A mere fourteen years after the first film we finally get the sequel we’ve all been craving, Karl Urban’s Dredd!
No? Never mind, I suppose that was only six years ago, it just feels like longer.
Anyway, we’ve been anticipating the return of the Incredibles since a teaser trailer was dropped in November, one of Pixar’s most beloved properties that has been praised for it’s family-oriented approach to superheroism, how family dynamics can be altered and reflected by the addition of superpowers, and for the villain’s profound philosophical standpoint. In other words, Disney found a way to make Fantastic 4 without ever making Fantastic 4, and effortlessly outdid every effort by 20th Century Fox.
TL;DR version, as good as the first. Not better, not worse, exactly as good, equally enjoyable, respectably different. Let’s take a look at why.
Loveletter to Supers
One word, Retrofuturism. It’s that 1930’s vision of what the world would look like that often involved a lot of CRT monitors, monorails, and minimalist housing. My friend asked “When is this set” jokingly, but the great sweeping arcs and lines mixed with the rigid 1930’s clean lines and art-deco styles are a straight nod, a veritable blown kiss to the earliest days of the comic book hero. The big-band soundtrack matches, with the brass-led melodies and smooth jazz bass lines. It all builds the “Tales To Astound” pulp comic aesthetic, an almost lost archetype brought to life by the Incredibles.
This is not a kids film, the kids who watched the first film are in their twenties, and I should know, I was just entering adolescent bitterness and post-modernism at the time*, and the whole feel of the film is geared towards those 50’s and 60’s kids who grew up watching Jonny Quest, which we know because Jonny Quest clips were in the film! Jack Jack repeatedly awakens to watch it, and Dash is always switching on the cartoons whenever he gets the remote.
A few quick notes on how else The Incredibles also do superheroes better than DC and Marvel on their best days, creative use of powers! That bike from the trailers has got one simple trick up its sleeve (fender? mudguard? Where does a bike keep tricks?), it splits in two, allowing Helen to stretch her torso and manipulate the bike around impossible obstacles. She straddles a tunnel, arcing from one wall to the other keeping the wheels moving. She leaps and jumps across impossible distances, in short, it’s all super cool.
They also combo-out, both in team-ups and fights, working together as a family and super-team, but the highlight for me was the fight between Violet and minor hero Voyd. Violet puts up a forcefield, Voyd teleports inside it. Voyd opens a portal, finds a forcefield in the middle. It’s an intense fight that had me, very literally, on the edge of my seat.
Oh, and to complete the Fantastic 4 analogue, Jack Jack and his powers catalogue makes him a neat little pastiche of the godlike Franklin Richards, son of Reed and Sue. He’s also the highlight of the film. So easily he could have been used as a Minion like comic relief patsy, or a Superman-ish fix-all. He is neither.
Balance of Power
The theme of the first Incredibles… or at least the message of Syndrome… was to address the imbalance of power. Here we see the theme revisited on several different levels.
At home, the shift has been Helen going to work leaving Rob at home with the kids, feeling emasculated by no longer being the bread-winner, challenged by his wife who interprets his jealousy as demeaning her. Rob is overwhelmed by the kids, Violet’s wild emotions and complex teenage dramas, Dash’s constant need for help and support, and Jack Jack learning his powers and getting into serious trouble with them.
The Screenslaver could so easily have been a villain teaching us the dangers of being perpetually glued to a screen** is instead about showing how superheroes make us dependant on superheroes, making us vulnerable. We take so much for granted, we depend so much on the systems at play, could we survive without them? It’s another moral regarding the balance of power between the empowered and the mundane, ok not couched in a cushy one-liner like Syndrome, but no less poignant. For a more on-the-nose example, watch Wall.E.
For more on the subject of the villain, I sincerely could not do better than this Wisecrack video.
If you can’t spot the villain from their first couple of scenes you need to learn… well, films. Hidden in shadows, always in the background, and we’re told outright who makes the technology. You figure it out. One of my biggest issues is Dash and Violet trying to reach the boat right before the final climax and they’re talking about how they’ll never reach it? Dash! Buddy! You can run on water with ease! And Violet, I’m pretty sure you could bubble around him and hamster-wheel on over there faster than the car could ever get you there.
Grievances aside, the goggles of the Screenslaver make for one of the most harrowing images in any Pixar film, hollow glowing eyes over an expressionless face, sitting in the darkness. I always like a puppet-master style villain, and Screenslaver is among the most potent I have seen in a while, turning friends against friends, wife against husband, parents against children. Plus… literally all the things I wrote above that single paragraph of logical flaws and excessively obvious plot points.
I truly believe that The Incredibles has bookended the height of superhero popularity. Hot on the heals of the best X-Men and Spider-Man films of the time, right before the MCU, and now the biggest story arc of the MCU is coming to an end, and Warner Brothers’ DC efforts are flopping like a fish on the shore. I hope it’s a moment of fond farewell to the genre, and has a story that almost hints at that.
But… with that said, I’d hate to lose the Incredibles altogether. And the Underminer is still at large.
*I’m still a bitter post-modernist, I’m just better at it, and now I have a beard.
**Interesting point, while TVs were only just becoming commonplace in the 50s and 60s, this would have been the moral, maybe another little nod to the goldenage.