2004 was a pivotal year in my relationship with films. I always lived close to NYC, but never had the means to take in all the wonderful films being released there for those week-long awards qualifying runs. That changed in 2004 when I packed up and left for college in the city. Every spare cent I had went towards live theater and film. I was able to write more than ever before and eventually funded my insatiable appetite for art with my own work in writing. It was a glorious time.
I bring this up because The Incredibles was one of the rare 2004 releases I did not see in theaters. I was nowhere near as interested in superheroes then as I am now (my go-to comics were always horror, not super) and Pixar’s early big hits hit me at that awful time in development where everything cool is automatically terrible and anything geared for children is even worse. I’ve matured and learned the error of my ways (Toy Story really is wonderful and superheroes are a lot of fun).
The hype was long-gone by the time I watched The Incredibles. It is a solid animated film with a great cast of characters and a strong plot. I liked the style of the whole thing and it felt very much in line with the few superhero properties I did enjoy back then (the original Batman TV series, the animated X-Men, a smattering of Iron Man comics). The film had heart and action. It also didn’t overstay its welcome despite being an almost two-hour long animated film.
To say that I was blown away by Incredibles 2 is an understatement. I honestly cannot remember the last time I left a movie theater and could not think of a single thing that I thought could have been done better. This is everything I could have wanted from a sequel to a film released 14 years after the original.
That’s right. It’s been 14 years since The Incredibles was released in theaters. But for the characters in the film, it’s been minutes.
The opening scene is literally a continuation of the final little “find out what happens next issue/episode” teaser writer/director Brad Bird ended the first film with. The Underminer is digging through Metroville to commit a crime and the Parrs, a family of superheroes better known as The Incredibles, suit up to take him down. They don’t care that superheroes are still illegal; they want to save the day because it is the right thing to do. Family squabbles turn the operation belly-up and the family is faced with the grim reality that the city of Metroville will no longer turn a blind eye to their criminal activity.
When all hope is lost, the owners of DEVTECH (brother and sister Winston and Evelyn Deavor) offer Mr. Incredible, Elastigirl, and Frozone a chance to get back in the game. They are willing to take out a massive insurance package on a hero in order to win back public favor for supers. They settle on the least-destructive of the iconic trio: Elastigirl. That leaves Mr. Incredible behind to raise the children while Elastigirl leaves the house to fight crime on her own.
The children are changing in their own unique ways. Violet is now old enough to start dating. Dash is old enough to be saddled with that awful new math that makes no sense because why is long division now a birthday cake? Jack-Jack is still an infant, but the hint of superpowers we saw in The Incredibles is now manifesting in increasingly wild and unpredictable ways.
It seems like a lot of plot (it is), but it works. That first paragraph back there is just the opening sequence of the film; the rest is the fallout from the Underminer mishap and Elastigirl’s rise to solo prominence.
One of the more spectacular elements of the film is the new supervillain. Screenslaver is a computer hacker who can use any screen to hypnotize people. The Incredibles universe technically is set in the 1960s, so screens aren’t quite as ubiquitous as they are now. Still, with the decreasing cost of television and the slow growth of computers being used for businesses (and the clear nods to the sci-fi otherwise unimaginable technology of the Batman universe), the 1960s was a major period for the availability of visual broadcast technology. This is the same era that inspired Roald Dahl to call one of his ill-fated Golden Ticket winners Mike Teavee in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
The concept of Screenslaver is clearly meant to play around with the impact cellphones, tablets, and modern computers have had on our brains. This alarm has been sounded with every new wave of communication technology throughout history, but now we have the scientific research to back up the presumed negative side effects, such as addictive-like tendencies connected to our use of phones and the influence certain apps can have on our mental state (social media can make us depressed, while certain games can increase our anger in the moment).
The main villain in Incredibles 2 is an unseen threat who can strike at any moment using a technology embraced quickly on an almost-global scale. Screenslaver’s powers are an advanced working knowledge of broadcast technology and intelligence. One need only catch a glimpse of a screen the Screenslaver has taken over to be immediately hypnotized. You literally need to break the screen or disconnect the broadcast to end its control.
That is essentially the conclusion research studies reach again and again with escaping the negative impacts of new media. If you separate yourself from the technology, you can focus on yourself and improve your overall well-being. It’s a perfect foe for a film built around the struggle to overturn public perception of supers: you have to reprogram society to once again believe masked heroes are a tool to help society, not physically destroy it. DEVTECH’s weapon in this fight is cameras embedded in a new supersuit for Elastigirl and a massive press junket after every victory. This is, quite literally, a film about how the increasing availability of news and technology can change public discourse overnight for or against any topic you can imagine.
Frankly, it took researching information about the production and public response to find any small flaw to bring up in this review. The fact is, as brilliant as I think the Screenslaver concept is, the execution in the film with flashing lights and neon green patterns emanating from screens is a potential health risk for people with photosensitive conditions like epilepsy. That is, admittedly, a concern for a small portion of the population, but it is a serious problem for the people it can impact.
Incredibles 2 is a remarkable achievement. Brad Bird revisits a film that took him over a decade to get made with a sequel that exceeds all expectations for this property and superhero films in general. As much as we all flock to the big-ticket Marvel blockbusters and enjoy them, there is something to be said for a superhero story with a far more linear narrative and a genuine sense of fun. The Incredibles 2 has a great story to tell about family, identity, and fighting for what’s right in society released at a time where the superhero narrative is finally being considered a legitimate genre of film. The only thing I saw fit to write when I first left the theater of my screening on opening weekend was a tweet, and I still stand by it: “And just like that, The Incredibles 2 becomes my all time favorite Pixar film.” It might be my all time favorite superhero film, as well.
Incredibles 2 is currently playing in theaters.