Putting Family First Is “Incredibles 2” True Strength: Film Commentary

Incredibles 2 may not be quite as strong as the original, but continues the Incredibles’ tradition of being a visually engaging, creative, and highly enjoyable movie that is at its best when the family is together.

What’s the Story?
Fourteen years later after the making of The Incredibles, the sequel picks up right at the point where the first film ended. Despite the “incredible” save of the city by the Incredibles family (secret identity: the Parr family) in the first film, using superheroic ability is still illegal.  Both parents (Mr. Incredible/Bob Parr and Elastigirl/Helen Parr) are out of work. In addition, the Parr family is homeless, as their home was destroyed in their last interaction with super villain Syndrome.

Super-wealthy business tycoon Winston Deaver and his technical-genius sister Evelyn contact Bob and Helen to invite them to help restore public and government confidence in superheroes. Their ultimate goal? Making superheroism legal again. Perhaps unexpectedly, they choose Elastigirl as their lead superhero, which means Bob (Mr. Incredible) is left feeling left behind as the kids’ stay-at-home dad whose self-confidence has been deeply shaken. New villain Screenslaver arrives on the scene to hypnotize/manipulate both the general population and superheroes, so that superheroes will be outlawed once and for all.

Strengths
Once again, writer/director Brad Bird and Pixar/Disney team have made a strong family film that offers exceptional entertainment with “something more” to it. Excellent casting and voice-acting overall, fantastic action scenes—especially as Bob discovers Jack-Jack’s powers—and plenty of laughs will make Incredibles 2 an easy family favorite. (Did you see the Jack-Jack Attack short produced for the original The Incredibles DVD release? Hilarious in its own right, the short is also a great preview/teaser of what I consider the funniest scenes in Incredibles 2—scroll down on Disney’s Incredibles 2 site for a sneak preview of those scenes.)

Weaknesses
The movie runs a bit long—both for the genre and for this particular storyline. A couple of scenes when the family members are apart are not just overly long but repetitive, especially Helen/Elastigirl with the Deavers and Bob griping to himself about their choice of Helen as superhero over him. Character development felt weak overall with continued stereotypes. Helen’s arc is nonexistent and Bob seems to have already forgotten the humility that he learned just a few days before. Apart from Bob, the characters are less vulnerable than in the first movie, and just about everyone in the family makes at least one potentially serious and/or really dumb mistake. But in the end, we are still rooting for this zany, lovable family that needs a second adventure for everyone to realize that they are at their best when they work together as a family.

An “Incredible” Windows to the Soul

Not just as a family but also as a movie, Incredibles 2 is at its best when the family members are interacting together. This theme of family—the love and unity of purpose at work in a family with such gifted and unique members—makes this movie a great watch for kids and families and offers lots of potential for deeper discussion.

Being “different,” or how to be special and use our unique gifts is a theme raised in both Incredibles movies. Every member of the family struggles with how to use their superpowers (except for baby Jack-Jack whose powers explode into the second film). Both Incredibles movies raise the question of what is a hero. Is it just having superpowers (or devices that give you extraordinary power)?

This theme of “superpowers” can be discussed from a human perspective, too. What do we do when we have unusual gifts that prevent us from “fitting in” like everyone else? How do we have a responsibility to use those gifts when they’re not considered acceptable? One theme I would have liked to see better addressed (as it is so well done in The Lego Movie) is how everyone matters, whether or not they have a superpower.

A third angle is to see “superpowers” as a metaphor for the supernatural gifts that we have as Catholics which can make us stand out in today’s society (the sacraments, the Commandments, the Beatitudes, the virtues we are called to live), and how we are called to live these gifts in a culture that doesn’t always respect our Faith and our values.

Most of the characters in the film seem to be explored through stereotypes: the working mother who is finally recognized as heroic, the dad with the fragile ego, the obnoxious little brother who fights unceasingly with his teenaged sister who is selfishly obsessed about one thing. The stereotypes feel a bit stale, perhaps not as funny as they could be, but in the end, the comedy still works because several characters move beyond the limitations of their stereotype.

Bob’s journey is by far my favorite: from a frustrated, clueless stay-at-home dad whose eyes are on the prestigious job he doesn’t have, to becoming a dad who decides to give it his best, even seeking out the help he needs so that he can become the best father for his kids: someone who really listens and attends to the real needs of his children. It’s a great illustration of how hard—and wonderful—good parenting really is, and a wonderful example of the special gifts a father can bring to his children.

A few other themes that the movie “cracks open” a door for discussing but does not directly address are:

  • the tension between men and women (who is better, smarter, etc., especially the scenes between Helen/Elastigirl and Evelyn Deavers when they talk “down” or seem to make fun of men—I’d love to see a Theology of the Body discussion on the complementarity of men and women here!), and
  • the negative influence of technology, in villain Screenslaver’s rant and ability to hypnotize anyone who is looking at a screen (namely, how watching screens instead of engaging with real life and real people can make us “dumber”). This is a great opportunity to think about how much time we spend looking at screens, and how we spend the time we look at screens.

If you haven’t seen the original movie in a while, it is well worth taking the time to watch both films, with their refreshing emphasis on the importance of family. Putting family first and keeping family together are the true strengths of the Incredibles.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.