NICK EICHER, HOST: Up next on The World and Everything in It:
MUSIC: Incredibles theme
A sequel 14 years after the original. Megan Basham now with a review of The Incredibles 2.
MEGAN BASHAM, ENTERTAINMENT EDITOR: When “The Incredibles” first hit theaters in 2004, it earned nearly universal praise. Some for its excellent animation and some for the ingenious way it snuck provocative themes into a thoroughly entertaining storyline. Fourteen years later, the Incredibles are back. And once again, they’re sure to spark the kind of analysis that will make non-movie-obsessed people go, “We’re talking about a kids’ movie, right?”
Not much has changed for the Parrs, but as their new adventure progresses, it furthers some of the ideological questions the first film introduced. Superheroes are still illegal mostly because, as one character quips, “Politicians don’t understand people who do good simply because it’s right.”
This inherent suspicion is exacerbated by news media manipulating video to paint Supers in a negative light. So yes, our beloved Bob and Helen—once again wonderfully voiced by Craig T. Nelson and Holly Hunter—are victims of fake news. How’s that for relevant?
Fortunately, just as they’re about to be homeless, the Parrs meet Winston Deavor, a tech billionaire with a PR plan to bring superheroes back into the public’s good graces. In any other animated movie, this slick-talking capitalist played by Better Call Saul’s Bob Odenkirk would be the villain. But writer/director Brad Bird is far too creative for such a cliché. Instead, the first hint of conflict comes because Winston wants Helen, not Bob, to be the face of the pro-superhero lobby.
HELEN PARR: A new Elasticycle?
BOB PARR: Elasticycle? I didn’t know you had a bike.
HELEN: Hey, I had a mohawk. There’s a lot about me you don’t know.
BOB: Yeah, but — a mohawk?
HELEN: Eh, you didn’t miss anything.
(bike starts up)
HELEN: Oh, yeah, this one’s electric!
BOB: What’s that mean?
HELEN: Means it’s … torquey. Ah, I’ll get the hang of it.
BOB: You’ll be great.
HELEN: I will be great. And you will, too.
BOB: We will both be great.
HELEN: Bye, sweetie.
A lot of critics are already hailing this so-called gender swap as a message of female empowerment. But look closer and you’ll see Bird doing something more interesting. Bob is understandably envious, but he’s no backward, begrudging chauvinist. He’s determined to step up for his wife, and his Mr. Mom fumbles provide the movie’s biggest laughs.
Imagine not only trying to manage a cranky, high-energy toddler, but a cranky high-energy toddler with superpowers.
PARR: Are you kidding?! I can’t tell her about this. Not while she’s doing hero work. I’ve got to succeed so she can succeed so we can succeed.
LUCIOUS: I get it, Bob. I get it. When was the last time you slept?
PARR: Who keeps track of that? Besides, he’s a baby. I can handle it. I got this handled.
LUCIOUS: What the…?!
PARR: Cookie! Cha-cha want a cookie? Num-num cookie? Cookie? Cookie?
LUCIOUS: Whoa! Okay. Okay. So he can still hear you from —
PARR: From the other dimension. Yeah.
LUCIOUS: That… is freaky.
Meanwhile, in the big city, Helen hears a lot of comparisons between her and Bob that subtly disparage the latter. She’s flattered to be thought so capable and begins to parrot some of her own media hype.
HELEN PARR: I’m on the top of my game. I’m right up there with the big dogs. Girls, c’mon. Leave the saving of the world to the men?! I don’t think so. I don’t think so.
As the plot speeds along full of action and fun, this division with her husband actually leaves Helen open to attacks. So this isn’t a movie about female empowerment so much as family empowerment.
BOB: I can’t steer it or stop it! And, the Underminer’s escaped!
HELEN: We’ll have to stop it from — BOB! The monorail!
Helen is only really able to put up a fight against villain Screenslaver when joined by her other half.
As the best movie villains do, the marvelously named Screenslaver makes some credible arguments. One of them is particularly interesting. It’s the idea that by fighting their battles for them, superheroes teach people not to fend for themselves.
Putting this extreme view in the mouth of an antagonist feels like Bird’s way of answering charges that he’s a closet libertarian. In 2015 he tweeted, “I’ve always thought the Ayn Rand comparison lazy and inaccurate at best.”
And indeed, if the first Incredibles centered on how the fairness movement hamstrings individuals from using their talents, “Incredibles 2” offers a pointed rebuke to Atlas Shrugged. It contends, like 1st Peter 4, that the highest purpose for our gifts is to serve others.
If there’s a drawback to all of this heady content, it’s that it’s a lot to cram into an all-ages movie. The younger children in my press screening were fairly squirmy before the almost two hours were up. That, along with a few uses of the kind of four-letter words that apparently pass PG muster could make some parents flinch. So while this may not be the best movie Pixar or Bird have put out, it’s still a worthy sequel to the Incredibles’ story.
For WORLD Radio, I’m Megan Basham.