Help me make supers legal again!
Fourteen years is a long time to wait for a sequel—especially from a studio that embraced the concept of creatively expanding properties with them early on in its tenure. Letting a decade-plus pass guarantees your initial audience has grown out of the target demographic and therefore presumes their interest in returning to such characters has waned or disappeared. This is why the decision to have Incredibles 2 completely ignore its lengthy hiatus is so intriguing an idea. We’re not returning to this world long after Syndrome sought to destroy it, hoping the family that took him down somehow shifted public perception back towards acknowledging the necessity of superheroes in the meantime. Writer/director Brad Bird has chosen to pick right back up where we left them instead.
After a brief prologue preparing the consequences to come, we’re thrown into the action as Underminer (John Ratzenberger) reveals himself to be the latest threat to innocent civilians unluckily positioned along his path of destruction. The Parrs (Craig T. Nelson‘s Bob, Holly Hunter‘s Helen, Sarah Vowell‘s Violet, Huck Milner‘s Dash, and Eli Fucile‘s Jack-Jack) were barely able to unwind and relax after their last harrowing mission before finding themselves in-action again—this time as a team from the get-go. But whereas their fight with Syndrome occurred away from prying eyes on a private island far away, this encounter unfolds in their hometown. This means potentially exposing their identities, being unable to prevent casualties, and an exorbitant amount of infrastructural carnage. The Incredibles’ homecoming inevitably ends in handcuffs.
I’m not sure a better return to this franchise was possible. The original film never fabricated an optimistically hopeful bent to fulfill stereotypical norms of what children’s fare must be to achieve success. It was very honest about its themes of intolerance, fandom, and heroism. It wasn’t afraid to raise the stakes and let the pain of loss devastate rather than inspire. We saw a regular family forced into not only taking on alter egos, but also becoming them. Threatened with jail and massive debt if they were ever to publicly use their superpowers, they were told that being themselves was illegal. We met them in varying states of helplessness so that only a problem allowing them the opportunity to reclaim their identities could finally let confidence grow.
Being that the Parrs exist within a rather astute alternate reality to our own, Bird knew another free reign superhero film in this current era of comic book overload wouldn’t work. He knew one of the most intriguing parts of the first was his choice to hamper his characters’ ability to do what needed to be done. So letting their newfound confidence blow-up in their faces to show the public’s unwavering refusal to look past the economics of their utility towards the humanity of it was an ingenious way to send them back to square one. That doesn’t mean Incredibles 2 becomes a rehash, however. It may work towards the same goal (reinstating supers as a legal form of law enforcement), but its path is quite different.
Cynicism was a byproduct of the world in 2004. In 2018 it’s a symptom. So even though this sequel takes place directly after the events of its predecessor, the themes are very much of the present (as the satirical quote I’ve placed at the top clearly explains). Rather than be about action versus inaction, Bird brings us into a 24-hour news cycle/social media era of perception wherein both must be wielded by good and bad alike. When rubble is all we see after supers are done fighting, that’s all we focus on (regardless of the lack of bodies beneath it). To truly understand the split-second decisions these men and women make, we must experience the fight from their perspective and realize how much worse things might have been.
This is why entrepreneur and hero fanboy Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) reaches out to the Parrs and their friend Lucius ‘Frozone’ Best (Samuel L. Jackson) with a potential solution to their woes. If he and his inventor sister (Catherine Keener‘s Evelyn) can use their resources to document the moment-by-moment actions via body-cam of a superhero minimizing loss, they might be able to sway the opinions of lawmakers to go back to a time of safety and security thanks to reinstating heroes as selflessly vigilant beacons of hope. (While you could construe the comparison to Donald Trump’s mantra as him being in the right, I’d argue Deavor’s idea being good shows how Trump and his sycophants have warped true altruistic protection for all into self-serving protection for few.)
Since Bob’s Mr. Incredible and Frozone are more hammer than scalpel, the face of the Deavors’ new initiative must be Helen’s Elastigirl. If she can use her abilities to prove effective and efficient, she can remind the masses what it looks like to be a hero making the world better. It’s a venue for her to rekindle the excitement and enthusiasm she possessed before being forced to hide in the shadows and embrace domesticity. Her absence from the family due to this crusade also provides Bob a venue to experience the joys of being a hero at home. They each need this as a way to re-center themselves as a combination of super persona and secret identity. They shouldn’t have to continuously sacrifice one for the other.
She must combat the evil Screenslaver who uses hypnosis via any available, hackable digital screen (caution to epileptics as the strobe effect of his technology can be fierce); he the difficulties of parenting three kids with disparate problems ranging rejection (Violet), grades (Dash), and the uncontrollable polymorphism of newfound abilities able to cause heart attacks in anyone within close physical proximity (Jack-Jack). The result is action-packed and hilarious respectively with the latter culminating in two no-holds-barred sequences of insanity that will have you crying before Edna Mode (Bird) arrives for a third. This familial strife is a wonderful distraction since solving Elastigirl’s mystery is perhaps more obvious than the filmmakers hope. Luckily its reveal is early enough so that the Parrs’ convergence can provide a suitably suspenseful climax.
So while the endgame is familiar and the two-pronged journey of parent and kids at home with the other parent in the field identical (albeit flipped), Incredibles 2 finds a way to be unique in its execution of that template. Bird did toxic fandom in the first and thus replaces it with positive fandom here (in more ways than just Sophia Bush as Elastigirl’s cheerleader Voyd) to provide something to fight for beyond ego. Love for them exists regardless of a minority voice holding majority power. We know regular people want the Incredibles to give them hope; it’s just a matter of reminding them to use their voices to prove it. Only then can the heroes remember it’s not about fame. It’s about saving lives.
courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures