When The Incredibles came out 14 years ago, there was no Marvel Cinematic Universe, and Hollywood’s reliance on comic-book movies was just starting to spool up (Spider-Man, which came out in 2002, was the genre’s first genuine box-office sensation in at least a decade). Superheroes have since become the dominant stars for this moviegoing generation. And it’s a trend that seems to worry Bird, who has written those fears into two major new characters in his sequel—the brother-sister entrepreneur team of Winston and Evelyn Deavor, voiced by Bob Odenkirk and Catherine Keener, respectively.
Winston is an optimist. He’s convinced the return of powered people will solve the nation’s ills, and he’s dedicated to using his advertising savvy to sell the public on his vision. His father was an industrialist enamored of costumed heroes who was murdered by home invaders after the ban took effect; if only someone like Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) had been there to save him, Winston muses. Evelyn, a tech genius who’s eventually revealed to be the film’s chief villain Screenslaver, is a cynic. She’s convinced that her father’s idealism was what got him killed, and that superheroes are nothing more than a cheap convenience for a society unwilling to fix its own problems.
Bird has admitted to understanding Screenslaver’s point of view. At one point, the villain monologues about how people chase after neatly packaged TV versions of life so that they can ignore the real thing, and how superheroes only reinforce that kind of laziness. “I like [Screenslaver’s] idea that superheroes are making people weak. You need to rely on yourself,” the film’s producer John Walker said in an interview with Vulture. Bird agreed, adding, “It’s a little bit libertarian, that idea.”
Where the first Incredibles argued that it was only right for the Parr family to exult in their powers, Incredibles 2 seems a little more suspicious of the idea that supers should automatically be worshipped as heroes. As part of Winston’s push for legalization, Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) is given a new costume with a body camera and is sold as a brand. But her battles with Screenslaver are all staged by Evelyn (a scheme in which Elastigirl is an unwitting pawn), whose ultimate goal is to gather the world’s superheroes, hypnotize them, and have them cause chaos, ruining their global reputation for good.
While Bird may be sympathetic to Screenslaver’s argument that superheroes are too easy to take at face value, his film has a more nuanced view. Halfway through Incredibles 2, Elastigirl and Evelyn debate the merits of two different philosophies: cynicism and optimism. In that conversation, Elastigirl recognizes her own idealism (she is, after all, a crime-fighter who wants to help people) but also acknowledges that everything she does can be manipulated for viewers at home. She’s not quite a pure cynic or an optimist, but more of a realist who understands the limits of her abilities without abandoning her morals.