Review: ‘Incredibles 2’ Hits All the Right Notes, With Feminist Themes, Crazy Visuals, and, Yeah, a Little Bit of Exceptionalism
Who is going to tell Zack Snyder that his adaptation of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead is now even more irrelevant with the arrival of Pixar’s long-awaited Incredibles 2?
I kid, I kid … kinda. The same issues that some viewers had with 2004’s Incredibles, criticizing the film for sort of making the argument that whatever superheroes do is acceptable because they are just intrinsically better than the rest of us, absolutely come up again in this sequel. If you wanted to link this with Rand’s ideology, you would be able to get there. But … could Snyder ever make a movie as colorful and fun and timely as Incredibles 2? Even as someone who enjoyed Sucker Punch (I HAVE TO BE HONEST WITH MYSELF), I don’t think so.
Brad Bird’s film acknowledges the questions of its dissenters but fundamentally doubles down on the idea that superheroes keep the world safe, and are, both inside and outside of the suit, people. They worry about paying their bills. They worry about raising their kids. They worry about feelings of equity and equality in their marriages and their partnerships. They worry (and this is the 2018-feeling stuff) about the influence of the mega-rich on how their society is run. They worry about the effect of screens and reality television on their families and on their fellow citizens. And that’s the most important part of this: They consider other people their fellow citizens. Their behavior isn’t entirely motivated by feelings of superiority, but by altruism and sincerity, too.
Incredibles 2 picks up a few months after The Incredibles left off, with superheroes living in seclusion and ostracized from general society in Metroville. That means that Bob Parr/Mr. Incredible (voiced by Craig T. Nelson) and Helen Parr/Elastigirl (voiced by Holly Hunter) and their children, teenage Violet (voiced by Sarah Vowell), mischievous Dash (voiced by Huck Milner), and baby Jack-Jack (voiced by Eric and Stuart Bluth), are left with few options. Should Helen and Bob get regular jobs? Bob did that for the family the first time around, and Helen is ready for it to be her turn—that’s what marriage is!—but then an unexpected opportunity arises.
The offer comes from gigantic telecommunications company DevTech, its CEO Winston Deavor (voiced by Bob Odenkirk), and his sister and the company’s tech guru Evelyn (voiced by Catherine Keener). “Help me make all supers legal again!” he says to Bob, Helen, and their friend and ally Lucius Best/Frozone (voiced by Samuel L. Jackson), and Bob is excited to be Mr. Incredible again. But it’s not Bob the Deavors think will be their best chance at societal superhero acceptance—it’s Helen.
What that choice inspires sets off a series of questions about the Parrs, their marriage, their family, and what superheroes do for the world. If Helen goes back to work, can Bob handle taking care of the kids, and grow past feeling like a “substitute parent”? Helen is fulfilled by her work with DevTech and meeting other superheroes who are inspired by Elastigirl, but she feels like something is off about the whole arrangement—what is it?
It goes without saying that the visuals here are goddamn amazing, from the chase scenes with Elastigirl on her new motorbike, compressing and propelling her body to match the bike’s speed, to a fight scene between Elastigirl and the film’s villain that is unbelievably jarring and disorienting, like being caught in a TV screen of static while someone is trying to attack you. I don’t even really know how to describe it, except to say that I’ve never seen anything like it in a movie before and it almost triggered my epilepsy. But I liked it! (And the less said about Jack-Jack, the better, because that baby is absolutely the best part of this movie and I’m not trying to spoil anything for you.)
“Politicians don’t understand people who do good simply because it’s right,” is an idea that comes up over and over again in Incredibles 2 to validate what the superheroes are doing, and it’s, of course, one you’ll recognize from the Captain America films and other movies of this mold. But what Incredibles 2 does uniquely is examine the people involved in doing that good and how their other roles in life—father, mother, husband, wife, teenage girl trying to make sense of her first crush, young boy trying to understand how to do math, daughter, son—shape the choices they make for themselves and for others, as individuals and as members of a family and a communal society, whether they succeed or fail or fall somewhere in between. Every challenge for these characters, whether it’s finishing math homework or saving a careening train full of people, is treated with respect. That’s some nuanced, big-picture shit, and it only took us 14 years to get it.
(Incredibles 2 is paired with the film short Bao, which yes, you also need to see. Look at this adorable little dumpling! Get to the damn theater in time!)
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