Monday, June 18, 2018

MOVIE REVIEW: The Incredibles 2...more like The Acceptibles 2

So I didn't love it and I didn't hate it, but The Incredibles 2 just didn't have any of the heart or magic that made the first one my number 2 Pixar film of all time. Also, the second half of this review will highlight some equity issues presented by this film. Hold on tight. LIGHT SPOILERS AHEAD.

The movie was fine. There were only a few glaring plot holes (how can this business man assemble all the world leaders to write new legislation? For being "all the world leaders" why were there only like 10 of them in the room?) and the original cast are still amazing voices and the animation was also top-notch. That ocean just looked so good. Also, the baby. My wife turns and says: "The baby saved the film" not literally (perhaps unfortunately) but just because he's got a couple killer scenes.

But, the problem is that is all we get, just fine. The framing device: the world hates superheroes and deems them illegal, has been done TO DEATH. I mean, for almost 70 years in the X-men universe and more recently in the Avengers/Captain-America Civil War movies and like EVERY OTHER post-superhereo "gritty" graphic novel/movie/book/video game. But whatever, they don't really harp on it, and actually the movie didn't really need it.

So moving on, what about the plot itself? Well, it's pretty much The Incredibles 1 with the gender reversed between the two parents. This time instead of Mr. Incredible going out alone and the mom and kids going to save him, it's Elasti-girl who goes out alone, then Mr. Incredible, then the kids go out to save them. At one point, about 1/3rd of the way through, I thought they were going to go somewhere interesting. The villain (at the time) starts giving a monologue about how people don't do anything anymore, they just stare at screens, they don't play games, they watch game-shows, they don't cook, they watch cooking shows, they don't travel, they watch travel shows. If this movie went in this direction it would have been so great on so many levels 1) actually an important thing to think about in our modern world, and 2) it's a movie (on a screen) telling us not to watch things on screens (so meta). But this was it, one monologue and then that whole potential big idea was absent the rest of the way and it turns into a avenge mommy and daddy movie.

Perhaps even more unforgivable than a predictable plot (of which most movies have) was the fact that the first 2/3rds of the movie were SO BORING. I don't mean that they needed more action, because there were plenty of action scenes. I mean that the action scenes were boring and predictable, the family scenes were bereft of the complex family nuances that drove the first film, and the various comedic set pieces were just so-so. The conclusion was at least interesting to watch, but also ultimately totally predictable in each of the points it hit. It just wasn't a very emotionally engaging movie, sort of hollow.

So fine, it was a well done, well acted predictable movie. More often than not, those are enjoyable, here though the boredom got to me and that was a problem for the filmmakers as it let me see two other things that ended up being distractions for me the rest of the way through, things I might have missed if I were invested in the story and characters.

The first, and which hit me early on watching the crowd in the background of a couple scenes, was the complete whiteness of this film. Yes, Frozone continues to be amazing (super powerful and always timely, but as a person was underused in this film) and there was a new black minor superpowered character in a couple scenes, but I'm talking bigger things. The crowds were white, the side characters were all mostly white.

And I'm not talking just a black/white divide (although that was definitely concerning here). Where are the Asians, the Indians, the Pakistanis, the middle easterners and Persians, where are the people of Hispanic or South American background, where are those of native dissent as well as black, African American (is this movie set in America?) and/or African individuals (along with the far greater world diversity than I can list in one sentence)? This was a very white film at a time when there is no excusing it. It didn't reflect the diversity in the suburban audience I saw it with, nor the diversity I encounter every day at work an in the community. And I don't live in a particularly diverse part of the country either. I'm not talking Manhattan here.

At first I wasn't sure I would bring this up, but then I realized, if I don't, who will? I see it as each of our jobs to highlight when we don't see media echo the world around us because we cannot let another generation fail to see themselves on screen. These kids need to know they are valued and unique and the same and special and...I just can't believe how we continue to be willing to cast aside other human beings, other unique individual people, just because they are not from north west Europe. What we continue to allow to happen in this country and around the world goes beyond a Human Rights violation. When we use the term Human Rights violation it again depersonalizes the individuals who make up the group and while it is critical to look at groups in the aggregate so we don't miss disproportionate treatment, it is also essential that we recognize that in each group are persons. Persons who dream, think, hope, love, hate, create, sleep, snore, and all the other small things that make them a person and not a number. It is too easy to depersonalize, and thus legislate against people, when we look only at aggregate numbers or aggregate labels. It is easier to be wrong to a label than to admit we are directly harming another human being. But there are very real individual stories in each and every person on this planet and we should never allow ourselves to turn from that. Yet, it is also critical we look at this in the aggregate so we don't include individuals without representing and valuing larger pieces of culture that go beyond skin tone. Both are critical facets of true inclusiveness and both are missing in this film. I work on this issue in a different way in my work, and I'm choosing to use this movie to highlight another place where it needs to be addressed and corrected.

Wow, that was intense. So here's the second thing that the boringness of this film let me concentrate on. When Helen Parr (Elasti-girl) is introduced to some mediocre wanna-be supers, are two or three of them meant to be LGBTQ? It was played both really subtly but also maybe really ham-fistedly. I just felt like during the introductions several of those characters had very stereotypically affected speech patterns and/or body movements. I'm going to assume this was no accident but, I'm presuming positive intentions here, an attempt to be more inclusive in a Disney film, maybe. Then here's my problem if it wasn't an accident: it was both so minor as to have nearly been missed, so what good does it do, and if we continue to only present LGBTQ characters as those with stereotypical affects, we continue to not really honor the breadth and depth of the lived reality of the 20% of people who identify as LGBTQ. On the other side, if this wasn't an intentional inclusive moment then it 1) either used those stereotypes for comedy (the sparky guy was way lame - look at his facial expressions) or 2) the movie just had zero LGBTQ representation at all. I don't know which is worse, no representation or stereotypical representation. But I do know, that much like a more racially/ethnically diverse movie that this should have been, is that there can be nods in the background as well as the foreground to LGBTQ lives. Where were the fathers pushing the stroller down the street in the background, two same-sex individuals making out in Violet's school, some gender noncomforming clothing choices, anything!?

So basically, you have a boring movie that caused me to focus on social justice issues. Not what Pixar/Disney had in mind I'm sure. But, that's what you're going to get from an adult and we're certainly going to talk about it with our kid so she doesn't perpetuate this when she gets to make choices as an adult.

My rating: 5/10 "Probably not worth your time/money" and almost creeping into the "actively dangerous" territory. Yikes, didn't see that coming when we bought our tickets.

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