The Politics of Incredibles 2 Are Incredibly Confusing

Photo illustration: A still from Incredibles 2 with MS Paint–style question marks overlaid.
??? Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Pixar/Walt Disney.

Like a Spandex suit on a man traveling faster than a speeding bullet, the rumors of an affinity with Ayn Randian ideology have tenaciously clung to the Incredibles franchise. Slate film critic Dana Stevens was far from alone, for example, when she characterized the original 2004 film about a superhero family unhappily forced to hide their powers and integrate among the normies as “a barely disguised libertarian parable about the natural superiority of some individuals over others.” In the past 14 years, that interpretation has been repeated so often, including by New York Times critic A.O. Scott, that in 2015 Slate published its own rebuttal, though it’s ultimately done little to stop viewers from examining the sequel for objectivist inclinations.

Given that critical backdrop, what are we to make of the thematic muddle that is Incredibles 2? Watching the film with an eye toward its ideas is not unlike seeing a whack-a-mole game in action: As soon as a possible thesis emerges, it’s gone, giving the feature an unsatisfying weightlessness. A movie need not have a fresh or interesting thought behind it—plenty of great pictures don’t—but thematic coherence can give a story a narrative throughline, greater meaning to the character’s actions, and staying power in audience’s minds. Not being a mind reader, I couldn’t tell you what role, if any, the accusations of objectivist thought against Bird—which he seems sensitive to—played in the making of Incredibles 2. Perhaps he thought a film that didn’t say much at all would be best; perhaps he tried to say something and it got lost in the movie-making process. Or perhaps he didn’t think about it at all. Whatever happened behind closed doors at Pixar, the result is a sequel that tries on political views like outfits, only to discard them when they’re no longer relevant to a scene at hand. (Note: Significant spoilers ahead.)

Like so many superhero movies, Incredibles 2 is a film about public relations: how superheroes are perceived, and what they can do to alter those perceptions. A wealthy brother-and-sister team—you know something’s fishy because they work together as adult siblings, like the Lannisters or the Trumps—recruit Elastigirl to lead a PR campaign that’ll reintroduce her to the citizenry and hopefully win the hearts and minds of those who oppose superheroes. Faced with her first emergency, a runaway train, and equipped this time with a camera in her suit that will give voters a front-row seat to her derring-do—a possible reference to police body cams that, like so much…

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