In April, amid all of the hoo ha about the ‘revolutionary’ nature of Avengers: Infinity War (Anthony and Joe Russo, USA, 2018) – because to make war infinite and to propose an unhappy ending is really revolutionary? – Steve Rose wrote in The Guardian about how Thanos (Josh Brolin) may in fact not be the bad guy… but really the good guy who wants to restore balance to a multiverse that humans have otherwise put out of balance.
Fast forward three months, and Incredibles 2 strikes me as another example of a film where basically I find myself rooting for the baddie, even though I quite like the goodies, too.
For, about a third of the way into the film, the seemingly arch-villain, the Screenslaver, explains the rationale behind his/her plans. Without remembering the speech verbatim, the Screenslaver basically makes the point that superheroes and representations of superheroes have become ubiquitous and that everyone spends all of their time looking at their screens that feature superheroes rather than heading out into and embracing the real world. People have lost touch with reality, and so the Screenslaver wants paradoxically to use the screens in order to bring people back to reality… but he/she can only do this by defeating those superheroes.
When it turns out – rather obviously – that the Screenslaver is in fact Evelyn Deavor (Catherine Keener), the only question that remains is whether her brother, Winston (Bob Oedenkirk), is in cahoots with her or whether he is blissfully unaware.
It turns out that he is unaware of her plan. So a couple of questions arise.
For, Winston is basically a billionaire media magnate who just wants to develop a strong publicity campaign to bring ‘supers’ back into the fold after they have lost favour owing to the amount of collateral damage caused by their otherwise invisible labour. With the right coverage, people will understand why they have to destroy so much stuff… and then they will be upheld as the heroes that they are.
What Winston is not, therefore, is a media magnate who understands that he should just develop the whole combat between supers and villains as a media spectacle – since it is eyeballs on screens that makes and keeps him rich.
Rather, this is something that his sister realises… and yet she only wants to destroy the media empire – and in the process also to destroy the supers’ hopes of being able to act out their superpowers by getting into large-scale fights in public.
I don’t want to get too bogged down in sorting through the nuances of this slightly illogical plot. As most people would say: it doesn’t matter, just enjoy the movie and go with it.
Except for the fact that the Screenslaver/Evelyn basically argues for what I consider to be the point of my job: namely that people should be much more media savvy and literate than they are, learning how critically to evaluate both what they see and the mechanisms that are in place that allow them to see it. Without such critical thought and eyes, one is simply prey to the propaganda messages that surround us.
Indeed, that Winston is not acutely aware of the money that he will make from the supers is unthinkable. And how the supers are not aware, or even suspicious, from the get-go that they might be patsies within a ‘sinister’ media plan… just begs the question of when a superhero will come along who is capable of ideological critique and who realises that most of their violent actions are simply an enactment of their interpellation into and perpetuation of the systems of violence that keep the contemporary world as it is (which as it turns out is to be on a crash course with ecological cataclysm).
That is, I wonder when a superhero will come along whose superpower is… intelligence – because most of these ‘superheroes’ might be amazing beefcakes, and they may even be able to bend space and time and to invent amazing technologies… but as far as political sensibility is concerned, these guys are fucking dumb (Charles Xavier/Professor X is about the closest to being an exception to this so far; no wonder Lex Luthor doesn’t respect Superman).
In effect, then, Incredibles 2 is saying that film and media studies are the bad guys, and that critical thought/intelligence is bad in a world where supers should just do what supers do (fight), and we should all watch more and more of them on our screens (in a Disney monopoly) as we are fed endless fictions about ubermensch that help us to forget that in our human, all too human capacity, we have basically brought about the destruction of our planet and continue to be exploited into doing nothing about eking every last penny of profit from the environment, its animals and its humans (if they are separate things) because we are interpellated into being unthinking and uncritical subjects by the ideological state apparatuses that surround us, including cinema and films like Incredibles 2.
In other words, if you are critical of capitalism, then you are the enemy. If you question, then you are the enemy. If you think, then you are the enemy.
And yet, maybe some skills in critical thinking would have helped Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) to realise of course she was getting played in putting a camera on her suit so that she can be entered into and win not just a war of perception about whether she is ‘good’ or not, but also a ratings war that Winston pretends to deny but surely cannot be so naïve as to overlook.
But of course, for Elastigirl to out-think her opponents would make for boring cinema. And so here is the rub: given the cinematic values of our society, if you endorse anything that is not cinematic (including intelligence), then you run counter to the role that society has assigned to you, even as the powers that be accrue information/intelligence about you as a result of every keystroke that you make on your laptops.
Did I spoil your fun? Did I spoil your film? I apologise if I woke you from your gentle slumber. Well… sorry not sorry. Sorry. Not sorry.