When we talked to Incredibles 2 director Brad Bird, he made it clear the movie doesn't have a female lead because of the #MeToo movement. He came up with the idea of putting a woman front and center "right on the heels of the first film," which came out in 2004.
"That's the oldest idea in this current movie," the filmmaker said. "We don't really respond to whatever the thing of the moment is. We just kind of tell the stories we want to tell." In this film, Elastigirl is the one with a job, fighting crime, while Mr. Incredible stays home taking care of the kids. The film features other strong female role models too.
But before we go on, a warning: If you haven't seenyet, we're going to unload a ton of spoilers.
Elastigirl to the rescue
When superhero advocate Winston Deavor sets out to legalize caped crusaders, he doesn't want Mr. Incredible or Frozone to be the public face of the movement. He wants Elastigirl. He knows Helen will be good at catching the bad guys while keeping everything on the more disciplined, less messy side.
The stay-at-home mom dons a new dark supersuit (not designed or approved by Edna) and goes to fight crime, leaving her husband in charge of the kids. And she has a great time at work, especially riding that bike Evelyn Deavor designed with Elastigirl's superpower in mind. As superheroes go, she's just cool.
Woman as a bad guy
The villain in this movie is actually a villainess, the master mind behind Screenslaver. Sick of her brother's obsession with superheroes, Evelyn Deavor sets out to destroy the public image of people with superpowers by hypnotizing them using screens.
Leaving aside the subtext about screens being omnipresent and dangerous, I thought the villains here would be both Deavor siblings. Maybe even just Winston. It didn't occur to me the bad one was going to be Evelyn. Traditionally, baddies tend to be men and I fell for that assumption. But I liked how the movie portrays complex women who can be strong, sensitive, feminine, independent, funny, creative and, yes, evil.
Plus, there aren't that many female villains of this sort in Hollywood -- ones who look like bohemian executives with trendy hairstyles and dreamy eyes and sound like Catherine Keener.
Violet also rules
"It's not her fault superheroes are illegal. It's not like I don't like strong girls. I'm pretty secure," teenager Tony says when explaining why he didn't say hi when he saw Violet dressed as a superhero. Those words are some of the more powerful in the movie.
Shortly, his memory is wiped so he forgets Violet altogether. We also have to applaud Violet's initiative when, after an attack of what her younger brother Dash describes as "adolescence," she simply introduces herself to Tony again.
At the end of the movie, the whole family is taking the teenage couple to the movies, but they bump into some criminals on their way. Violet decides to leave Tony at the theater, giving him money for the ticket and popcorn and promising she'll be right back. This teenage girl prefers to go catch some bad guys -- because she's a hero and that's her calling -- over having a date with the guy she likes.
Edna still does it all
Mr. Incredible doesn't want to admit to Elastigirl that things aren't necessarily working the way they should at home. But thanks to Edna Mode, Bob solves the infinite problems caused by baby Jack-Jack having.
Edna is not only good at designing superhero suits (without capes!), she's also good at delivering smart lines full of heart: "Done properly, parenting is a heroic act." She's even good with babies and ends up finding the perfect solution to deal with Jack-Jack.
Judging by her looks, you could dismiss Edna as too cartoonish. She's all glasses, bob and exaggerated accent. But she's also an independent professional capable of understanding the needs of her friends. Someone who really has her life together and is always there for the supers, ready to share her wisdom. And being always fabulous, darling.
Acing the Bechdel test
The Incredibles already passed the Bechdel test, which states that there are at least two named women and they have conversations together about something besides men. Incredibles 2 also passes the test. Elastigirl and Evelyn share a special connection from the beginning of the movie (at least until Helen discovers who the other really is). There's also admiration and camaraderie between Elastigirl and Voyd, a new superhero discovered by the Deavors and who'll be especially important at the end of the movie.
Where the film falls short
So yes, Incredibles 2 passes the Bechdel test, but a few things made me question its feminist heart. Like the fact that even amid the wide cast of female characters, one of the few black women is relegated off-screen. Critics including Monique Jones of Shadow and Act have noted that Frozone's wife is never seen, and her character seems to be just a sassy black stereotype.
Meanwhile, Mr. Incredible has agreed to stay home and take care of the kids so he can get what he really wants. As he puts it to his good friend Frozone, if he takes care of things at home, Elastigirl can succeed in her mission and superheroes will be legalized again. Then he'll get to return to crimefighting for a living.
By the end of the movie, with the villain Screenslaver defeated and superheroes back in business, Elastigirl seems a bit too happy to go back home to her old life. After spending the whole movie busting the stereotype that a woman's place is in the home, this feels like a step backward. Have Bob and Helen really learned from all the great points above, or are they still falling back into traditional gender roles?
So yes, the latest Pixar installment gets points for the treatment of some of its characters and for having a female lead but it's still not as progressive as I'd wished, especially toward the end. I'd have also liked to see this movie -- and other Disney titles -- make a more visible effort to include LGBTQ characters.
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