Wednesday Wonders: That’s incredible!

Probably inspired by my trek into the real world to see Free Guy when it opened, I cracked open the ol’ Disney+ over the last weekend and decided to catch up on films I’d missed in the theater in the past.

I settled on The Incredibles 2 (2018), which came out fourteen years after its predecessor The Incredibles (2004). I did see the first film in a theater and loved it.

But this isn’t going to be a review of either film. Rather it was something that struck me during one of the villains speeches, although it didn’t really hit me until after the film.

The plot in a nutshell is that the sequel picks up right where the first film ended, with the Underminer emerging from the ground in a boring machine and wreaking havoc. The Parr family, aka the Incredibles, try to stop it only to make things far, far worse.

Superheroes — called “supers” in this universe — have already been outlawed, and the Parrs are reduced to living in a cheap motel, but they only have two weeks.

Along comes an apparent hero to the heroes, though: Winston Deavor, a huge superhero fan like his father. He and his sister, Evelyn Deavor, inherited their father’s business after he was killed by burglars after no supers showed up — seeing as how they were illegal at the time.

Don’t say the sister’s name too quickly, though.

Anyway, Winston enlists Elastigirl, aka Helen Parr, to take part in a PR campaign to redeem the image of the supers and get them made legal again. Her husband, Bob Parr, is left at home to take care of the kids — although Winston couldn’t stand seeing them living in a motel, so lends them one of his many homes, which is an isolated mid-century modern showplace literally built for a billionaire.

Helen is going to be wearing a miniature camera on her missions in order to give people a super’s POV, but from the first mission she runs into the films villain, Screenslaver, who uses hypnosis via video screen to control people.

And it was one of these speeches, delivered to a TV audience as Elastigirl tracks down said villain that it struck me. It’s another case of the villain not necessarily being wrong.

Here’s selected bits from the monologue:

“Elastigirl doesn’t save the day; she only postpones her defeat. And while she postpones her defeat, you eat chips and watch HER confront problems that you are too lazy to deal with. Superheroes are part of your brainless desire to replace true experience with simulation. You don’t talk, you watch talk SHOWS. You don’t play games, you watch game SHOWS. Travel, relationships, risk; every meaningful experience must be packaged and delivered to you to watch at a distance so that you can remain ever-sheltered, ever-passive, ever-ravenous consumers who can’t bring themselves to rise from their couches, break a sweat, and participate in life.”

The ultimate purpose for all of this, the villain explains is “So that the system can keep stealing from you, smiling at you all the while.”

Hm. Sound familiar?

Again, I can’t say that I disagree with the villain’s monologue at all and, as we know far too well in the 2020s, there are no superheroes to come save us. There are some heroes who stand up all too briefly at particular moments, but no Justice League or Avengers out there fighting crime.

Meanwhile, and especially during the days of COVID and isolation, we have replaced experience with simulation. Ironically, a lot of people didn’t listen to the supers who stepped up at the beginning of the thing — e.g. Dr. Fauci — and so we wound up deep in trouble, which continues to this day.

What I’m not sure of is how much writer-director Brad Bird agreed with the villain or not. On the one hand, it could have been a really subtle F.U. aimed at superhero films in general and Disney and Marvel in particular. The Incredibles are the only two superhero films that he’s written and directed.

The rest of the films he’s both written and directed are The Iron Giant, his 1999 debut, Ratatouille (2007), Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (2011) and Tomorrowland (2015), the latter two being forays into live action.

So you could say that he’s not a fan of superhero films and has only been involved in one franchise that he did not create. On the other hand, he does leave some clues lying around that maybe having supers is not the best thing, or at least not in this particular world.

Oh yeah — The Incredibles has always been stuck in this uncertain era that seems to have both modern gadgets and dated style, but canonically it apparently takes place in 1962, although it could be an alternate universe, given that people being born with superpowers is a thing.

The ending of the film is a big nod to supers possibly being more trouble than they’re worth and (THREE-YEAR-OLD FILM SPOILER ALERT) we get to watch as the entire family, after finally setting up a date between teenager Violet and her total crush Tony, see a passing cop and robber chase and silently agree to pursue. They dump Tony at the theatre with popcorn money, although Violet swears that she’ll be back before the trailers are over.

Okay, another alternate universe bit: in 1962, the trailers actually did come after the feature, which started on time. They came between the feature, intermixed with the cartoon(s) and newsreel and before the B Movie.

This is film history 101, although I’ll let it slip as shorthand to a modern audience. Her saying, “I’ll be back before the end of the first reel” wouldn’t make a bit of sense nowadays.

Still… the family is willing to interrupt their life to get involved with something that really looks like it’s a simple police matter.

There’s also an undercurrent of sexism and toxic masculinity going on. First off, Bob can barely handle that his wife is suddenly getting all of the attention while he has to take care of the kids — a task he can barely handle. Second, Helen Parr is known as… Elastigirl. Not Elastiwoman? Not just SuperStretch?

Even if she started young, she should have given herself the name promotion and rebranding. Hey, Superboy did it and became Superman — at least in the Golden age, although that was retconned away in the modern age.

Supergirl, however, was always just “girl.” Naturally.

These hints carry on to their kids. Violet’s powers are non-destructive: Invisibility and creating protective forcefields. Her brother Dash, though, while only having superspeed also has a pretty destructive streak, best shown when it’s revealed that his dad’s old car, the Incredribile (I think) has been bought at auction by some wealthy man even though it was believed destroyed.

Dad still has the remote, which he digs out, and, surprisingly, it works at whatever distance they are from the location of the car. Dash seizes the remote and wants to fire off the rockets, bot Dad dissuades him.

It does say a lot about an animated film that is ostensibly just a family-oriented action/adventure story when it makes you think about the possibly bigger ideas that the filmmaker may have hidden within the story.

Then again, Brad Bird always puts a lot into his movies. I think my next feature watch is going to be Ratatouille.

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