Where Incredibles 2 Fell Short
While my wife and I try to limit screen time for our two young children, there are certain exceptions. For example, if one of us is feeling sick, then movies are completely acceptable. This weekend, we watched The Incredibles 1 and 2 and Peter Pan all in a day. Watching The Incredibles 1 and 2 back-to-back gave me some interesting perspective on the themes of these films, and ultimately, made me realize why I prefer the first Incredibles.
One of the main themes of The Incredibles is the dangers of conformity. Helen Parr (aka Mrs. Incredible) tells her son Dash that everyone is special, to which he remarks, “Which is another way of saying that no one is.” Mr. Incredible especially struggles with hiding his powers, and when the opportunity arises to be a superhero again, he jumps at it, falling straight into the hands of the villain, Syndrome.
Syndrome’s a special kind of super for he possesses no natural abilities of his own. Instead, he uses his engineering abilities to construct a ridiculous secret lair complete with lava curtains. Syndrome’s plan revolves around creating a machine so perfect that no super can destroy it. Once the supers inevitably fail to destroy this machine, Syndrome plans to swoop in and save the day. The final phase of his plan is to sell his technology ensuring that everyone will have the right to be a super.
Syndrome works as a villain for several reasons. First of all, we can empathize with him. Most of us (probably all of us) have no super powers of our own. Growing up, I identified with Batman for this very reason. Like Batman, Syndrome used his wit and his gadgets to take on foes far stronger than he was. Of course, Syndrome was only interested in looking like a superhero; in reality, he was the villain.
Syndrome also works as a villain because he is integral to the theme. He delivers a speech similar to Mrs. Incredibles where he says:
“I'll give them heroics. I'll give them the most spectacular heroics that anyone has even seen! And when I'm old and I've had my fun, I'll sell my inventions, so that everyone can be superheroes, everyone can be super! And when everyone's super...no one will be.”
Society rejected the supers out of fear, but Syndrome rejected supers because of his jealousy. He was jealous that he would never be accepted as one of them. If instead, he had put his mind to developing technology for the good of humanity, he could have been the Elon Musk of the Incredibles world.
As for Incredibles 2, the villain Screenslaver fell short for a few reasons. While the villain was intricately tied to the family plot, the theme felt muddied. Clearly, Mr. Incredible struggled with Mrs. Incredible being in the spotlight, but the film never truly resolved those feelings of jealousy and inadequacy.
To make matters worse, it was painfully obvious that one of the Deavors was the Screenslaver. Once the real Screenslaver was revealed, Evelyn’s reasons for becoming a super villain were sketchy at best. Was it because her father loved superheroes, and they failed him when he was in need? Was it because we are addicted to technology? Was it because people celebrate mediocrity?
If Pixar wanted to focus on Mr. Incredible’s insecurities, then perhaps the villain should have been someone who could make him feel jealous or inadequate. If they wanted to focus on technology or celebrating mediocrity, then the premise should have been different.
To be clear, I think that the main plot of Incredibles 2 worked sufficiently well. I can completely relate to Mr. Incredible, and I enjoyed seeing Mrs. Incredible as she handled the PR side of superhero work. I simply wish Pixar had devised a better villain to suit the themes of the film and had focused on one or two themes instead of several.