Book reviews, art, gaming, Objectivism and thoughts on other topics as they occur.

Oct 27, 2018

The Incredibles 2

So, for my birthday yesterday I finally got around to watching The Incredibles 2.  Normally, I would have watched it a lot sooner, or even gone to see it in the theater because I generally love Pixar movies.  One of the things that I usually love about Pixar movies is that they are almost never about what I think they're going to be about.  This one was no exception.

The reason why I didn't bother to see this one in the theater is that I saw a lot of mixed reactions claiming that the movie was "a mess" or "just dumb action" or "incoherent".  No one seemed capable of identifying a central premise or theme for the movie, and a lot of people seemed disappointed.

Well, boy, did they ever miss the boat.  This movie is just as tight as The Incredibles, and, in fact, it even forms a perfect symmetry with the first movie, illustrating both halves of a false dichotomy and maintaining a consistent theme between both movies, showing what is ultimately the same theme from different angles.  This is an incredibly rare, almost unheard-of thing for a sequel to do.  Heck, nowadays it's pretty rare for a single, stand-alone movie to have a coherent, identifiable theme that's more complex than "defeat the bad guys".

So, what is the theme?  Why did everyone think that the movie is "a mess" or "incoherent"?

The theme of BOTH movies, articulated, is, "supers are just people".  That's it.  So simple.  Everything in BOTH movies adds up to this, but taken from different angles.

In The Incredibles, superpowers are largely viewed as a bad thing, even shameful, that has to be hidden.  The movie follows a family of superheroes who are in hiding.  They can't be themselves, and they're struggling, depressed, and unhappy because of it.  But, if you look closer, at the type of problems they have, they are just people problems.  Job dissatisfaction.  Trying to keep your family functioning when they're all pulling different directions.  Growing up.  Dating.  Family squabbles.  These are all regular-people problems.  Heck, even when the villain is attacking the city with giant robots, the regular-people problems still take center stage.

In The Incredibles 2, it's the same overall theme, just a new set of problems and a new villain.  The villain, while an emergency situation that does need to be dealt with, is not the centerpiece of the movie.  The family stuff is the center of the movie.  The personal problems.  The stuff of daily life.

This is the inverse of your typical superhero movie, in which the point is, ultimately, always to rise to the challenge of defeating the villain, often at the cost of throwing aside or even rejecting daily life.  It's interesting that in most superhero stories, this manages to (somehow) conveniently wrap up the daily life issues.  Would that work in real life?  Not so much.  "Dropping everything" to go haring off on a mad adventure doesn't pay the bills, and there isn't usually a nice pot of gold at the end of the rainbow to conveniently solve all of your problems.  In the universe of The Incredibles, the real challenge is to confront and surmount the difficulties of daily life.  Only when this is accomplished can the family come together (with friends and allies) to defeat the villain.

The villains in both movies are examples of rejecting the idea that supers are just people.  Both villains commit atrocities trying to one-up supers: Syndrome because he wants to drag supers down, Screenslaver because she thinks that supers are HOLDING everyone ELSE down.  Both of these views are wrong, in the same way and for the same reason.  Supers are just people.

What ultimately makes you a hero or a villain isn't the power you happen to have.  It's the choices you make.