Incredibles 2 - Movie Commentary
Over on YouTube, I try to review films that my nearly 4-year-old daughter and I have watched together, to give other parents some useful info going into them. I don’t choose movies my daughter hasn’t seen, and while she’s gotten through most of the original The Incredibles (2004) over the course of time, it was definitely the right decision this weekend for my wife and I to hire a babysitter and see Incredibles 2 on our own. A lot of other grownups seemed to have come to the same conclusion. In our theater, children were scarce. While we were not at a kid-perfect matinee, we also weren’t at the late show. At 6pm on a weekend preceding a popular vacation week, I expected to see many more young faces, frankly. The theater was full, but there was only one actual “little” kid (of perhaps 5 years) and he seemed to fall asleep in his father’s arms about halfway through. In retrospect, he may have just been hiding. The main villain in this movie, Screenslaver, is pretty damn spooky, and indulges in that one sure-fire, nightmare-inducing theme from our childhoods: turning Mom and Dad into monsters. This is not a negative review, mind you. I’ll even say Incredibles 2 is more fun than the first film. Almost everything is amped up this time around. The action, music, humor...it’s all there. It’s neither boring nor (very) predictable, and it takes risks with its structure and plot occasionally, all to good effect. I left the movie feeling lighter. It’s a good, fun movie. It’s simply not a kids movie. Instead, it’s a movie for what we’ve become as an adult movie-going audience. It’s part ride, part game, and part self-aware, trope-twisting machine. It also gives nods to the female heroes of past and present, right alongside its male characters, a parity I often look for in DDMN candidates. (I couldn’t help conjuring up Barbara Gordon on her Bat-Cycle whenever Elastigirl peeled out on her new electric bike.) It’s just kind of a shame I can’t show it to my daughter yet, because it ticks so many Daddy-Daughter movie boxes. Oh, well. Some day she’ll catch it on streaming. For adult viewers, I’ll say that very little in the film feels rehashed, even while indulging in cliches that have doomed other sequels. We get the “rich benefactor” whose offer turns out to be a deal with the devil (Cars 3 most recently played that card) and the “villain turns the heroes into bad guys” trope, which has been lazily done to death (Temple of Doom, anyone?) but here we get so many heroes thrown at us that it becomes a numbers game (or maybe a video game) that’s consistently fun to play, er, watch, even when creating space for the Parr children to take over for a while. If only there were some kids around to watch. The climactic scene in which a giant cruise ship runs aground in downtown Metroville, while the supers struggle to contain it, found several grownups in our crowd audibly gasping, and rightly so. It’s so chilling, even down to the listing physics of the ship, you could pluck this scene out of Brad Bird's latest “cartoon” (the word hardly applies any more) and drop it into a Marvel movie with scarcely any changes to its rendering. The combined effect of pace, music, framing, lighting, fx animation and sound makes you remember why you enjoyed the first Incredibles movie so much, way back when. Incredibles 2 takes everything that’s so often poorly executed in movies today, and just does it all right. Better than right, in fact, because it’s aware of its own tropes and fearlessly wades into them, twists them up into new shapes, and throws them onto the screen while you stare in hungry anticipation. It’s the difference between a Jackson Pollack and spilling your soup on the carpet. And it does its magic on every front. Except for one. Story. I really wanted to write about this idea of being “super” which was so much a part of the original film and its characters, and I'd expected this to be further developed here. You see, we have a national, perhaps international, conversation going on these days around who the “real people” are in our country, and who plays second fiddle, or no fiddle at all. This is not a political blog, but you’d have to be blind not to see it or recognize it in our media, and the world of The Incredibles is no exception. The “supers” in the film are all being shunned, where once they were heroes. (Cough. Cough. NFL?) They are illegals, in fact. But they can’t help but be what they are, supers, despite a growing perception that they are dangerous, their intentions are bad and self aggrandizing, and that they need to be kept under control, at least, or made to disappear, at the extreme. This movie does not wade into issues any deeper than that, and at first I was a bit disappointed…but now I’m not. A lot of heavy-handed preaching could have been the death of this movie, even with the best of intentions. Brad Bird gave us only the amount of open dialogue that we were ready to receive, in fact, and a casual glance at any one of our social media streams these days reveals that that's not much. So what we’re left with is merely the fun. And maybe a light sprinkle of themes that most everyone can swallow. Parenthood is hard. Check. Women are strong, smart, and creative, and can (spoiler) also be formidable super villains. Check. Hiding the things that make you uniquely “you” can also make you invisible and, ultimately, forgettable. Check. And that is what I really wanted to get at. Because part of the conversation today is about teaching our kids that they are “special." Half the country thinks this is bad practice, because they equate it with intellectual elitism...and what about the kids who really are better at throwing a football, or running laps, or doing the new math? To quote the villain, Syndrome, in the first film, “when everyone is super, then no one will be.” The other half tells their kids they’re special just for waking up in the morning, and the countering fear is that we’ll raise a generation (or two) that’s not willing to put in the work, making us soft and uncompetitive in the world market. You might think from reading me elsewhere, or from watching my videos, that I belong to this camp, but I’ll try, for once, to surprise you. Both of these outlooks are flawed. Because the message of The Incredibles, even when they choose not to push it too hard, is that, yes, we are all special, all supers, whether we like it or not. You can tell just by the mundanity of some of the supers in this film. Reflux, the old man with super-acid-reflux? (He nearly takes the whole Parr family out, btw) or Voyd, the hero who literally creates areas of “nothing”? These are not elite ubermen. These heroes are emblematic of our most basic, often unremarkable, humanity. We’re all supers to the extent that we’re special…just not in "super" ways; only to the extent we become special to someone else. To our spouse or our kids. To that boy or girl in school who suddenly gets us. This is a meta movie with a micro theme, and that’s unexpected and perhaps even a little off-putting. Incredibles 2 tells its audience simply “be yourself," only loudly, so that someone else can find you in the crowd and appreciate you for what you are. Being "special" doesn’t mean you get the money, or the good job, or the girl or the guy. It doesn’t even mean you’re all that super. It's mostly a reminder to be visible. Be undeterred by life's setbacks. Because the alternative is Dicker’s memory machine. You’ll just disappear.
Instead, you’re alive. You’re special. So be here. Be seen. And be super. That's not a bad thought for one lazy, summer movie-night. The kids may have missed this one, for now, but maybe it’s the adults today who really need to hear it the most.