I am in awe of Brad Bird. I mean he’s made mistakes: Tomorrowland, his support of Colin Trevorrow – but anybody who can make a film like this is on some sort of next level shit. The film picks up where the pervious one left off. The Parr family, under their guise as The Incredibles, defeated the robot terrorising the city. Pro superhero sentiment is on the rise again, but their vocation is still illegal and when they choose to go after the Underminer the law forces them back underground.
Here they, and Frozone (back again and somehow even sexier this time), are approached by an eccentric tech billionaire. He’s on their side. He’s devised a fully featured multimedia strategy to bring the argument for superhero re-legalisation forward into the public consciousness. One that will start with broadcasting the exploits of Elastigirl, the easiest of the three to insure for collateral damage, before opposing parties are able to take control of the narrative.
Which means it’s a film about deliberate and organised political resistance. But the lens with which we are presented to look at it is inherently one of privilege. We start to stumble into the same political quagmire that we saw in the original. The mastery of this second instalment is how it takes the basics and starts immediately complicating them. We aren’t in 2004 anymore, superhero discourse has evolved. It’s not enough to be demanded that we pity the plight of the extraordinary. Not enough to condemn society for standing in their way.
Think about how this film places political action as a hobby of the wealthy. Before they are hired the family is living out of a motel at the state’s behest, after they are afforded a luxurious mansion, they are afforded to go about the acts that previously had landed them in so much hot water with impunity. The world that they’ve created may very well be a utopia, but I am inclined to doubt it. In its sixties stylings we are insulated from the inequality of the world but that does not mean they have disappeared.
We are forced to confront this piece of entertainment as being truly indicative of the frivolity that it is. A fight for the freedom of the elite, funded by a different sort of elite, which may come as a detriment to useful social change. Part of the irony is that our superpowered heroes aren’t all that socially invested in the change that they are attempting to make happen, they just wanna follow their vocation, and the only way they can do so is to be caught up in the coercive patronage of these impurely intentioned characters.
With his wife now engaged in the serious work of political activism. Bob Parr is shunted towards the household that he spent the first film so desperately trying to escape. Helping his son with his homework, his daughter through her boyfriend troubles, his baby who’s own superpowers are starting to unexpectedly manifest themselves.
I mean, the whole film is beautiful. It is a masterpiece of finely observed character work and exceptionally and inventively choreographed action. But this family stuff though, the understated b-plot, the father overcoming his pride and learning how to engage in the feminine coded labour that he had previously been dismissing. Well, it’s just fantastic. It’s a master setting up and ploughing through this whole variety of perfectly constructed little skits that manoeuvre these characters around each other until they find a comfortable place to fit.
I must have been some sort of blind idiot because I hadn’t realised before now how literally all of his films have been about families (of a sort). Here, his first time ever returning to one of his creations he is fully invested in examining how they can form a more perfectly functional whole. We started to see it in the climax of the original, how they can support and empower each other through action. Now, he devotes time into understanding and processing the emotional needs of his characters.
I mean, I get it, we have ways we tell stories and stability is boring. Nobody is happy and with just being happy and keeping that way. Yet it feels somehow revolutionary in an action movie for the fight to be against a purely literal form of egotism that is holding a character back from achieving peace with their situation.
That these characters are engaged in a fight for each other’s souls has got to be literalised though. When trying to go about her campaigning Helen Parr runs up against a new supervillain, Screenslaver, who (as you may excpect) turns people into mind controlled slaves by hijacking their television signal. Cue a Baudrillardian rant about the cultural deification of our idols through the creation of a mediatised simulation of their reality.
Is that Bird hitting back at his political detractors? It’s not the first time he would have cast an art critic as a bad guy, someone who just doesn’t understand the purpose and passion behind the lead’s actions. Contrast it with another newly introduced character, Voyd, a young superhero and Elastigirl superfan – who had seen her exploits in her youth and been inspired.
It’s that old battle which we will always keep coming back to. Cynicism verses idealism. When you think of the two, one always seems more urgent than the other. A cynic will say ‘No’ we believe, and things will go nowhere. Throughout his films Brad Bird has been fighting against this notion. There is in his villains a form of proactive cynicism which must be fought for the fear that it will otherwise hurtle us towards an unthinking demise.
I guess the genius here lies in the marriage of the two. Screenslaver’s cynical reading of superheroic exploits is positioned as destructive as a force as Bob’s cynicism towards fatherhood and the identity of his children. It’s why these two mostly unrelated stories cut together so damn good. Then they join up at the end for a big fight.
Incredibles 2 is currently screening in UK cinemas.
Image courtesy of Disney