Enough has been said by now about the success of The Incredibles 2—by both reviews and record-breaking box office numbers—that I don’t need to belabor its quality. I will say that it’s a sequel that rises sufficiently to the challenge laid down by its precursor’s popularity, as well as the incredible (pun severely intended) expectations that have only grown in the fourteen years that fans have been waiting for this movie. It’s consistently hilarious, the action sings, and the story is satisfying without being too predictable (in execution, if not in plot). Most importantly, the characters are exactly who they were, but find themselves faced with new challenges that prompt exploration and growth in ways that make them more complex, real, and beloved.
What I loved most about this film, however, was not that exhilarating sequence in which Helen takes her new bike on the most thrilling and tense chase I have ever seen in an animated movie. It wasn’t Bob figuring out that being a dad requires even more heroism than saving the world from the villain of the hour. It wasn’t Samuel Jackson’s (Frozone) patented swearing being cut off at the exact moment before it sabotaged the movie’s PG rating, or Jack-Jack discovering his multiplicity of emerging powers in increasingly disastrous ways, although the jokes were excellent, and came at a steady pace.
What touched me was the central idea of the movie: the mission this time was not to save the world from a supervillian with an evil blue sky beam, but to convince society to save itself from its own mistakes. The Incredibles live in an alternate universe that is both like and unlike our own world, but the parallels we’re given in this sequel are clearly relevant to the reality we live in today. To see this vilified minority population that has been made illegal, whose talents have been propagandized and outlawed, rising up together to try to change things for the better, was extremely heartening. Yet the movie doesn’t feel preachy or idealistic, and the characters run the gamut between blind optimism and hardened cynicism, with understandable motivations for their various views. Among others, there’s Winston, on a mission to repeal the unjust ban against superheroes that cost him his parents; Violet, who just wants to go to a movie with the boy she likes without crime-fighting and police coming into the mix; and the villain of the piece, who has ample if misguided cause for bitterness, and a clear line toward misanthropy that is well-established from the beginning.
All of the characters face the difficult question that we too are being forced to tackle in these unnerving, heavy days: how can we reverse the damage caused by bad laws and the insidiously indifferent cruelty of bureaucracy? What can we do about the dangerous amount of power held by a few untrustworthy hands? I appreciated details like body cameras meant to ensure transparency being ultimately ineffective and even dangerous, or the way that news coverage of events ends up derailing the narrative of what actually happened. I also liked that the movie’s conflict doesn’t hinge on the heroism of one superhero or even a team—although of course there’s a climactic action sequence where the heroes fight the baddies—but that it’s also a few conscientious politicians taking a stand, public sentiment and grassroots activism, and live media coverage of crucial events that is leveraged to push outcomes in a positive direction. Maybe a tad more boring than superpowered beings taking each other out in public places, but also truer to how change actually happens.
At the beginning of the film, as they hide out in the aftermath of a disastrous mission, Helen and Bob have to figure out whether answering the above questions is even worth risking the safety of their family. The couple is the heart of this movie, and it’s so relatable to see them struggle between their moral imperative to stand up for justice and the danger that will pose to their kids—and ultimately, as is inevitable in both cinema and real life for marginalized populations, having no choice in the matter, because the evil reaches its tendrils even into their sanctuary. In this dark present where we have watched children being ripped away from their parents by a cruel and unfeeling bureaucracy that has made monsters of us all, I couldn’t watch all of this unfold onscreen without a few pangs in the region of my heart.
Does the fact that the family at the center of this plot is white, superpowered, and extremely well-protected by their rich and powerful friends dilute this narrative? Of course it inevitably must. Their situation is a far cry from what so many are facing in our nation and across the world today. But I was primed to love it by the heart-stoppingly gorgeous preceding short, Bao, which silently and heartbreakingly gives us a portrait of love, grief and reconciliation, with a protagonist no Disney production has ever had: a Chinese-American mother. By the end of this surreal, adorable, and moving vignette, I was gutted and weeping in the dark.
And considering that this is the sequel to a thoughtful first movie that faced the toxic tendencies of fandom before it became the zeitgeist; considering that it now reflects back to us a society that is plagued like ours by the criminalization of people who have been demonized for the actions of a few, who only want the human dignity of being an equal citizen—I can only praise The Incredibles 2 for continually elevating its genre beyond what many might consider its limits. For taking what could have been simply a rollickingly entertaining superhero sequel like so many others, and telling us a story about ourselves that we dearly, desperately need to hear. Let’s hope the masses of people that have been filling theater seats since last weekend are listening closely.