The following article contains spoilers for THE INCREDIBLES and INCREDIBLES 2.

Early in INCREDIBLES 2, Winston Deavor broadly proclaims, “I love superheroes!” However, in the world of the Incredibles, being a fan of “supers” sometimes has negative consequences. In the first film, Syndrome was a scorned superfan of Mr. Incredible. In the sequel, we find out that Winston’s father loved and supported superheroes. After the superheroes were outlawed, a burglar killed his father during a break-in. Instead of running to safety, his father insisted on trying to call two superheroes using his direct hotlines to them. In a way, his reliance on the superheroes is what killed him. In writer and director Brad Bird’s fictional world, being a superhero fan only ends in pain.

THE INCREDIBLES is a children’s film, but it also functions as a fascinating deconstruction of the superhero genre. The two films question the place of a superhero while simultaneously providing rollicking superhero action. This time around, Bird tackles just what superheroes mean to our culture at large and how their overbearing influence in our media can be both harmful and inspiring.

Make Superheroes Legal Again

The Incredibles 2

INCREDIBLES 2 picks up, quite literally, where the previous film left off. The first film was about the family of heroes recognizing they could use their powers for good. In the second film, the heroes must make the world believe in them again. The man leading this charge is the aforementioned Winston and his tech genius sister, Evelyn.

The siblings run a telecommunications conglomerate and plan to use hidden cameras built into the superheroes’ costumes to film them doing good deeds. According to Winston, the problem with superheroes isn’t their actions, but how the public perceives them. What Winston wants to do is control the media portrayal of superheroes to help the public see firsthand the good intentions of the supers.

In Brad Bird’s world, constant litigation forced superheroes out of the public eye. In a world of fake news and memetic manipulation, the idea of a benevolent billionaire who wants to control how the public perceives information certainly sets off a few red flags. For these superheroes, no good deed goes without litigation. A dark, biting undercurrent of the INCREDIBLES movies is that the world would never accept that people would want to do the right thing just for the sake of doing what’s right.

This is the tragedy of Mr. Incredible and his family in INCREDIBLES 2. Their excitement to get back to being superheroes — and their dire financial situation — blinds them to how dangerous trusting the Deavors might be.

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The Law and Morality

The Deavors’ offer comes with one specific caveat: only Elastigirl will be allowed to go on superhero missions as a test run. The Deavors explain that the cost risk analysis says she is the least destructive of the superheroes and is, therefore, the least likely to bankrupt the Deavors immediately.  

Ironically, Elastigirl was the strongest proponent in the Parr family for staying out of superheroics. Few comic books actually grapple with the fact that vigilante justice is against the law. The cops of the Marvel and DC universes seem to have just shrugged their shoulders and accepted they can’t arrest every single hero out there. Elastigirl, instead, argues to her family that laws are to be obeyed and unjust laws must be overturned by just laws.

In the end, Elastigirl accepts the offer, primarily because the family needs the financial support. All seems well, but Mr. Incredible’s reaction to his wife getting to have all the fun functions as a satirical reaction to the gender disparity present in superhero stories.

The Gender Politics of INCREDIBLES 2

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It’s worth noting that THE INCREDIBLES doesn’t take place in 2018. The film takes place in a retrofuturist version of the 1960s. Bird left the original film’s time period ambiguous, but the setting becomes more explicit thanks to the television programs seen in the film. THE OUTER LIMITS, JONNY QUEST, and a knock-off Godzilla all appear on the Parr family’s television.

This time period is significant because of the gender dynamics at play in the film. Bird specifically created the characters in THE INCREDIBLES to represent the archetypes of core family dynamics. From an interview with

The father is always expected to be strong, so I had him have strength. Moms are always pulled in a million different directions, so I had her be elastic. Teenagers are insecure and defensive, so I had her [Violet] be invisible and have protective shields. Ten-year-old boys are hyperactive energy balls, so I had him [Dash] be speed. And babies are unknown—they may have great powers, they may have none.”

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Manhood and Mr. Incredible

Mr. Incredible is a textbook 1960s masculine superhero ideal. So much of Mr. Incredible’s arc in the first film is about grappling with emasculation. He cannot fill the void in his life with anything other than being a superhero. Mr. Incredible has to learn, well, that no man is an island (I mean it’s in the name of Syndrome’s island hideout. people!) and that his family can lift and support him.

The Deavors giving specifically Elastigirl the chance to be a solo hero again is symbolic of the second wave feminism of the early 1960s. She gets to leave her role as a housewife to use her unique talents to better the world and herself. Mr. Incredible is envious that Elastigirl can fulfill her purpose in a way he cannot.

Mr. Incredible’s frustrated reaction to Elastigirl being offered the chance to be a superhero is the same reaction male producers likely had when discussing the Wonder Woman film. Female superheroes are often stuck playing second fiddle to a male hero. Their solo films are few and far between. Mr. Incredible may believe his wife is capable, but he still wonders, “Why not me?” He supports his wife, but only because it will allow him to one day don his tights and mask again to fight evil. Ultimately, the villain, the Screen Slaver, exploits this overwhelming desire to get him back into being a hero.

The Sinister Screen Slaver

The Incredibles 2

In THE INCREDIBLES, Mr. Incredible’s actions create the villain, Syndrome. Similarly, superheroes created the Screen Slaver due to their inaction. In the final act of INCREDIBLES 2, Elastigirl discovers that Evelyn Deavor is the Screen Slaver. She plans to frame a group of superheroes using her mind control technology, ensuring that superheroes will be permanently outlawed.

Evelyn blames the death of her father on his overreliance on superheroes. While in her guise as the Screen Slaver, she rants about how superheroes make ordinary people weak. The Screen Slaver rebukes the audience’s obsession with superheroes, claiming that we passively observe their heroic actions rather than taking responsibility for our own lives. Meanwhile, Elastigirl tracks the Screen Slaver’s broadcast jamming signal. The film chastises the audience for its choice of entertainment (superhero movies) while watching an actual superhero movie.

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Superheroes and Society

Once again, Bird is questioning the role of a superhero in a society. By extension, he is questioning whether or not superhero fiction is good for society. It’s a question that countless film critics have hemmed and hawed over for the last ten years. In fact, you can interpret Evelyn as those who proclaim that superheroes films are causing the gradual destruction of cinema.

In our world of endless superhero franchises, INCREDIBLES 2 makes the case for superhero films that are weird, personal, and maybe a bit messy. That may seem hypocritical coming from a filmmaker working for the largest entertainment company in the world. However, Bird delivers this message through his original creations that have allowed him to discuss philosophies that have personal meaning to him. His superhero universe feels more like a comic book than actual movies based on comic books. (How many times have you heard the first movie called “the best Fantastic Four movie”?) Sometimes in order to build the best version of something, you have to break it all down first.

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