A lot has happened in the 14 years since Pixar first introduced us to The Incredibles. We’ve witnessed the rise of Facebook, the launch of the iPhone, the birth of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and two separate transitions of power in the White House.
At a little less than two hours, Brad Bird’s Incredibles 2 feels like it’s been storing up 14 years of things to say. The plot is a flurry of explosions punctuated by occasional laughs and exchanges that could use a pause button. Because of that, it’s hard to make sense of what the film is trying to say, or whether it’s trying to offer anything at all beyond lighthearted fun. Regardless, it continues to succeed in the same ways as the original, exploring the importance of a loving family unit as the “superpower” most likely to bring order to the chaos of our world.
Regaining Legal Status
Incredibles 2 opens where its predecessor left off. Supervillain The Underminer bursts through the asphalt into downtown Metroville manning an oversized drill. Donning their familiar suits, Bob Parr (Mr. Incredible) and his wife, Helen (Elastigirl), intervene with the help of their children—Violet, Dash, and Jack-Jack—and fellow superhero, Lucius Best (Frozone). Despite their heroic efforts, The Underminer successfully robs Metroville Bank and escapes, leaving catastrophic damage in his wake. Believing supers have become too much of a liability, the government pulls the funding on its relocation program (introduced in the previous film), forcing superheroes everywhere to permanently embrace their secret identities. As one character explains, “Politicians don’t understand people who do something good because it’s right.”
Without financial support, the Parrs squeeze into a cheap motel to figure out how to make ends meet. Before long, they receive a phone call from Winston Deavor, the wealthy owner of DEVTECH, a telecommunications company. A lifelong superhero fan, Deavor pitches a plan to use Helen’s abilities as PR to change the public’s perception of supers and regain their legal status in society. Agreeing to the deal, Helen heads out on missions while Bob stays behind to care for the kids.
Incredibles 2 has a lot to say with too little time. Pixar has built a reputation for layered viewing with stories playful enough for children and deep enough for adults. Yet much has changed in culture since 2004. With so many social issues at the forefront of our minds, thanks in large part to the dizzying influx of media at our fingertips, many films feel the need to weigh in on trending topics. When done well, this aim isn’t always problematic. Thoughtful art helps us creatively process the problems of life, but the commentary in Incredibles 2 is far too on the nose.
Early on, the film picks some of the lowest hanging fruit—cynicism about politics. Politicians are the problem. Rather than stick up for what is right, they huddle around their legacies, choosing to defund supers instead of risking reputation. Similarly, a number of characters question one’s personal responsibility to unjust laws, a theme that is clearly a product of our times. But the film offers no corrective other than to suggest superheroes are the solution.
The political world is one that supers are forced to subvert. It’s a system designed by politicians, and therefore imperfect. On multiple occasions, supers are referred to as “illegals,” and the main goal of the Parrs is to work with DEVTECH in the hopes of regaining legal status. Again, on the nose.
One of the film’s stronger themes deals with our dependence on technology. Saying much more would spoil the villain’s plot, but suffice it to say there’s a healthy critique present throughout. Incredibles 2 contains plenty (I repeat, plenty) of timely “adult” elements, but its attempts at relevance create a pace ripe for observational migraines.
Story About Family
In spite of its frenzied concerns about an array of issues, the heart of the film mirrors that of its predecessor. It’s a story about family and parenting. With Helen as the super in the spotlight, Bob takes on the role of stay-at-home dad. The swap creates a number of tender depictions of both motherhood and fatherhood.
Within days, Bob finds that parenting requires more than brute force and spandex as he navigates his daughter’s boy troubles, his son’s math homework, and his infant’s developing powers. It’s sweet to watch his bumbling efforts mature into capable care. In a particularly moving scene, he apologizes to one of his children and asks for forgiveness, something we could all stand to do a little more often.
The same goes for Helen. Out on the road, she misses her kids, offering to return numerous times. But she also enjoys the chance to use her strengths outside of the home, to feel wanted for more than dinner and a diaper change. The tension felt throughout the film by both Bob and Helen is one undoubtedly experienced by many parents today.
Baby Jack-Jack offers regular comedic relief, forcing the rest of the family to adapt as his various superpowers reveal themselves. And it’s here that Incredibles 2 shines the most. When Helen’s out, Bob steps in to care for the kids. When he sprints off to prevent a looming emergency, Violet and Dash watch over their baby brother, proving that the family that serves together stays together.
Home and Away
Throughout Scripture, we are commanded to care for one another as believers. We have a duty to our nuclear family as well as to the body of Christ. At times, that will prove frustrating and difficult. It grates against our natural desires, but God intends it for the sake of building up his family and transforming us into the image of Christ.
So often, superhero films focus on the individual; the lone hero who saves a city or rescues the galaxy. But Incredibles 2 gives us a family, five individuals doing their best to function as one, caring for each other even as they care for others and participate in a mission beyond their home. A healthy family is not one insulated from the problems of the world. Rather, it is one strong enough to lean into those problems using each individual’s unique gifts as creative solutions.
Incredibles 2 feels like scrolling through a Twitter feed. It covers a lot of topics without saying much at all. In some ways, it’s a reminder to start small. There’s only so much each of us can do about the problems “out there.” That doesn’t mean we ignore them. But unless we commit to the local, to the familial, to the caring for one another under our own roof—we won’t have much to contribute to the greater discussions of our time.
Incredibles 2 feels like scrolling through a Twitter feed. It covers a lot of topics without saying much at all. In some ways, it’s a reminder to start small.
Our contributions to the world should not feel like a Twitter feed. True change begins with faithfulness where we are, which means knowing and serving the tangible needs of the “neighbors” in our lives. We cannot merely identify brokenness; we must also work for its restoration with our God-given gifts. Otherwise, our complaints will fall void, no matter how legitimate they are.
While Incredibles 2 fails to pack the emotional punch of recent films like Inside Out or Coco, it reminds us of the radical importance of simply caring for one another. Doing so is rarely easy or pretty, but it is our familial calling. When we give our lives to this kind of obedience, it’s confounding because the world does not understand people who do what is good simply because it is right. It is a form of our testimony. And thankfully, it does not require spandex.