The first Incredibles movie invoked the time-honoured tradition of using superpowers as a metaphor for what makes people unique and special. In Incredibles 2, the tropes of being a superhero complicate the characters’ lives even more, especially the grown-ups who have to take care of children.
Pixar’s much-anticipated sequel puts superhero-in-hiding Bob Parr on the front lines of a different battlefield: being a full-time parent. When his wife Helen takes on a high-profile job advocating for superhero legalisation as Elastigirl, the man also known as Mr. Incredible spends time on the home front taking care of their three kids. He quickly realises he’s out of his depth and spends much of the movie overwhelmed, though he doesn’t want to admit it.
As a top-tier superhero, Bob is used to winning the day when he’s up against problems he can punch. But his super-determination and enhanced strength aren’t good tools for managing adolescent angst and hyperactive mischief. This tension is how Incredibles 2 bears down on successfully fictionalising the challenging task of parenting, the element that floats up to be the best part of the movie. One of the most jarring parts of becoming a parent is the sudden realisation of how poorly earlier parts of your own life have prepared you for being responsible for a new, tiny life.
The sleep deprivation, focus splitting, and frustration management that comes with parenthood aren’t like, say, pulling an all-nighter for school or work. You are never catching up on that sleep at some point in the future. The things you’re good at as a professional, life partner, or a friend won’t necessarily help. Your patience will hit its limit when faced with a problem that screams its head off for hours at a time. When kids get older, it just means that parents enter a never-ending battle of wills that can’t get solved by power rings tethered to an emotional energy spectrum.
Bob also has to wrestle feelings of jealousy, inadequacy, and imbalance as a stay-at-home dad. Parenting makes you confront yourself in ways that you can’t anticipate, forcing you to look backward at your own upbringing and forward to how your children could possibly evolve as a result of your choices. More often than not, you’ll have to be resigned to the idea that certain things — like another person’s agency — are out of your control. You can’t always stop bad things from happening.
Sometimes, the most superheroic thing you can do as a parent is mitigate the damage you know is going to happen and stand ready to deliver whatever comfort you can in the aftermath. Parenting takes a different kind of strength than the one needed to put on a mask and fight crime, but it’s no less valuable.