June 16, 2018

Watching a Father's Day movie with the kids: “The Incredibles 2”

By Tim Hruszkewycz *

Sorry it has been a while since my last review.

Believe it or not, it is really hard to go see a movie in the theater when you have a newborn. For some reason, I thought that this announcement would garnish me some applause, but this is a text-based medium so I have to settle for the raucous congratulations echoing in my head. Many thanks. But apparently I’m not alone in the stresses of recent fatherhood. Bob Parr- Mr. Incredible- gets me.

It has been fourteen years since the original “Incredibles” graced the screen. I was reminded how long it had been by Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Brad Bird, and Samuel L. Jackson at the beginning of the sequel, “The Incredibles 2,” which opened in theaters June 15.

When the first movie came out in 2004, I was in college, a junior at the Franciscan University of Steubenville. That era was the new dawn of the superhero film.

My dorm room was adorned with a 2001 promotional promotional poster for the first “Spider-Man” movie, which was released in 2002. In that poster, the Twin Towers reflected off Spider-Man’s eyes, which seemed somehow patriotic to me at the time. Those posters, by-the-bye, were quickly pulled from theater after 9/11, but somehow became secret collectors’ items. I was the guy who actually owned one of the pre-9/11 “Spider-Man” posters. I was the real deal.

In those years, we didn’t have anything like Marvel fatigue yet. I was the guy who was watching the 2003 Ben Affleck-led “Daredevil” on repeat, hoping a director’s cut would leak its way to my original XBox-modified DVD player. I was the holdover fan of Ang Lee’s “Hulk” movie.

2003’s “X2” was the gold standard of superhero films at that time, and I knew it wouldn’t get any better than that. What I’m trying to say is that it was a different time. The idea of a mainstream superhero satire was something that blew everybody’s minds, and it came out of Disney Animation.

The original “Incredibles” movie was political. It questioned the need for heroes. Considering that those early superhero offerings were mostly origin stories- with the exception of “X2”- “The Incredibles” took what was fundamentally the Fantastic Four and outperformed the very topic it was satirizing. It was amazing.

“The Incredibles” had a bombastic score by Michael Giacchino and a color scheme that just screamed retro pastiche. It was fun. But more important, it was smart. It was a love letter to comic books and fantasy, but it didn’t mind poking a few holes in the fanboy fabric. And I didn’t know anyone who didn’t like it.

I remember that, like most really cool college guys, I’d let my Windows Media Player cycle through my music when I was in the dorm. Not much got attention with the exception of “The Incredibles” soundtrack. Nerds across campus would pop their heads in and say, “Is this ‘The Incredibles?’” I would slyly nod my head, go back to reading whatever dorky comic book I was reading instead of studying and this would repeat on a cycle.

That story may say more about certain demographics at Franciscan University than anything else, but that is besides the point. “The Incredibles” was a phenomenon.

But my life is different now. To get to go see this movie, it took a little movement of heaven and earth. It also didn’t hurt that this movie was released on Father’s Day weekend.

I love having a new baby at home. My new daughter is hilarious and weird already, but a newborn is taking its toll. Since my wife’s third trimester, I feel like my life has been put on overdrive. Occasionally, I just need to take a breather, but that breather rarely arrives. My wife is a saint. She holds the baby so much. Penelope, our newest, and our third, is obsessed with being held. The blessing is that she is completely consolable through most of her issues. The downside is that you have to hold her the entire time.

I always have to remind myself that I get the chance to be a better dad with each kid. Like the Parrs, the protagonists of “The Incredibles” series, I have a lovely wife, an older daughter, a blonde son, and a baby. Things would be difficult with just a Penelope/Jack-Jack. But there are times when I feel like I’m Bob Parr, patriarch of the Incredibles clan, and like I’m not addressing my family’s other needs. Young “Dash” wanted a hot dog, but I cut it the wrong way. I should have noted that it needed to be cut differently this time from every other time. “Violet” is a good kid, but she loves to push buttons. Oh, and she never listens until I get mad. “Helen” is going back to work in two weeks and leaving me alone with all three fledgling superheroes.

Believe me, I get Bob Parr.

And that’s what has changed with “The Incredibles.” While “The Incredibles” has always been about family dynamics, fans of the original film now have young families of their own. Fourteen years later, we stop relating to Dash and Violet. We relate to Bob and Helen.

“The Incredibles 2”, it turns out, is about a dad who knows that he could be a Herculean father, if only he could only catch a break for two seconds. Parents understand that feeling.

During the movie, I looked over at my wife in the darkened theater- she was holding our little “Jack-Jack, meaning that, once again, she had to provide something I couldn’t. A teacher, like me, has summers off. A doctor, like her, does not.

I don’t have that “Spider-Man” poster anymore. I now worry about the day that my daughter will bring home the math textbook that I won’t understand. I worry about potential medical issues with my newborn and wonder how I’ll be able to get through the tough times with my kids. I sometimes wish that any kind of health thing my kids experience lead to a diagnosis of “laser eyes”, but poe-tay-toe / poh-tah-toe. I have to believe that “Incredibles 2” director Brad Bird gets that feeling. He wrote and directed this story fourteen years after the original, to say that family life is tough, but absolutely worth it.

My kids throw on the original “Incredibles” movie pretty often. It’s not on as much as “The Peanuts Movie” or “The Lego Movie”, but I do know pretty much every line and music cue by this point. I’m glad that my kids watch this Disney action movie. They love it and it is significantly less annoying than some of the things that could be playing in the house. My cards on the table? I tend to avoid saying the words “Paw” and “Patrol” together within a five minute span in case it reminds my son that he could be watching a show that shall not be named. The first “Incredibles” movie is great and it is heartwarming.

“Incredibles 2” shows that Brad Bird and his team have not forgotten what it really means to tell a story about putting family first, showing all elements of the struggle. This movie is really great at conveying those realities of family life. Considering that it is often hard to talk about the stresses of new parenthood without sounding like a constant whiner, this felt like unloading with a friend.

But fundamentally, is it a good movie? I always hate to gush about a movie immediately after I’ve seen it. It comes off as cheap and kind of tacky. Still, I’d go as far as to say that “The Incredibles 2” is a great film.

My kids were constantly entertained. My son, who is terrified of everything, was riveted the entire time. The main villain is a little creepy. My son sat in my lap for the “bad guy” parts. But the movie doesn’t forget that while it is satirizing superhero films, it has to be a superhero film in its own right. Brad Bird creates some awesome action set-pieces, and balances bombastic moments with touching scenes and great comedy.

I know I’m not the only one who find the Pixar guys hilarious when they are firing on all cylinders. “Incredibles 2” is extremely funny. Not surprising, it is in baby Jack-Jack’s scenes that light chuckles from the audience become belly laughs. It’s a sign of his brilliance that Bird manages to paint real and human moments amidst the fantastic situations in which the Incredibles find themselves.

I appreciate the comedic nods to superheroes past, but the most memorable laughs come little things, like Violet’s awkwardness around her crush. I laugh because as bizarre as the world of “The Incredibles” is, it is also the most grounded of the Pixar films.

Honestly, “The Incredibles 2” might outshine the first film. A warning, though: my wife did comment that a lot of the sequel reminded her of the themes and motifs from the first film. I can’t deny that. If “The Incredibles 2” has a weakness, it is that it treads a lot of the ground that the first film covered. Regardless, I believe that “Incredibles 2” falls on the right side of nostalgia and tends to take the first film’s themes to a deeper level. While I would have appreciated a completely new message in the second film, Bird did a solid job embracing the issues of the first movie without becoming repetitive or derivative.  

Remember, “Incredibles” fans, Bob Parr gets it. He’s a dad, first and foremost. He loves his kids and his wife and there is never a moment when that love is in question. But he’s also a person who sometimes just needs a break. It’s not that he can bench-press a car that makes him a superhero. It’s that he keeps trying to help his family, even when they’re too busy to notice.

Bob Parr, thanks for a Father’s Day story that was a great reminder of what it means to be a dad.

Tim Hruszkewycz is a high school English and film teacher at Villa Madonna Academy in Villa Hills, KY. He also co-hosts the Literally Anything podcast at literallyanything.net and blogs about film

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.