It wasn’t until after I selected this weekend’s film that I realised this made two fantastic films in succession, but even though I try to vary the film series so it’s not all one thing all the time, this is still ok. In these days of extreme limits on getting out and doing things, it’s great to get out in any other way possible.
Two years ago, in Film 2018, I raved over The Incredibles ahead of it’s long-awaited sequel. Direcotor/writer Brad Bird had made usall wait fourteen years before returning t his subject, admirably refusing to make a sequel for the sake of it but waiting for the ideas that would make a film worth making for itself. And given that superhero films had become as big as they are in the meantime, a film that was still utterly individual.
And he was right to wait, because Incredibles 2 (note the missing definitive article) is one of those rare sequels that not only stands up in its own right but which, for me, is actually better than the first film.
Bird makes the decision to start exactly where the first film stopped, coming at it from a different angle by using Violet’s date, popular kid Tony Rydinger, to replay the last few moments of the first film as a lead-in to the continuing story (he is then promptly mind-zapped to forget seeing Violet without her mask and, unintentionally, his date with her on Friday, not to mention her entire existence, oops).
The Incredibles ended on a positive high, with the Parr family going into superhero action openly and above board. But Bird doesn’t forget that superheroes are still illegal so, after saving the day – actually, the underminer gets away with the money and the Incredibles cause massive damage in trying to stop him, more than if they’d just carried on shopping – they’re arrested and, what’s more, the FBI programme which supports them is cancelled. So: two last weeks in a motel (their house and all their possessions were burned down last film) and they’re homeless.
Enter Winston Deavor (voiced by Bob Better Call Saul Odenkirk) and his younger sister Evelyn (voiced wonderfully by Christine Keener). The Deavors jointly run Devtech, a communications megacompany. Winston fronts and sells, Evelyn designs and invents. Winston, in keeping with his late father who idolised the supers, wants to sell something new, or rather old: he wants to lead a campaign to legalise supers again.
Evelyn’s point of view is different, and she expresses it in their first meeting with Mr Incredible, Elastigirl and Frozone. Deavor senior died when burglars invaded their home, he refused to go hide in the safe room, tried to call his super friends to help and was shot dead. To Winston, that’s evidence for the restoration of supers to their rightful place, protecting us To Evelyn, it’s a pointless, wasteful, stupid death resulting from placing onself at unnecessary risk expecting to be protected by superior beings instead of being self-reliant and getting yurself out of your own problems.
That argument isn’t developed at first. Cleverly, it’s introduced, and talked over, half-complete, but it plants a seed the film wants to develop. in the neantime, we move onto a another trope that caused great controversy from the terminally hard-of-thinking, but which seeded the story with multiple aspects and implications: Devtech want Elastigirl – not Mr Incredible – to front their campaign.
The logic is impeccable. Mr Incredible is a character of brawn, not brain. He’s massive, he’s powerful and he tends at go at things like a bull at a gate because, like the bull, the gate can’t do much to stop him. It’s the old adage about when you have a hammer yu treat all problems as a nail. Bob causes endless damage wherever he goes.
Elastigirl is different. For one thing, she’s a woman, and therefore less likely t think of brute strength as a first option. Secondly, her powers are flexibility taken to extreme lengths, and therefore its concomitant, ingenuity. Elastigirl thinks her solutions and uses her powers to achieve results as a consequence.
Of course she’s the one you want up front. It makes perfect sense, but not to the army of idiots who howled about having a woman – a girl! – leading the action. It’s feminism spoiling things, it’s an SJW agenda, our porn… sorry, our comics are being spoiled by people forcing their beliefs down our throats, we want our shit to be the same shit over and over again, world withut end or change, and we’re going to force our beliefs down your throat, or we would if we weren’t total and ineffectual idiots away from Twitter. As you may have gathered, i have little sympathy with this point of view.
And it’s subtly rendered into pwersonal terms in the film. Elastigirl, complete with shiny new, dark and edgy costume not designed by Edna, goes out upfront and public, saves the day, faces off against a new villain, Screenslaver, with powerful hypnotic powers does the cause great good and, frankly, has an absolute blast!
Whilst Bob Parr stays at home to look after the kids, and grumble about it, and suffer and stress, but with that undercurrent of resentment that it’s her, not him, that’s getting to play: this is his game.
Bob gets to deal with the family: Violet’s misery, frustration and general 14-year-old girlness about life in general and the humiliaion of being stood up by the hot boy in school who’s asked her out but who has been mind-wiped and forgotten her: Dash’s hyper-enthusiasm for the new, luxurious home they have, it’s multiple gadgets and the desire to just do everything: and Jack-Jack, the baby, whose multiple, indeed spiralling number of powers and his infany delight in them, causes the biggest headaches of them all.
But lets get back to the Screenslaver. It’s not entirely obvious who that’s going to turn out to be, not to the point of collapsing the film, but it’s regretfully unsurprising that it should turn ut to be Evelyn. The clue’s been planted early on, and her technological mastery is there to support it, although its over-elaboration on her part and sheer intelligence on Elastigirl’s that gives her away.
Evelyn Deaver is angry, angry and hurt. She sees her brother wanting to wrap himself in a cocoon of external protection whilst she, who has solved all her problems herself, is consumed with bitterness at her father’s failure to protect himself because he relied on superheroes. Under her hypnotic control, Elastigirl, Frozone and Mr Incredible, plus a half-dozen new supers Devtech have gathered, are going to cause a massive dsaster that will ensure they are suppressed forever.
The film gives Evelyn plenty of time to articulate her beliefs, and they are presented seriously because they are a serious, and a valid, philosophy. humanity would indeed be weakening itself by placing itself under the protection of superior beings it would lose strength, intelligence and ingenuity by not attending directly to its own problems but letting gods in the sky do it instead. It’s like the blob people in WALL-E, grown fat, unhealthy and incapable for having everything done for it.
The counter-argument? The film’s smart enough not to have one or present one. The nearest it comes is by quietly stating the need for people to be what they really are and not have to hide it, which here is superpowers but is a metaphor for everything else, most commonly homosexuality. Otherise, the supers themselves are pragmatic. FBI Agent Dicker defines them as people who do good just because they can, the kind politicians dnt understand and therefore don’t trust. When Evelyn’s finally arrested, she makes the point that she’s still right, and Elastigirl’s sole rejoinder is Evelyn is still alive.
Fourteen years of development has made the CGI even better. I raved abut The Incredibles being the perfect superhero film because it was CGI and I’ll say the same things over again. The film makes the superheroics credble because they are part of the entirety, not an unachievable physical move superimposed on a mundane world by CGI. By making everything CGI the stunts are not a lie of which we’re conscious but integrated into the worl we’re watching.
And the contrast betweem the hyper-reality of everything, and the cartoon distortion of the characters -not just the supers but everyone – ensures that the characters are not lost in the detail. They’re caricatures, unrealistic, making them the perfect match for their unrealistic actions, and borrowing some of the sheer enjoyment we get from cartoon characters. It’s far better than watching real persons ding something we know they can’t do: Bob, Helen, Violet, Dash, Jack-Jack Lucius are exagerations and as such are a perfect blend with their exagerated deeds.
One thing I’d like to touch on is the design feel of the film. It’s not dated to any year and most of the look is contemporary. But from the cartoon style adopted for the film’s opening and closing credits is utterly Fifties in its look, and from that I began to notice things abut the film that echoed tat style and feel.
The Parr’s house, for instance, cmes out of the Fifties, notwithstanding it’s modern facilities and software. It has the feel and style of luxury, self-indulgent houses for the rich in that decade
It’s most notable in Evelyn herself. The short hair-style, the shapeless tops, the narrow slacks ending above the ankles, the air of worldliness rm the get-go, Evelyn is a Fifties woman, a career girl, someone you’d see working around a film set in a film set there. To be honest, though she’s no more realistic than anyone else, she intrigued me, I liked her, she was the kind of woman who surrounded herself with a shell of cynicism that you’d enjoy the combat of getting behind to discover the real her. I didn’t want her to be the villain.
All this talk and I’ve hardly scratched the surface of what Incredibles 2 contains, which is another reason it’s so good. None of it’s real, which is exactly why it can be real, on all its levels. If someone ever does try to translate Kurt Busiek’s Astro City into film, they’d better crawl on their knees to Brad Bird…