If you missed these, we’re almost a month into the next year and it’s time to set the last one on fire.
Death to 2020 – Presented as a mockumentary about the last year and how completely and ridiculously unbelievable it was from an objective viewpoint, this special has performances by Samuel L. Jackson as a reporter, Hugh Grant as a historian, Lisa Kudrow as a conservative pundit, Leslie Jones as a behavioral psychologist, Joe Keery as a millennial, Kumail Nanjiani as a tech billionaire, Tracy Ullman as Queen Elizabeth II, Cristin Milioti as a “Karen,” Diane Morgan as a British person, and Laurence Fishburne as a voice.
Yearly Departed – Presented as a complicated funeral for the year, a group of female comedians (Rachel Brosnahan, Sarah Silverman, Natasha Leggero, Tiffany Haddish, Patti Harrison, Natasha Rothwell, Ziwe Fumudoh, and Phoebe Robinson) all give hilarious eulogies about various things that “died” in 2020.
2020 sucked. There was a lot of death, a lot of loneliness, and a lot of my neighbors planning an insurrection to overthrow the US government unless their candidate won (HEY, FBI, THEY’RE NEXT DOOR AND THEY HAVE A LOT OF GUNS). However, through it all, we found out that there is a lot of shit in this world that really isn’t necessary (working in an office building for many jobs) and a bunch that is more necessary than we could ever have imagined (teachers, nurses, and other people we don’t pay well enough). These films are a testament to the insanity that was the last year. What’s funniest, I think, is how many of the things in these films you will have forgotten about because other, crazier things happened afterwards.
If I had to choose between them, and I don’t really because they’re both fairly short, but if I did, I would say that I enjoyed the mockumentary format of Death to 2020 more than the fake funeral of Yearly Departed. Viewing last year through a semi-objective lens and just reminding us how much shit actually happened during it feels almost like a self-parody. Like when the movie Airplane! just lifted lines directly from the film Zero Hour and that made it apparent that Zero Hour was itself a terrible and ridiculous movie. However, I did appreciate that Yearly Departed focused almost entirely on female comics, giving it a distinction that most specials don’t have. They each essentially give different comedy monologues and they are all amazingly funny, it’s just that the format gets a little old eventually.
Overall, I recommend checking both of these out to help you move forward into the new year strong.
Spike Lee’s masterpiece manages to stay relevant for over 30 years.
It’s the middle of a heat wave in Bedford-Stuyvesant and everyone around the neighborhood seems to be going a little overboard. At multiple points of the movie, we see characters expressing their “inner voice” to the camera. Local highlights include: Radio DJ Mister Senor Love Daddy (Samuel L. Jackson); friendly one-liner quoting drunk Da Mayor (Ossie Davis); wandering boombox enthusiast Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn); local horndog Buggin’ Out (Giancarlo Esposito); neighborhood watchdog Mother Sister (Ruby Dee); mentally disabled man Smiley (Roger Guenveur Smith); and then there’s Mookie.
Mookie (Spike Lee) is a pizza delivery man for neighborhood pizza man Sal (Danny Aiello). Mookie lives with his sister, Jade (Joie Lee), and has a baby with his girlfriend, Tina (Rosie Perez). Mookie frequently fights with Sal’s racist son Pino (John Turturro), but is friends with Sal’s other son Vito (Richard Edson). Sal, an Italian-American, gets into a fight with Buggin’ Out over the fact that Sal puts famous Italian-Americans on the pizza wall, but not African-Americans. Mookie tells Buggin’ Out to just stay away for a while, but Buggin’ Out points out that since this is a black neighborhood, Sal should honor some black people. Meanwhile, in order to deal with the heat and the blackouts, local residents Ahmad (Steve White) and Cee (Martin Lawrence) open a fire hydrant. Some of the teens use the water to soak a local man until the police shut down the party and the hydrant.
Mookie and Pino get into a fight over the fact that Pino keeps using the “N word” despite idolizing black people. After Mookie leaves, Pino asks Sal to sell the pizzeria and move to an Italian-American neighborhood, but Sal insists that this is the only place where they can make money and that he likes the neighborhood. When Buggin’ Out tries to start a boycott of Sal’s to get a black figure on Sal’s wall, the neighborhood uniformly defends Sal’s, so Buggin’ Out is the only person boycotting. Jade and Sal have a conversation, leading Mookie to believe Sal wants to hit on her and he tells both parties not to associate.
Later that evening, Radio Raheem, Smiley, and Buggin’ Out come into Sal’s as it’s closing and try to demand black people be on the wall, calling Sal and sons “Guinea Bastards.” Sal, angry, calls Radio Raheem and Buggin’ Out the “N word” and smashes Radio Raheem’s boombox. Raheem attacks Sal and soon a brawl erupts into the street. The police arrive and arrest Radio Raheem and Buggin’ Out, but not Sal. In the process, one of the officers, despite the crowd telling him to stop, chokes Radio Raheem to death. The officers then put Raheem’s corpse in the car and leave. A mob starts to direct their anger at the police, but with them gone, they direct their anger at Sal and his sons. Mookie walks away from Sal as Da Mayor tries to convince the crowd that it wasn’t Sal’s fault. Realizing that violence is imminent, Mookie throws a trash can through Sal’s window, leading the crowd to attack the restaurant as Da Mayor gets Sal, Vito, and Pino out of the way. Smiley sets the building on fire and firefighters arrive to put it out. They quickly turn the hoses on the crowd, leading to more fights and arrests.
The next day, Mookie goes to see Sal and asks for his money. The two have a tense interaction, but end up reconciling somewhat. Mookie walks back as another hot day begins and Love Daddy tells everyone to register to vote. The film ends with a pair of quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X on the nature of violence and a photo of the two leaders together, the same photo Smiley was selling throughout the film.
The prompt for this film was “Best Film Soundtrack (No Musicals).” My first thought was Purple Rain, because that soundtrack is amazing, but then I decided I wanted to eliminate movies where the musician starred in the film, because that seemed too close to a musical. Then I was caught between this film, Guardians of the Galaxy, Top Gun, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and a half-dozen others. I picked this movie because out of all of the movies, I think this one has stayed the most relevant.
The soundtrack to this film, much like Reservoir Dogs, is typically music that the characters are actually hearing, rather than just the audience. The music is almost entirely played by either Radio Raheem’s boombox or by DJ Love Daddy. The only times in which the music is entirely internal seem to be when the characters are directly addressing the audience. The central song in the film which is played both during Rosie Perez’s extremely powerful and energetic dance during the opening theme, and at almost every time that Radio Raheem is in the film, is “Fight the Power” by Public Enemy. The song is, as you would think, an anthem dedicated to empowering black Americans and trying to rebel against the dominance of white culture and subservient images of black heroes. Public Enemy wrote the song at the request of Spike Lee and it ended up being one of the band’s biggest hits. The rest of the soundtrack intentionally includes songs that are particular to the scene, but were not major hits. Part of the reason is that DJ Love Daddy ran a small local station and probably only could afford independent music, and part of it is that it better showcased underground music. After being featured in the movie, several songs, including “My Fantasy” by Teddy Riley and Guy, shot up the Hot R&B Singles charts, with “My Fantasy” hitting number 1. There’s a great variety in the soundtrack, ranging from gospel to Latin to R&B, which is in part because it is ostensibly a variety radio lineup. The score for the film was composed by Spike Lee’s father and is a blend of Jazz, Classical, and R&B.
One of the film’s strengths comes from the variety of characters featured. The story isn’t really as much about Mookie or any single character as it is about this neighborhood. Most of the recurring characters don’t have real names, only sobriquets, because that’s how they know each other. The audience is treated as if it’s just another person in Bed-Stuy. Because of that, we’re given a heavy dose of honesty from the various people around, including the famous scene of many of the characters directly stating which race they hate the most.
Throughout the film, tempers flare as the temperature rises. The temperature is one of the most brilliant parts of the film because it simultaneously functions literally and as a metaphor for racial tension. When the characters are feeling the heat or deal with racial issues, they start sweating more profusely, the lens becomes a little more fish-eye, and the dutch angles start to take over, indicating unease or tension. It’s heavily used in the scene in which Radio Raheem and Buggin’ Out confront Sal, pushing him over the edge until he finally responds with slurs and breaking Radio Raheem’s boombox. Was it the heat or the pressure that finally causes Sal to snap and Raheem to snap in turn?
The death of Radio Raheem is a large part of why I selected this film. Radio Raheem is needlessly choked to death by a police officer over attacking a man who had just destroyed his property. Raheem had confronted and harassed Sal in his place of business, but Sal destroyed the most important piece of property which Raheem owned, something which was tied directly to his identity. Raheem doesn’t even say “my boombox,” he says “my music” when confronting Sal, because being accompanied by music was part of who he is. However, when the police arrive, they don’t touch Sal or Pino or Vito, but they kill Radio Raheem. We’re required to watch the entire thing as multiple characters are yelling at the officers and saying that they’re killing him, including the officer’s partner. We’re even shown that the officer pulls Raheem literally off the ground as he chokes the life out of him. When he falls to the ground dead, what is the first response? The police yell at his corpse and kick it, telling him to quit faking. The police then get the hell out of there and leave Sal, Vito, and Pino to be their scapegoats.
There have been plenty of discussions about why Mookie throws the trash can through the window of Sal’s, but I’ve always stuck with the interpretation that Mookie realized that something had to happen. Losing Radio Raheem was too great of an inequity for the crowd to bear, a brutal reminder of the inequalities of the world they live in. The mob was going to try to balance the scales and Mookie decided that it was going to be either Sal’s or Sal and that property is not as important as life. Sal is insured, he’ll rebuild. Radio Raheem cannot be brought back. This is why the scales can never be balanced under the current system. At the end of the film, DJ Love Daddy reads a message from the Mayor that says that destruction of property will not be tolerated. That’s what the politicians care about: A burned-up building. Not the dead body of Radio Raheem. This movie is over 30 years old and yet this message seems so contemporary that it’s frightening.
I don’t think I can add anything else to this. If you haven’t seen this movie: See it. If you have seen it: See it again. And, as DJ Love Daddy reminds us at the end of the film: Vote. It’s a constitutional form of violence against the powers that be.
Spider-Man tries to have an ordinary Summer vacation until he’s dragged into a superhero conflict by Nick Fury.
Spider-Man/Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is back following his resurrection at the end of Avengers: Endgame (No, you don’t get a spoiler warning for that, watch the damned movies in a reasonable time). Following the death of Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), he’s having trouble determining his place in the world of superbeings. When he goes with his school on a trip to Europe for the Summer, Peter tries to leave his superlife at home and focus on finally talking to MJ (Zendaya) about his feelings for her. However, things go awry when it’s revealed that Nick Fury (Samuel L. “Motherf**king” Jackson) needs him to help Mysterio/Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal), a superhero from an alternate Earth that is trying to stop the Elementals, a group of four supervillains. Peter has to deal with the threat to the planet while also dealing with a threat to his Summer romance.
One of the opening lines to this film is “how will we move on with the next phase of our lives? Without the Avengers, does anyone even have a plan?” That’s the question this movie knows the audience is asking. Now that the story arc which has been building since the first Avengers film is over and three of the original Avengers are gone (Captain America, Iron Man, and Black Widow), does Marvel even have a plan for what to do next? I mean, they gambled so heavily on this idea back in 2008 when they had Nick Fury mention “The Avengers Initiative” at then end of Iron Man, that it seems impossible to move past the Avengers after that bet paid off so well (as it’s likely to be the highest grossing film in history by the end of this year). Well, Spider-man immediately answers that question on behalf of Marvel: “[We] have a plan.”
Yes, it’s a strangely direct metatextual moment, but I think it’s an important one. This film is about carrying on after a major upset to the world. Within the narrative, it’s the “blip,” which is what the MCU characters call the “Snap” from Avengers: Infinity War. To the audience, it’s the end of the initial phases of Marvel films. The movie decided to start everything off by telling the viewer: It’s okay, believe in Marvel, we have more in store for you. It sets everything at ease and allows you to relax your anxieties more, something that pays off well in the film.
This movie works perfectly as a transition to the new, still relatively unknown, future of the franchise. It mentions the multiverse (possibly because another Spider-Man film did it better), and even has characters point out that this is “what people need right now,” because it allows Marvel to start expanding beyond just the continuity we know, but this film mostly focuses just on the current storyline and assures us that things are still going to be going forward. Changes are coming to the world we’ve been watching, though, and some of them will be major, even if they’re not spelled out in this film.
But enough about that stuff, here’s what I can say about the movie:
Tom Holland is still great as Spider-Man. Nothing about that has changed. Jake Gyllenhaal makes a great pseudo-partner/big brother figure to him in the movie and their moments together are solid. The villains are amazing, and some of the sequences involving Spider-Man confronting a bad guy are among the best I’ve seen in a comic book film. The supporting characters are all great.
As far as the writing goes, this movie has the correct level of comedy for a Spider-Man film. It still has the dramatic moments, but it’s still Spider-Man, a character who has to wisecrack and be awkward or he’s just not fun.
The plot is hard to talk about without spoilers, so suffice it to say that no matter what predictions you made or things you think you know about what’s going to happen from the trailers, you’ll be happy with the way everything unfolds.
The mid-credits scene cannot be missed by anyone with any interest in this franchise. Do NOT go to the bathroom if you value your sanity.
There are no churros in the movie and that made me sad.
Overall, this movie told me upfront to trust in Marvel and that we’d be rewarded. They immediately followed that up with a solid and somewhat original superhero movie. Have faith, my people. Marvel’s still got some stuff to show us.
The Twenty-First entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe gives us the first superheroine central protagonist, but also displays a huge lack of faith in itself.
Vers (Brie Larson) is a superpowered elite fighter in the Kree Starforce, an alien peacekeeping force, under her mentor Yon-Rogg (Jude Law). She is plagued by dreams of her past that she can’t remember. During a mission against the shapeshifting Skrulls, Vers is captured by Skrull leader Talos (Ben Mendelsohn). She escapes and crash lands on Earth in 1995, where she is met by a young-ish Nick Fury (SAMUEL L. MOTHER****ING JACKSON), who must work with her to deal with the impending alien invasions while also finding out that *ONLY KIND OF A SPOILER IF YOU COUNT SOMETHING YOU SEE IN THE OPENING SHOTS OF THE FILM AS A SURPRISE, AND I DON’T* she’s actually Carol Danvers actually from Earth.
If this movie came out in 2000, when X-Men came out, it would be hailed as a revolution in superhero films. If it came out in 2004, when Spider-Man 2 came out, it would have been considered a little familiar, but still fresh. Hell, if it came out in 2008 along with Iron Man, it would still feel mostly new. Unfortunately, unless I managed to get the DeLorean up to 88 MPH while typing this, it’s now 2019 and the last decade has been filled with superhero movies that tend to constantly recycle tropes, and this one recycles the hell out of them while managing to import other old tropes at the same time. The beginning is so chock-full of them that I was actually starting to wonder if the film had a human writer, or if this was the first computer-generated script that actually got produced. It basically felt like someone took most of the common cliche elements from Phase One of the MCU and just switched the gender.
The hero with amnesia is something that the MCU has managed to mostly avoid until now (unless you count Bucky being brainwashed in Captain America: The Winter Soldier), and this movie is a fresh example of why: Unless you’re going to play with it in clever ways, it basically forces the main character to spend half the movie as a different character. People are defined, in large part, by their experiences, so when you have a character who suddenly remembers most of her life, the character should be at least somewhat different, particularly when her post-amnesia life was so different. It basically robs the audience of some of the time we need to connect with the character, or forces you to make the character act similarly as both their old and new selves. Now, this can really work out, like in Memento or The Usual Suspects if the way that the film is done takes advantage of the lack of information it’s giving to the audience about a character, but this movie doesn’t do that, for the most part. Instead, it’s hard to say where Vers ends and Carol Danvers begins, because her core personality is mostly the same as both.
Now, I want to take a second to make one thing clear: Tropes are not inherently bad. The best comic book movie of last year, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, is so filled with tropes that it could be a codicil, but it uses all of them perfectly as a way to enforce the importance of certain storytelling elements. This movie uses them to skip over certain parts of the storytelling and it does show at times. I think my biggest one is that the villain in the film is possibly the worst in the MCU. Everything [it] tries is so miscalculated, so dumb, and so unnecessary, that I almost ended up shouting at the damned screen. The only reason any of it even happens is so that we can eventually get Captain Marvel asserting herself and giving us the character change that leads into the final fight scenes.
Speaking of which, the action sequences range from the fights at the beginning where the shaky-cam and editing renders the shots almost pointless to film to the last fight scene which is, admittedly, pretty freaking awesome and almost worth the ticket cost on its own. Given that the directing duo of Boden and Fleck haven’t really done an action film before now, this is commendable, but it does still make the first act even worse than most of the writing did.
The real problem with this movie is the same flaw that helped make Thor: The Dark World and Iron Man 2 so bad: This film plays it safe. To be fair, the studio probably pushed this upon them, because when you’re trying to sell something new to an audience, like a female-led Marvel film, it’s tempting to want to give them some familiar elements to keep them from getting lost. If you try to subvert literally everything that the audience expects, then you can end up with a super-divisive film involving space llamas and blue milk. So, I imagine the studio tried to keep the directors “in their lane,” forgetting that the reason why Black Panther, Thor: Ragnarok, Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America: Civil War, and Avengers: Infinity War felt so fresh is that the directors were allowed to have a lot more control over the films, giving them more distinct style and original elements than the first few Marvel movies. Even Doctor Strange, which is just Iron Man on shrooms, was at least visually distinct. Captain Marvel didn’t even trust its main character to be the sole focus of the story, instead mostly being a buddy comedy with her and Nick Fury. This film is, sadly, just a lot more generic than it needed to be.
That isn’t to say that there aren’t a lot of good parts to it. Some of the shots and worldbuilding elements are excellent. Brie Larson’s performance, while somewhat muted by the way her character is being handled in the film, is solid. Sam Jackson is a treasure, even if he doesn’t exactly feel like the guy who will, 13 years later canonically, be the superspy head of S.H.I.E.L.D. The third act is actually pretty great, including a few of the better moments in the MCU. Heck, it manages to have a scene of a completely overpowered protagonist not feel boring. It makes some changes to Captain Marvel, but nothing too big to piss off the purists. Also, it has solid feminist elements without feeling like they were shoved inorganically into the scenes, which is the best way to get a point across.
Overall, it has a terrible start, but after it finds its feet, it manages to get some good sequences on film. Hopefully what this movie does is allow the studio to trust the directors more in the future and that the next female superhero film (PLEASE GIVE ME SHE-HULK) will be allowed the same leeway now afforded other MCU entries.
Well, it’s been 14 years and we finally got the thing that Pixar should have known we’d throw money at, a sequel to Brad Bird’s The Incredibles. I can only assume the delay was because Sam Jackson was busy being in 113 movies in the meantime. Guy’s the only actor who out-films porn stars.
If you didn’t see the first one, here’s a quick summary of the premise: It’s the 1950s. Superheroes exist. Lawsuits for personal injuries also exist. Lawsuits beat superheroes. Congress makes laws. Laws beat superheroes. Superheroes are forced to retire. Two of them get married and have three kids who also have powers. Now it’s the early ‘60s. The family ends up fighting against a supervillain whose plan is to… make himself a superhero, then sell off technology that would allow everyone to be equal to superheroes. The family beats him, the free world is saved, and superheroes are… still illegal.
The family is basically a twist on the Fantastic Four. The mom stretches, the dad is super-strong and invulnerable, the daughter can become invisible and create forcefields, and the eldest son is superfast because if he had fire-based powers Disney would have sued. As Disney now owns Fantastic Four, but not their movie rights (yet), I guess that’s a good call. Jack-Jack, in the short that was on the DVD for the film and for a few moments in the movie, is revealed to have a huge number of superhuman abilities (later described as “limitless potential”), much like Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman’s son, Franklin Richards, whose powers are basically only outmatched by the One-Above-All, AKA GOD.
So, the movie picks up shortly after the end of the last film… by like 2 minutes. We immediately see the Parr family trying to resume superheroics and get our quick re-introductions. Bob, AKA Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), is the father whose life is defined by superheroics more than his family or career, though the last movie taught him how much more his family means to him. Helen, AKA Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), is the mother who is the more active parent and, arguably, the more successful superhero, except from a marketing and name-recognition perspective. In the last movie, she learned… nothing. She’s basically perfect, so she doesn’t really get a character arc. Violet, the daughter (Sarah Vowell), is a social outcast who has just started to become more open and outgoing. Dash, the middle son (Huck Milner), is the troublemaker who has learned to be more disciplined. Jack-Jack, the baby, is a baby. Their only real friend is Lucius Best, AKA Frozone (Samuel L. Motherf*cking Jackson).
Basically, the premise is that a guy wants to make superheroes legal again, so he has Helen put her costume back on and fight crime, while Bob looks after the family. Now, the general premise here is pretty interesting because, remember, this takes place in the early 1960s. Bob genuinely seems shocked when Helen proposes that she get a job, because he’s “the man of the house.” Throughout much of the movie, he’s struggling to deal with being a stay-at-home parent, something that he cannot use any of his natural superhuman abilities to help with. It gets even worse when the baby starts to show off his superpowers, which include a number of abilities that make him problematic to babysit.
Meanwhile, Helen… well, she doesn’t really have any problems being a superhero again. Honestly, that’s one of the things I loved most about the movie, that they didn’t try to portray Helen as having trouble being a working woman again in some attempt to add conflict. Instead, she’s portrayed as strong, intelligent, tactically brilliant, and resourceful as hell. The movie’s supervillain nemesis is a little corny, but still provides enough of a contest for Elastigirl to show off how good she is at what she does.
Without really spoiling anything, at the end of the movie, the family comes together, saves the day, roll credits. If you didn’t see that coming, I have to assume you don’t know how childrens’ movies work.
First off, everything about this movie, from a technical and storytelling standpoint, was amazing. The characters are well-crafted, the dialogue is amazing, the locations are creative, the villain is pretty well done (see below), and the pacing is basically perfect. I almost think it’s better than the original, honestly. The animation is wonderful, but I found it funny that it really highlights exactly how much Pixar’s animation has improved in the past 14 years, because even the explicitly cartoonish and exaggerated characters from the previous film are now given an extraordinary amount of detail. They’re still less realistic than they could be, but the hair movement and muscle movement in some of the scenes is really elaborate. And the message about the power of family is always good. I loved this film the whole way through, right until something started bugging me on the ride home.
Alright, so, a lot of people had issues with the message of the first movie, since the main family is naturally gifted with superpowers, while the villains are all people who use technology to even the playing field (Bomb Voyage, The Underminer, Syndrome). It gives sort of a “the special are genetically special and trying to change that is evil.” Some people called it reminiscent of Ayn Rand, but those people apparently never read Ayn Rand. While it’s true that Rand believed that society should support the superior people (i.e. the wealthy) at the expense of the lesser peoples (i.e. the working class), the concept of a superhero would have offended her sensibilities, since she claimed altruism was the worst thing in the world in her essay collection The Virtue of Selfishness. Yes, that’s actually its title. Even if Mr. Incredible does enjoy superheroics because of the fame it brings him, he still risks his life constantly to save other people for no reward. When he is stuck at a desk job, he still is trying to help people within the insurance company, to the point that his boss threatens to fire him for it. So, no, not Rand, never Rand. If you’re going to criticize something, read the thing you’re criticizing first (*cough* Everyone on the internet *cough*).
Still, the idea that people born with gifts are heroes and people who use their minds are villains isn’t stopped during this movie. As far as I can recall, there is no Batman equivalent in this. There is no tech-based superhero like Iron Man. There doesn’t even appear to be someone like the Hulk or the Flash, who has artificially-granted superpowers, although the movie doesn’t really explore this much. My point is, they definitely didn’t shy away from that criticism. And, let’s be honest, when you go into “some people are born genetically superior” territory, you really open up a lot of issues that tend to rhyme with “Race-based Bin-o-slide.” But, the movie does try to at least portray that there are superheroes in every country, from every genetic background, which I think is them trying to equate superheroes not to race or ethnicity, but to people born with natural aptitudes. If you look at it from that lens, the movie’s message is “use your natural talents to the benefit of everyone,” and it’s only people who choose to use them for selfish reasons or out of spite, that are bad. After all, all the villains are naturally superhumanly intelligent in order to make their devices, but they could easily just do what Syndrome suggests in the first movie: Sell all of their gadgets and make everyone super. It’s meant to be villainous in the way that Syndrome is suggesting it, but, seriously, how is that a bad idea?
Well, in this movie, we’re actually given hints that some other people have done exactly that. While the movie still takes place in 1963 (based on The Outer Limits airing in one scene and the fact that the last movie took place over several months), we see some technology which is far ahead of its time, like digital video files and a commercial mag-lev train. So, maybe, there are some people who are using their talents for the betterment of mankind. Granted, you’d think that Syndrome’s patents alone would have moved us forward 50 years, but maybe he just kept most of his stuff secret. Still, the movie series does have a tone of “super-strong = good, super-smart=bad,” which, to be honest, is a common thing in superhero comics (Superman v. Lex Luthor). Without a Batman or a Mr. Terrific or a Tony Stark to counter it, though, it does just stay at “strong good, smart bad.” And I’m not a fan of that message, even if not deliberate.
But, all of that aside, I’d like to address another message that really comes up more in this film. The premise of the film is a debate about whether or not we should have superheroes. It’s pretty similar in some ways to the debate in Captain America: Civil War, only in this one every country has a ton of supers, as opposed to Civil War, where there really are only a hundred or so on Earth until the Inhuman spread happens… and even then, it still seems like there are less than a few thousand (I’m not caught up on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.). And that debate is something I’m gonna address more in the future, but for now, let me state how I see both sides, at present.
On the one side, the supers, who want the freedom to do good works and help people without the government getting in the way. On the other, the government, who see supers as a giant problem since they’re basically destructive vigilantes who are not held accountable for most of their actions. Since the focus of the movie is on the supers, who do you think seems more reasonable in the narrative? Hell, at one point, a government agent says that politicians don’t like altruism, because they don’t understand it. That’s mostly true, if a cheap generalization that reflects poorly upon the American people, but that’s not why you wouldn’t want superheroes fighting in your cities. You don’t want supers because they cause a ton of collateral damage. The movie even acknowledges this when they state that A) when Mr. Incredible tries to thwart crime, he causes a huge amount of the city to be destroyed and B) when it’s revealed that his cost/benefit analysis to the city is not good. That’s actually why they choose his wife, who can avoid collateral damage and casualties, to be the face of superheroics. And that’s where we kind of run into an issue.
See, no one should have a problem with Elastigirl being a superhero. She’s well-trained, she prioritizes minimizing casualties and collateral damage, and she tries to avoid conflict when possible. In an age of Man of Steel, this is a reminder of the right way to do things. But what about Mr. Incredible? He’s done nothing to earn being a superhero besides being born super-strong and deciding to help people. His attempts to stop one of the villains takes out several buildings. In the first film, failing to effectively dispose of a bomb (like, by throwing it upwards?) results in him having to stop an elevated train, causing massive injuries onboard. While a good Samaritan law would probably protect him when he saves a suicidal jumper, this one is probably a lot more ambiguous and might actually have cost him his immunity from liability, since he’s saving them from what could be considered his own reckless actions.
And what about all the public works? The movie actually points out that it’s easier to just let some of the villains get away with insured funds than to risk destroying significantly greater amounts in property by fighting them. It actually reminded me of an episode of The Powerpuff Girls, where the girls blow up a multi-million dollar bridge to stop robbers from stealing a few hundred dollars. It’s pretty reasonable for this to piss off city managers. Since supers have been illegal for like 12 years at this point, clearly the authorities actually have ways of dealing with supervillains that’s worked pretty well. It’s not like supers are shown to have a positive effect on crime rates, the world seems more peaceful in the present, if anything.
Look, if you can do good, you should, but doing good recklessly can often result in a net bad. And “good” is so nebulous in the real world that it can be a troublesome to even determine it in the first place unless you have both a strong moral compass and a keen mind to direct it. So, is the government in the right? Well, no. In both Civil War and here, the responses to superheroes are too extreme (and moreso in the Marvel Comics “Civil War”). Some superheroes like Elastigirl and Captain America are a net positive that are only slowed down by government control. Superheroes like Tony “I create all of my own villains” Stark, the Hulk, and Mr. Incredib-ly Destructive are not, unless they’re in a situation where the alternative to their involvement is mass devastation. The key here is that your solution doesn’t have to be either “all supers are relatively free from consequences” or “no supers can exist.” There are a ton of fictional worlds that figure out a reasonable middle ground. While they don’t elaborate, hopefully, the movie has found one in the new superhero laws.
Then there’s the villain’s monologue justification for why they hate supers. Basically, it’s that relying on supers prevents people from being able to grow and take care of themselves. This basically suggests that humanity should be more Darwinian, with the weak dying off so that the strong can continue, and only those who become strong deserve to. This doesn’t get a ton of screen time, but the movie does make a point that relying solely on help from others does cause issues. Just like with the other issue above, this one is presented as a bit of a binary, with the good guys saying “you can count on others.” Again, the truth is, you can’t always, but most of the time you can. However, since we seem to have an outbreak of mistrust in our fellow man running throughout the world, I do support a movie saying that you can count on other people to help you.
So, basically, the messages in the movie might not always be the clearest, but I think overall it’s not that bad. It’s a kids’ movie, after all, and it hints at some debates about the balance between government regulation and personal liberty that have been going on since the dawn of time. That’s pretty ambitious. Overall, the general message of the movie is “just be a good person and do good things for others,” so I really can’t get down on it too much, and it’s such a great film in general that it’s hard to criticize it. Just see it for yourself.