June 24, 2018

Incredibles 2: Just Not Credible Enough

Screen Shot 2018-06-24 at 10.28.17 am

The trouble with the highly anticipated Incredibles 2 movie is that it is just not credible enough.

Fourteen years after our hearts were stolen by the all too recognisable Parr family, a group of superheroes condemned to living par or even below par American lives, all the while knowing they were destined for something better, we get the second instalment.

Line of the night goes to my seventeen year old daughter, a girl who from the age of three has based her life on The Incredibles’ teachings, and has been hanging out for this:

What? We waited fourteen years for THAT?!

The beauty of the original movie was it’s strong, achingly recognisable narrative.  Simple.  Stripped back.  Recognisable in all of us.

We felt the pain of Bob Parr, who saw his life shrinking away, longing like so many “kidults” in our culture to recapture his youthful past.  His wife was all wifey and no-nonsense, a suburban soccer mom with an angsty teenage daughter, a vim and vigour tween, and a young baby.  It’s quite the juggling act, filled with tension, despair, hope and redemption.

And then there was the baddie: Syndrome.  Once upon a time we had a hot streak of animation from the likes of Pixar.  You could guarantee at least one kicker line that drove an arrow through the heart of the culture, and that would gain traction all by itself.

Syndrome came up with one such line in the original. In his anger and vanity he tried to cut everyone down to size, or more to the point, bring them up to size:

When everyone is super, no one will be.

That’s a line of the times.  That’s the “everybody gets a trophy” attitude that so ticked off Mr Incredible, and had the rest of us nodding in agreement back in 2004.  The results are with us today in our increasingly snowflake culture.

But Incredibles 2?  While the movie starts by dovetailing with the ending of the first movie it might as well be on a different planet. No such killer line exists.  Despite the stunning mid-century modern tone to the visuals, one happy hangover from the original, the rest is par for the course, unfortunately.

The plot line involves a rich brother and sister who own a vast telco empire, and whose father – a champion and patron of superheroes – was shot dead in a home invasion, while his hotline to his heroes rang out unanswered.

Now the marketing-minded brother (wonderfully voiced by one of my all time actor-heroes Bob Odenkirk), in a nostalgic move, is pushing to re-legalise super-heroes and have their stigma removed, and he’s using a lot of money and influence to do so.  His creatively-minded sister?  We’re not so sure of her.

In a series of staged acts, Helen – aka Elastigirl –  becomes their means to this end.  It’s marketing and slightly fake news all the way.

The problem is simply that the movie tries too hard to be incredibler, and suffers for it. It’s a breathless round of action, explosions and less than credible plot lines, with less than credible super heroes.  It’s a homage to the brilliance of the first that, when we see Bob doing his weight lifting work with trains, we immediately recognise that mid-life crisis thing.  Why wouldn’t he bench press trains?  Of course he would!

Now, in its own midlife crisis, Incredibles 2 somehow tries too hard, and manages to showcase every righteous cause of the day, and in doing so taps into some of the less attractive cultural narratives, rendering it just another Hollywood product.

But don’t take my word for it.  As my savvy daughter lamented, the recent cultural trope of making every Dad seem like a doofus when he’s housebound was served up to us in spades.

My ten year old son – who is all Dash – loved it of course, and would hear none of our concerns.  But that’s the beauty of being ten I guess, and Dash is instantly recognisable for being so.

But what’s with the sheer – and obvious – jealousy when Bob ends up having to stay at home and look after the kids, while Helen goes off to save the world through a series of increasingly contrived rescue acts?  I’ve yet to meet a stay at home dad who wills his wife to fail, or at least feels teeth-grindingly jealous of her success.

In an age when the likes of the toxic Clementine Ford makes rapists the moral equivalent of men who are unwilling to do fifty per cent of the housework while their wives work, this narrative is becoming more than annoying.

And it wouldn’t be Hollywood without the UN signing off on making those who were once illegal, legal once more and able to come out of the hollywoodwork.

There were flashes of the old magic.  Violet’s character was well rounded (perhaps because that aforementioned daughter of mine is now her age), while the old hands from the first movie were refreshing, especially the Richard Nixon look-alike who is the Parr’s handler. Mind you I wasn’t too keen on the big, dumb black super hero who spoke monosyllabically.  He swerved dangerously close to a bad racial stereotype.

Of course the premise of the movie is that the family stays intact, which of course it does.  Were you surprised?  But that’s my point.  That was the plotline of the first movie, and we genuinely are surprised when the family is not torn apart such is the slow-boil tension.  Faced with having had the big reveal of a family drama, well, revealed, in the first movie, the second had to work that much harder, and was the poorer for it.

Over to my daughter again for some positives; the female characters were stronger, and she told me that the female characters managed to successfully reconnoitre the Bechdel Test, in which two named women in a work of fiction must be able to talk together without referencing a man.  Hollywood ticked that item off well.

But when it didn’t get it right, that’s exactly what it felt like.  Hollywood ticking off a list.  Ticking off a list of virtues that every Hollywood creation must tick off these days, lest the powers that be are ticked off and the money does not come in.

The result is that we feel ticked off.  And not a little ripped off.

The great irony of course is that the villain of the piece is called ScreenSlaver, a technological genius who can keep the population in control, and do his bidding when they watch a program he plays on their media screens.

And insofar as Incredibles 2 taps into that reality in a meta way, life imitating art and all that, it’s very credible indeed.






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