MPAA Rating: PG
USCCB Rating: A-II
Reel Rating: 4 out of 5 reels
The excess of sequels and extended franchises in recent years has tired many, but there is one sequel I have been eagerly awaiting well over a decade to see: The Incredibles 2. The first Incredibles was a landmark in two genres and one of the films I use in its entirety for the classroom. Happily, Brad Bird has produced another smash hit full of action, humor, and heart. If it falls short of its predecessor, which was probably one of the best films of all time, I won’t hold it against him.
Incredibles 2 starts where the first picture left off, with the Underminer monologuing his villainy to a terrified city while the Parr family begins to suit up. Bob – also known as Mr. Incredible – spent the last film learning to accept his family’s help, only to fail miserably in the first test of that lesson. Fortunately, telecommunications giant Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) appreciates the Parrs’ attempt and invites Bob’s wife, Helen, to again moonlight as a superhero on his bill. Deavor hopes this will “set things right” and gain support to repeal anti-superhero laws, which he blames for the death of his parents at the hands of criminals.
Helen’s new job has both positive and negative consequences. On the one hand, Helen can again embrace her role as Elastigirl, the sleek crime-fighting machine, complete with an awesome motorcycle and “angsty” new outfit. Where Bob fails, she succeeds, bringing Deavor close to his goal and encouraging underground supers to come “out of the phone booth.” On the other hand, Bob—he of the 400-pound muscular frame—embraces the challenges of being a stay-at-home dad. His hilarious adventures in parenting will resonant with any father, including dealing with Violet’s teenage mood swings, Dash’s insane common core math homework, and Jack-Jack’s development of strange and frustrating new powers.
Toying with the family dynamic of the Parr family is easily the film’s biggest strength. Helen is a more socially acceptable hero than Bob but feels out of place, while Bob cannot comprehend that, despite his best efforts, he isn’t able to fix every problem with brute force. They have a fantastic relationship, even as each would prefer the other’s role while being willing to do what is best for the family. Yet there isn’t any talk of roles, social conformity, feminism, or mansplaining—just how to best serve their common covenant.
It is often said that “a hero is only as good as his villain.” At first, Elstigirl busies her time catching bank robbers, pursuing purse snatchers, and other boring exploits but soon the central antagonist appears. Dubbing himself the Screenslayer, he hacks into television signals to hypnotize others into doing his bidding. Like Syndrome of the previous film, Screenslayer wants to eradicate the world of heroes. But while Syndrome did so to level the playing field, Screenslayer claims to be helping humanity by taking away their crutches and achieving their true potential.
It’s a dark and potent philosophy that echoes a familiar atheistic adage: “If you were choking in a restaurant, would you want someone to pray for your well-being or to perform the Heimlich maneuver?” The Church has answered this objection in many ways throughout her history. My favorite is Bishop Barron “both/and” response. Catholicism is an incarnational faith that affirms the reality of God’s providence through acts of charity, sacrifice, and goodness. We are called to lives of prayer and trust as well as good deeds and prudent acts. The heroic deeds of others should not make us complacent but rather inspire greatness.
The themes, action, visuals, and writing in The Incredibles 2 do not blend as seamlessly as before, but it is still a film that openly promotes courage, honesty, and marital love based on complementarity and sacrifice rather than whim and emotions. Early in the film, Bob’s friend tries to encourage him by saying that “done properly, parenting can be a heroic act.” If the Synod on Youth needs an entertaining but insightful tool to encourage teen Catholics to brave the marriage vocation, The Incredibles 1 and 2 would make an excellent double feature.