Incredibles 2 ★★½


Beginning its narrative immediately after the end of the first film, Incredibles 2 nevertheless demonstrates the long gap between original and sequel in terms of how Brad Bird reformulates his Great Topic. It's tough being extraordinary in a mediocre world, and where the first film was explicitly Objectivist / conservative, taking potshots at the culture of participation trophies and corporate pencil-pushing, the new one is all about the flimsiness of the postmodern Internet world. Superheroes just need better public relations! If they maximize their YouTube presence, they can become legal again, and probably even monetize!

This leads to some frightening dips into authoritarianism that Bird, naturally, isn't prepared to handle. (The Supers start wearing body-cams, so citizens can see their heroics and not just the rubble they leave in their wake...) Deciding that Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) is the best contemporary ambassador for super heroics, she is placed at the center of a campaign to rehabilitate the image of supers and get the global ban on superpowers reversed. Turns out she's being played; a villain called the Screen Saver is one step ahead of The Heroine Formerly Known as Helen Parr at every turn, leading one to suspect that maybe it's an inside job.

Meanwhile, Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) discovers that managing the home front is not as easy as he thought. This is supposed to be funny, but it's really just retrograde, the first indication we have that the time-clash that characterizes the Incredibles universe -- the retro-futuristic, Raymond Loewy mid-century modernist "present" -- is actually a space of reactionary sexist values. The fact that this nonsense emerges in a 2018 sequel is hardly accidental, and Bob's triumph -- being a capable dad -- is a good indication of just how low we're currently setting the bar.

In the end, I2 comes down to another drab revenge showdown, The Screen Saver mostly holding a personal vendetta against the Supers much like Syndrome did in the first film. What a waste. She promised to be a kind of Adorno / Debordian supervillain, destroying a world not only hooked on vicarious, mediated experiences but all too willing to allow an ungoverned power-elite to solve their problems for them.

Alas, Brad Bird is always on the side of elites, because he considers himself an Iron Giant, a benevolent pop-cult leader of men.