s actually here to watch Lucius, and has no idea who “the fat guy” sitting with him is.
The police scanner speaks up, reporting a nearby building fire, which starts Bob bouncing like a puppy. Lucius reluctantly agrees to drive them toward the crisis. “WOOOHOOO, FIRE!” bellows Bob, who is not a well man.
What follows is a light, fun adventure in which Bob and Lucius, clad in ski masks, rescue a dozen or so citizens from a burning apartment building, all while maintaining their buddy cop banter. Some fun world-building details are dropped here that help to make this fantasy world feel real. Take, for instance, this exchange:
One could be forgiven for assuming that this revelation of Lucius’ weakness would become relevant in the third act, but it never does; it’s just a little flavor. (Whether that’s a strength or a weakness of the film is up to individual interpretation.) The Supers aren’t magic, and they’re subject to at least some of our physical laws, and as established back in the prologue, they’re certainly not immune to bad luck. The only way to escape the burning building ends up being to knock it down, and when the smoke clears, Bob and Lucius discover they’ve just landed in the middle of a locked-up jewelry store, late at night, wearing ski masks. Now, after all of this, they’ll have to confront the police and escape with their secret identities intact.
There’s Rule #19 again: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
This action sequence mostly exists to break up the first act, providing a little excitement between the glory days prologue and Mr. Incredible’s return to action (coming up in the next ten minutes or so), but it does advance the plot in a few ways. The first consequence is teased immediately upon the guys’ escape, as the mysterious Mirage has now taken notice of the “fat guy” she’d previously dismissed, and tells the voice on the other end of the phone that “this is the one he’s been looking for.”
The second consequence is far more emotionally important, as the fallout to this escapade puts further strain on Bob and Helen’s marriage, which is the subject of the next installment of Every Five Minutes…