By Bronwen Steele
The Incredibles 2, which came out in cinemas this summer, hadn’t been much more than an exciting possibility for over a decade prior to its release. The original was released a whopping fourteen years ago in 2004 and, full of sharp wit, charm, and clever action sequences, it became a rewatchable classic. Its much-anticipated sequel sees Brad Bird reprise his role as director and writer, and has us back with the Parr family (aka The Incredibles). Bob (Mr. Incredible), Helen (Elastigirl), and their three kids, Dash, Violet and Jack-Jack, all have superpowers but – here’s the catch – superheroes are illegal. As we’ve come to expect from a Disney-Pixar film, The Incredibles 2 boasts wonderful animation – the glittering floor to ceiling water feature which unfurls in the family’s new home, for instance – and beautiful cinematography – think Elastigirl chasing a train across the city skyline in dying evening light. While The Incredibles 2 doesn’t quite recapture the originality or the humour of the first film, it has managed to retain some of its refreshing wisdom and down to earth values. The original followed the characters as the children learned to embrace their powers and the responsibility which comes alongside them; the sequel sees the family learning the courage, sacrifice and skill it takes to live everyday as a family. “Done properly, parenting is a heroic act,” Edna proclaims dryly to Mr. Incredible. That lesson, in all its everyday beauty, is one of the key themes of the film.
While we do pick up with many familiar faces from the first film, the main plot is driven by two new characters. Winston and Evelyn Deavor are the brains behind the prosperous and powerful company, Devtech. They come complete with charm, lots of money and a tragic backstory. We’re told that their father knew several superheroes personally and, superheroes having just been made illegal, was killed during a robbery as he tried to contact his friends to no avail. The siblings were then orphaned when their mother died not long afterwards of a broken heart. The Deavors persuade Elastigirl to become the face of a new campaign to make superheroes legal again, which leaves Mr. Incredible struggling to keep things running at home while Elastigirl clashes with a new villain, Screenslaver. Although initially their promises seem too good to be true, Elastigirl’s developing friendship with Evelyn, Winston’s unaffected, boyish enthusiasm, and the smooth unfolding of the campaign begins to convince the viewers that the Deavors really are all they seem – just in time for the plot twist which reveals Evelyn as Screenslaver.
Evelyn’s emergence as the shadowy, masked villain deepens the contrast between the siblings dramatically. Each sibling’s current path has, at its origin point, their grief. But while Winston eagerly attempts to right injustice with joyful gusto and undimmed hope, Evelyn’s grief has warped her with bitterness and distrust. Her cool exchange with a captured Elastigirl is one of the most powerful scenes of the film.
Elastigirl: “I counted on you!”
Evelyn: “That’s why you failed… Why would you count on me?… We don’t know each other!… Our sweet parents were fools to put their lives in anyone else’s hands. Superheroes make us weak!”
She sees the world as a place in which every person is at odds with one another, and as, her plan reaches its climax, she announces, “May the fittest survive.”
Although most of us are unlikely to hypnotise people and wreak havoc (it seems a bit far, doesn’t it?), it isn’t too hard to slip into an attitude of hopelessness, anger and mistrust which has at its heart the belief that its them or us. Perhaps it’s a friend you supported at great emotional cost and you wonder if it was worth it. Or a church leader who hurt you and left you cautious of contributing. Maybe it’s a changing political and social climate which seems to no longer have room for your voice, your opinion, you as a person. The list is ongoing and, whatever it is, we can find ourselves throwing walls up around our hearts, wary of trusting, counting the cost, finding it too high and concluding that it just isn’t worth it.
While there’s a wise and Biblical way to protect ourselves (“guard your heart” and all that), there’s a difference between healthy boundaries and acting with discernment, and putting up defensive barriers and living in fear, anger and hurt. The latter leads us to become disheartened and hopeless, ready to give up. Galatians 6:9 urges us not to “become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9). But how do we avoid ending up in that jaded place – particularly if we have experienced real grief, hurt or injustice?
Psalm 126 is a fuller expression of Galatians 6:9:
“Those who sow with tears
will reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
carrying sheaves with them.”
This promise of God is not just for those who are weary, but for those for whom the cost has been real and bitter. It’s not for anyone who has ever been sad, but for those who have sown – namely those who have worked for the Kingdom of God, who have spoken into people’s lives, given of themselves to their children, families, friends, communities, who have done good work but oh! it has been hard and perhaps apparently fruitless. When we believe this promise, we can look back and know that, actually, it wasn’t wasted. Instead of looking back resentfully at apparently barren situations, we can know that all the sowing with tears through the years has been worth it; one day, we will reap the fruit with joy.
And it is when we believe this promise, knowing that God is both just and faithful, that we can continue to sow, to work with hope towards a harvest, counting the cost and saying with Elastigirl, “But you can count on me anyway.”
Bronwen Steele is currently studying for a BA in Philosophy and Theology at the University of Oxford. She also has a Foundation Diploma in Art and Design. She grew up in different places throughout the UK, takes her tea weak and listens to copious amounts of Taylor Swift.