Superhero flicks have dominated the action market over the past decade thanks to fantastic movies like The Dark Knight and the consolidation of the Marvel cinematic universe. But while last year's Wonder Woman demonstrated that women can in fact lead in superhero films and action movies in general, it also showed that there's still a long way to go. It's a good movie, but hey, it still contained a lot of cliches found it female-driven action movies-- the helpful male lead guiding the female hero, the tangible hesitance to have female characters fight one-on-one with male antagonists, the skimpy clothing on even the strongest women, etc.
But one summer blockbuster seems to finally get it. It might be unexpected, but the latest animated masterpiece from Pixar happens to be the best female-driven action movie to date. And the best thing of all? The Incredibles 2 manages to empower women without adhering to stupid cliches or totally unbelievable plot lines, appealing more to one gender, or even belittling men in the process. In other words, it's pure gold, and everyone should see it.
[Warning: The rest of this post contains spoilers]
Picking up right where the first film left off, The Incredibles 2 once again features the Parr family in peril thanks to their superpowers. Turns out their recent heroics have done nothing for the government except strengthen their belief that superheroes should be illegal, and so now the family is left without a home, a source of income and the ability to display their powers in public.
But whereas the first movie (released in 2004) spent most of its time following the story of Bob Parr, a.k.a. Mr. Incredible, the sequel refreshingly turns the tables. The focus of the movie is inarguably Ellen Parr, also known to us as Elastigirl, the superhero with amazing stretching powers that would seriously rival those of Reed Richards. When an offer from a wealthy entrepreneur presents itself as an opportunity to both fight crime and advocate for the legal rights of superheroes, it's Elastigirl who gets the position, not Mr. Incredible.
Instead of being the short-lived nod towards women that most action movies tend to go for, this one with Elastigirl is a full-length storyline filled with fight scenes and suspense. Basically, it's legit, and everyone can see that. Helen Parr, or Elastigirl, actually gets to solve a mystery entirely on her own without any help from a male character, and her action scenes are glorious. They're real, excitement-filled action sequences that prompts chills. And the fight scenes? Well, they're bountiful. They're lengthy, brutal fight scenes with both females AND males-- something even the most progressive action movies today tend to shy away from when it comes to their female characters. Whereas the first Incredibles only gave us a taste of what made Elastigirl such a great crimefighter in the heyday of superheroes, the sequel gifts us visual after visual of why she was actually among the best in her field. Furthermore, it shows us that she's still got it after all this time.
As for the other female characters, well, teenage Violet has become far more confident with her superpowers but remains relatable by still having to navigate regular teenage drama and issues with her family. Fashion designer Edna Mode is still fabulous and feels surprisingly fresh thanks to her new, hilarious bonding with baby Jack-Jack. And with so many action movies still just having their token female characters being largely outnumbered by male ones, it's really refreshing to have such an even balance here.
Oh, but there's one more very prominent female character newly introduced in this movie, and she's a glorious mix of tech genius, inventor, villain and oddly caring sibling to a naive showman of a brother. We've seen plenty of female villains before in action movies, but this one is particularly threatening. After all, she has a slew of both men and women with superpowers under her mind-control technology, and she's a damn fine master of "playing it cool" whenever anyone comes close to discovering her real capabilities. Oh, and her virtual personality of "Screenslaver" who taunts Elastigirl at every turn? It proves to be truly one of the most terrifying action villains in years.
But this movie isn't all about the women. In fact, it's also about people in general and the problems that are brought with everyday life. After all, Bob is left at home to watch the family while his wife is out in the world kicking butt and being a bonafide badass. But his story is anything but boring. In a side plot that turns out to be far greater than 1983's Mr. Mom ever was, Bob finds himself having to deal with both Violet's dating life drama (turns out her would-be date had his memory erased and doesn't know who she is) and Dash's ongoing struggle with math. Oh, and did we discuss baby Jack-Jack's incredible emerging super powers? Yeah, that's Bob's burden too., the most hilarious scenes of the entire movie are spawned with this premise, and you find yourself genuinely caring about Bob's efforts with his children. Even though he's not using his superpowers, he's an everyman hero if there ever was one. His scenes just as entertaining as the primary ones with Elastigirl, and that's a feat worth commending.
And yes, Bob does eventually find out that his wife is in danger and goes to help her, but the great news is that once again this movie does not fall back on the cliche. Whereas other action movies eventually have the female lead not get out of trouble without the assistance of her male counterpart (ahem, Guardians of the Galaxy), this one does no such thing. Mr. Incredible also soon finds himself in trouble, and if anything, it's Elastigirl who saves both her husband and most of their fellow superheroes in the end.
In the end, it's the entire Parr family that comes to help save the day, but that's to be expected. After all, it's still a family film in addition to being one of the most progressive action movies ever made.