In the 14 years since the release of The Incredibles, superhero movies have become a major part of the cinematic output. While the original movie was able to seem like a fresh satire of comic book stories and characters, as well as the comparatively few films existing in the genre at the time, Incredibles 2 plays more as one of the bunch — a better-quality entry, but still.
The sequel’s ingredients seem to include chunks of The Avengers, Captain America: Civil War, and X-Men: Days of Future Past, for instance, and maybe an unintentional dash of the animated Megamind. Other animated features appear more closely related, as well, including those in the Despicable Me/Minions franchise (I know, Pixar fans won’t like that claim).
Instead of recommending other popular superhero and animated movies, though, this week’s Movies to Watch selection is a more scattered bunch of espionage classics, older action and comedy essentials, and an issue documentary. Do yourself a favor and add all of these titles to your to-view list:
The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
When it comes to mind control, like the sort used by the villain Screenslaver in Incredibles 2, we can always go much further back than The Avengers and even Zoolander. I definitely recommend the 1920 silent horror masterpiece The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari as an important starting point for the puppeteering-like crimes of a villain using hypnosis to get innocents to do his deeds.
Then there’s The Manchurian Candidate, which was released around the time that the Incredibles movies seem to be set in (given certain aesthetic choices and the TV programs watched in-film), albeit of some alternate universe version of the ’60s. John Frankenheimer’s prescient feature (it foreshadowed the JFK and RFK assassinations) centers on a political conspiracy in which a brainwashed patsy is employed to kill a presidential nominee in order to influence an election in favor of a Russian and Chinese-selected pawn.
Angela Lansbury, as a communist spy married to a US senator primed by her for the White House, is a precursor to the Catherine Keener-voiced Evelyn Deavor of Incredibles 2, while the husband (James Gregory) is analogically the equal of Evelyn’s oblivious, Bob Odenkirk-voiced brother. But in The Manchurian Candidate the villain exploits war heroes rather than superheroes.
Thunderball (1965) and Our Man Flint (1966)
Just as the first Incredibles was influenced by James Bond movies, so is the sequel. Brad Bird has been vague about which of the 007 franchise installments are his favorites or biggest inspirations, but Thunderball is a good guess of preference given his fascination with jetpacks (see Bird’s Tomorrowland). The fourth film in the official EON series — the most financially successful for almost half a century — is one of the most notable in terms of what we associate with the look and feel of a Bond picture, enough that many spy parodies are modeled on its plot and specific scenes.
One of its best mimics, the 1966 spy movie Our Man Flint, also features on my list of Movies to Watch after Geostorm from last fall, and I’d also recommend that again here. The plot, like that of Thunderball, involves an evil organization giving extreme demands to the world’s superpowers. In the Bond film they want money, here they want to rid the planet of nukes. Of course, as we know from the “Watchmen” comic, superheroes are kind of like weapons of mass destruction, and so Evelyn Deavor/Screenslaver’s plan is somewhat similar.
As far as I can recall, despite TV Tropes’ claim, Thunderball itself doesn’t feature a broadcast interruption a la Screenslaver’s TV signal hijackings, and the remake Never Say Never Again only has one directly sent to NATO. That kind of thing has been reserved more for Bond knockoffs (including Our Man Flint) and entries in the sci-fi genre (the TV series The Outer Limits, which is seen in Incredibles 2, had an opening pretending to be a broadcast interruption). Regardless, it’s the most fitting ’60s Bond movie to assign alongside any Bird film.
Mr. Mom (1983)
Jumping ahead now to the 1980s, this comedy written by John Hughes has been brought up a lot in comparison with Incredibles 2. The Pixar movie has a subplot in which Bob Parr, aka Mr. Incredible (voiced by Craig T. Nelson) becomes a stay at home dad while his wife, the Holly Hunter-voiced Helen/Elastigirl, goes out and works. Just as in Mr. Mom, the dad isn’t too competent with the parenting and household duties at first, and ultimately his better half is shown to be better at managing the home and bringing the bacon to it.
And yet Bird wasn’t really conscious of the similarities (if he’s even ever seen Mr. Mom). He told Fandango, when asked if this movie informed Incredibles 2 in any way:
“No. Although that’s probably … I probably should have seen that. But no. I think that I’ve done some research in that area by being a father. So, I have on-the-job experience of being in over my head.”
The connection is especially interesting when you think about Mr. Mom‘s star, Michael Keaton, going on to play the superhero Batman in two movies (not to mention his later roles as a superhero movie actor in Birdman and a villain in Spider-Man: Homecoming). It’s Bruce Wayne as an edgy, hot-tempered parental figure! Oh no, the man who thinks himself such a tough guy has met his biggest challenge in a dirty diaper. How funny!
There’s a debate about whether or not Mr. Mom is right-headed in its treatment of the rise at the time of women in the workforce, especially since it centers on the man. And, as Hunter notes in a recent interview, the term and idea of a “Mr. Mom” is “diminishing.” But then there may also be a debate with Incredibles 2 since it deals with the exact same situation, and yet is out 35 years later, though maybe is set about 20 years earlier. At least both movies do show plenty of the woman’s success in her own arc, which ultimately involves her punching bad guys.
Raising Arizona (1987)
While we’re on the subject of how awesome Holly Hunter is, here’s a movie that puts her on screen also in a role where she’s a more responsible half of a married couple. Joel and Ethan Coens’ Raising Arizona also stars Nicolas Cage as her beau, an incompetent but proud man she meets while working as a police officer booking his multiple arrests. Inverse to the plot of the Incredibles movies, she starts out as the breadwinner but quits so the man can take over in that role.
The plot involves the couple committing a crime that they feel is justified in some way for the betterment of their future as a family. Rather than performing superhero duties to show that superheroes are necessary, Hunter and Cage’s characters kidnap a baby, one of a set of quintuplets that they think the real parents don’t need. And so, yes, there’s also a cute infant and shenanigans pertaining to parenting here, but it’s all smartly done. This isn’t Super Babies: Baby Geniuses 2 — though that sequel does share some elements with Incredibles 2 as well.
Die Hard (1988)
Have you ever heard of this movie? Of course you have, it’s only one of if not the most influential action movies of all time. And it’s finally on the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress. We’ll all be celebrating its 30th anniversary in one month. And addressing its legacy when Skyscraper comes out. So what’s Die Hard doing here? Is Incredibles 2 best sold as “Die Hard on a boat” or something? Maybe more like “Die Hard in a family.”
Not that terrorists have hijacked the Parr household or anything — that was sort of done on a small scale in the first Incredibles. No, the connection is more about the family dynamics of both movies. Die Hard isn’t just about a regular guy who takes down a terrorist group who’ve hijacked a skyscraper. It’s also about a traditional, old-school kind of guy whose wife has gone off to another city for a fancy new job.
Also, Bird has acknowledged Die Hard as an influence on his work as a filmmaker, though not necessarily as having informed the plot of his latest in any way. He told The Ringer:
“My heroes in terms of action staging are Spielberg and James Cameron and George Miller and a few films of John McTiernan—’Die Hard,’ I think is just an amazing action movie. And one of the things they have in common is that they are super-aware of geography, of where everything is in relation to everything else and they’re constantly updating the audience in a way that’s artistic and full of flair but they’re constantly updating, now this person’s near the window, now this is happening. And they can do it at lightning speed. It’s actually really hard to be both clear and fast. And a lot of people can’t do it.”
Bird can do it. With Incredibles 2, he continues to show a knack for action staging and provide his audience with a sense of geography in every scene. As for Die Hard‘s family dynamic, while the husband/father does get to be the primary action hero and save the day, he’s not just saving his supposed damsel in distress. Holly Gennero-McClane (Bonnie Bedelia) can take care of herself in her own way and throw punches when she feels a need to. If only she had stretching powers, she could have better handled Hans Gruber herself. By the way, Hans Gruber is also the name of one of the bad guys in Our Man Flint.
Spy Kids (2001) and Sky High (2005)
Even though the family of The Incredibles appeared to be modeled on the Fantastic Four, the movie itself was pretty inspired as far as its characterizations and storyline was concerned. Incredibles 2 doesn’t feel quite as original, not just for its relation to the superhero and animated movies that have come between the first movie and the second but also for how reminiscent parts art to this Robert Rodriguez family film released prior to The Incredibles.
Spy Kids is about a family of spies, or at least a family where the parents are spies that got together and had a family. But they wind up kidnapped by a villain who uses TV for diabolical purposes, and the kids have to save them. At first they’re visited by a guy they call Uncle, who is really another spy, but the guy is turned into one of the villain’s possessed minions and the kids must go on the rescue mission on their own. They save the parents and the whole family saves the day.
Incredibles 2 is about a family of supers, originally with a couple who were supers that got together and had a family. But the parents wind up kidnapped by a villain who uses TV for diabolical purposes, and the kids have to save them. At first they’re visited by a guy they call Uncle, who is really another super, but the guy is turned into one of the villain’s possessed minions and the kids must go on the rescue mission on their own. They save the parents and the whole family saves the day. Of course, that’s just the final act.
As for Sky High, there’s not as easy a connection, just the fact that it’s about a family of supers. Well, one of them, the teenage son of a super-strong dad and a flying mom isn’t sure if he is actually a super. The movie came out a year after The Incredibles and was mostly dismissed as a silly family film seemingly chasing the then still nascent superhero “trend.” But it’s pretty entertaining, much more so than Spy Kids.
Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011)
After directing three animated features, including The Incredibles, Bird made his live-action feature directorial debut with the fourth Mission: Impossible movie, arguably the best one. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol was a perfect movie for Bird given his obvious love for the ’60s spy stuff that inspired the Incredibles movies, and his aforementioned knack for practical, geographically cognizant action is the sort of direction the franchise has come to be associated with.
And of course with his first foray into live-action he achieved the seemingly impossible (whereas anything was possible in animation) with Tom Cruise’s Harold Lloyd-inspired stunt climbing on the side of the world’s tallest structure, Dubai’s Burj Khalifa. Forget the Bond films, this was where Mission: Impossible proved to be the most thrilling spy movie franchise of all time. It’s too bad that Bird followed it up with a disappointing live-action effort (Tomorrowland) and now an animated feature that’s not quite his best work either.
That’s not to say Incredibles 2 isn’t still better than most movies of any kind this year, and the action is still remarkable. As it turned out, while the action of The Incredibles got Bird the job doing Ghost Protocol, the action work there led to the set pieces of Incredibles 2. For the animated sequel, Bird re-teamed with stunt coordinator, Rob Alonzo, who is credited on Incredibles 2 as “action consultant.” As Bird told Metro:
“In a very pragmatic way I had some ambitions for some action sequences in this movie. I wanted them to be adrenalized and tough. I invited the stunt designer from ‘Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol’ and “Tomorrowland,” his name is Rob Alonzo. He just came in and consulted a little bit on some of our fight sequences. Because he is a great fight choreographer. And he met with our animators and some of our story board artists, and talked about how someone would fight when they can’t see. What’s the smart way to fight if you can’t open your eyes. The animators loved it and storyboard artists loved it. Because, again, you are trying to bring some reality into this fantasy situation.”
Growing Up Coy (2016)
This week’s documentary recommendation was a difficult choice. I wanted to choose something that related to the metaphoric themes of Incredibles 2, which are mostly felt in the stronger first half of the animated feature. In addition to the feminist subtext, there’s also the idea of the Parrs being an illegal family and how the mom has to go out and fight for the laws to change so they can be who they are without fear of arrest. But I couldn’t decide on the right doc on undocumented that fit the plot of Incredibles 2 well enough.
So I switched issues and chose the Netflix documentary Growing Up Coy, which follows the lives of a family fighting for trans rights. Coy is a transgender girl who was denied use of the girl’s bathroom at her elementary school, despite such discrimination being illegal in the US. So she’s not illegal — unlike other places in the world, but she is treated as such, and her mother has to go out and fight for her civil liberties further in a legal case and through a publicity campaign.
There’s a line in Incredibles 2 where Helen/Elastigirl says they’re not even sure if the kids will want to be supers when they grow up, which struck me. If she means professionally, so be it, but the fact is that her kids were born supers and it’s not just a choice. When I was growing up, identifying as gay or transgender was something that happened when you were older, at least after puberty, but now these identifications are recognized as congenital and need to be respected as such, no matter how young the person.
Watch it on Netflix