Incredibles 2: Why Screenslaver is RIGHT – Wisecrack Quick Take
Welcome to this Wisecrack Quick Take on the Incredibles 2!
Written by: Amanda Scherker
Directed by: Robert Tiemstra
Narrated by: Jared Bauer
Edited by: Mark Potts
Produced by: Emily Dunbar
Incredibles 2: Why Screenslaver is RIGHT – Wisecrack Quick Take
Hey guys. Finally-got-a-haircut Jared here. After 14 years of patiently waiting, we finally got to see Incredibles 2 over the weekend, and it pretty much shattered all of the predictions we made on our movie podcast, Show Me the Meaning. Is the movie good? YES. We expected that. But what surprised us is just how thoughtful the film is, and it all has to do with the film’s villain- Screenslaver. Not only does Screenslaver dole out some majorly relevant commentary on the effects of our culture’s obsession with screens, but her presence might just make The Incredibles 2 the most subversive superhero movie ever made. So welcome to this Wisecrack Quicktake on The Incredibles 2, and watch out: a monster amount of spoilers ahead. But as always; first a quick recap: Helen gets recruited by media mogul Winston Deavor’s new PR campaign. His goal: change the public face of supers in order to reform their image and, eventually, change the laws that outlaw them.
Meanwhile, Mr. Incredible has to take over parenting duties, which means helping Violet through her boy drama and trying to contain Jack-Jack’s mind-boggling new powers. As the PR blitz kicks off, Helen’s job quickly takes her face to face with Screenslaver, who literally uses computer and television screens to control people like a Jedi mind trick with a film degree. Here’s the fundamental theme at the core of the film’s conflict: that in the digital age, perception has supplanted reality. Early on Winston introduces us to this idea when he explains the real reason that superheros were outlawed: Public perception was against them because people associated superheros with the crime scenes they superheroed at. He argues that, in order to change the law, first: “We want to change people’s perceptions about superheros…”
Essentially, Winston’s pitch is that the image of supers as communicated by the media is more “real” than their lived experience. Thus, Winston thinks that changing the public perception of supers -rather than changing any of their actual deeds – is essential to getting the ban lifted. So, his plan is to create a specially curated reality of supers to be consumed by the American people. How will he do this? By sticking a camera in Helen’s superhero suit and making her both a walking virtual reality machine and a serious competition on Twitch. From there, we meet the villain, Screenslaver, later revealed to be Evelyn mind-controlling a pizza-delivery guy. Now, Evelyn’s motivation is actually a rather sophisticated critique of mindless media consumption and how it makes people passive participants in their own lives. She gives a truly epic monologue in which she complains about the way everything “meaningful must be packaged” into “talk shows, games shows, travel shows”. She sees supers as an essential part of that media landscape, in that they offer a security and comfort to the masses that keeps them docile. This is where our philosophy senses started tingling. The plot of The Incredibles 2 is a neon sign pointing to philosopher guy-we-like-to-mention-a-lot Jean Baudrillard, who wrote about the power of screens to influence our opinions and indeed, control our lives.
In his book Screened Out, he argues that video, interactive screens and virtual reality have brought us into a state of perpetual interactivity, where there is no longer any separation between the media we consume and lives we lead. If anything, he argues, the virtual reality of the Internet, TV and video games seems more “real” than the world we inhabit, and even supersedes reality which is why the person you’re seeing right now is the “real Jared” and the one I see when I look in the mirror merely a shadow. Both Winston and Evelyn’s plans take this theory and run with it: In very different ways, each is trying to use the mediated image, i.e. the perception of superheros to change reality ie. the law. Baudrillard says that the real aim of media consumption is to hide or disappear into the virtual, an idea that Evelyn’s goggles and screens exaggerate to great effect by hypnotizing people into a fugue state in which they are completely detached from the “real world.” In this way, he film warns about the harmful power of screens to control our lives. The immersive power of Helen’s POV crime-fighting videos create exactly the kind of absorbing media Baudrillard discusses. That’s why they’re so effective and immediately start shifting public opinion. (Also, hey, it’s good for plot development) Helen’s M.O. of saving people from bad guys hasn’t changed a bit. But now that people can see her bravery up close, it’s suddenly more real.
At times, the movie isn’t too subtle about any of this.At one point, Evelyn and Helen debate like drunk philosophy majors about whether the selling of the product (ie: the mediated image of it) is more important than the product itself.
They can’t come to a solid conclusion, which seems fair because modern philosophers can’t either and they’ve had thousands of pages of writing on which to try. Of course, we later learn that Evelyn’s beef with superheroes is less eggheady and more personal: When burglars broke into her family home, her father counted on his superhero buddies to save him instead of using his safe room.He was shot dead and as a result, she now blames superheros for her father’s passivity and clear inability to think logically in high-pressure situations. So she she decides to use the very thing she despises– the image of supers– to destroy their viability and importance. To her, not only do SCREENS make us passive observers in our own lives, but the image of superheros ON THOSE SCREENS does something similar. The Images of benevolent, all-powerful beings perhaps prime us to believe, like Evelyn’s dad, that our problems will be solved by powerful individuals.
But wait a second, are we not also watching The Incredibles 2, a SUPERHERO MOVIE, through a screen? Are we not also participating in this same hero worship when we watch in awe as The Incredibles save the day? So what are we supposed to think of watching a superhero movie that criticizes the effects of selling superheros through mediated images? Well, ultimately, the ending is a pretty comforting to fans: The Incredibles stop Screenslaver, supers are made legal again by some kind of United Nations knockoff and Evelyn is carted off by police. But… just when everything is about to be wrapped up nice and neat, Violet, whose third power is sarcasm, immediately jumps in to cast doubt on our happy ending, saying “I’m sorry that she’s super rich and will only get like 2 years in jail.” So should the Incredibles saving the city from that giant yacht’s warpath convince us that everything is all good? Or is Brad Bird pointing at something more sinister with Violet’s final quip?
Is he suggesting that viewing such a uplifting ending might make us feel satisfied, even pacified, when in reality (whatever that is), there are still many injustices that need to be addressed? Let us know what you think in the comments, and hey- if you like geeking out about what may be Pixar’s smartest franchise as much as we do, you gotta check out our friends over at CinemaWins. They just broke down everything awesome about the first Incredibles, and it’s well, Incredible. So click here to check out their video and tell em’ Wisecrack sent you. As always, thanks for watching guys. Peace.