Saturday, October 6, 2018


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*


I mentioned in my review of the 2004 INCREDIBLES that creator Brad Bird had sometimes been accused of loading his film with thematic references to Nietzsche and/or Ayn Rand, and that the writer/director had consistently denied them. The far less philosophical nature of INCREDIBLES 2 suggests that the first film'superiority arose more from a "perfect storm of creativity" rather than an intentional thematic pursuit.

The original film began by showing how the superheroes in the Incredi-Universe suffered the ignominy of being outlawed from further public service. The story ended with the four members of the Incredibles family triumphing over the principal menace, followed by a short coda in which they appear ready to take on a new super-villain as well. Thus Bird's first movie ends with the general implication that superheroes will return without further complications.

Thus I was more than surprised to find that Bird picked up the second installment of his franchise exactly where the 2004 film ended, with the super-family about to take on the insidious Underminer (a minor variation on Marvel Comics' "Mole Man" villain). However, not only does the villain escape, the heroes' actions create the sort of wholesale chaos that got the "supers" banned in the first place. As an additional headache for the protagonists, Tony, classmate of the group's teenaged member Violet, sees Violet without her mask, thus endangering her secret identity.

Thus within the first fifteen minutes Bird establishes that the recent heroic actions of the Incredibles (and their ice-making ally Frozone) have made absolutely no difference to the existing anti-super law. All four heroes are briefly arrested before being bailed out by the federal government, which still keeps an eye on the country's one-time protectors. Government rep Rick Dicker informs the heroes that they will get no more support, and must return to their mundane existence as the non-super Parr family, though Dicker does them one last favor by doing a "Men in Black" mind-wipe on Tony (which leads to a comic subplot of teenaged misunderstandings later on).

Now the Parrs have no jobs and must find some way to remain incognito despite the unpredictable antics of their super-powered infant, Jack-Jack. Enter a savior for superheroes: telecommunications genius Winston Deaver, who wants to engineer the overturning of the anti-super law. With the help of his sister Evelyn, Winston plots a series of publicity stunts designed to restore public confidence in superheroes. The catch is that he only wants Helen "Elastigirl" Parr, thus forcing Bob ("Mr. Incredible") Parr to inherit the lion's share of the duties dealing with the couple's three kids. Middle-schooler Dash needs help with his math homework, Violet has romance troubles, and Jack-Jack is trouble personified. All of these sitcom problems provide some light amusement, but no one will ever accuse Bird of re-inventing the wheel here.

In my review of the first film, I observed that Bird never explained what happened to quell his world's super-villains, who surely didn't have a problem breaking the anti-super law. Now, as with Bird's creation of Syndrome, another costumed evildoer appears when it's convenient for the creator and inconvenient for his creations. Elastigirl is forced to contend with a new foe, a hypno-tech master named "ScreenSlaver."

(Cue the SIMPSONS's Comic Book Guy: "Worst. Super-Villain. Name. Ever.")

Following her first encounter with the villain, Elastigirl captures him and turns him over to the law-- though the "red herring" is so crimson here that only really small children are likely to believe that she's nabbed the real perp. Sure enough, ScreenSlaver is still out there, with a complicated plan designed to make superheroes unpopular for all time. Oh, and his true identity is revealed, which is thoroughly unsurprising since Bird only gives his audience two potential suspects.

INCREDIBLES 2 was a lot of fun on the big screen. Most of the comedy is funny, and the action-scenes are thrilling, except that three of them invoke the same basic threat: Something Big Is Careening Toward Some Structure Full of People, and Must Be Stopped. However, in terms of producing a story as good as the first entry, Bird drops the ball.

Given that Bird raises the issue of the difficulty of changing the anti-super law, his idea that it can be overturned merely by public acclimation is a cop-out. But even granting that no one goes to superhero movies to see tedious legislation debates in Congress, Bird could have still come up with a funny take on the exigencies of jurisprudence. Further, had he axed out some of the almost endless Jack-Jack slapstick-stuff, he might've created some extra red herrings-- say, senators who wanted to keep supers illegal, and so might've been logical candidates to become hero-hating villains.

There's a lot to like about INCREDIBLES 2, and it comes off like a film that earnestly wants to be liked. From my viewpoint, though, this is exactly what kept me from loving it.

No comments:

Post a Comment