Like many Americans, I used my Fourth of July holiday to perform my patriotic duty and watch a summer blockbuster, in this case, Pixar’s Incredibles 2. Overall, I found the movie to be an improvement over its (pretty good) predecessor, but I was left with some disturbing questions. First and foremost, just how, exactly, does the law work in the Incredibles universe?
Here come the Parrs
Profound spoilers about the plot and legal framework of the Incredibles movies follow.
It’s been 14 years since The Incredibles hit theatres, so a recap is probably in order for any aspiring animated litigator. Early in the first film, it’s explained that superheroes began facing mounting civil judgments for their actions, with at least some of these damages paid by “the government” (it’s not specified whether this is at the city, state, or national level). In response, an amnesty deal was worked out that absolved heroes themselves of the financial burden if they agreed to permanently retire from superhero-ing.
While this explanation didn’t illuminate every aspect of what sounds like a complicated legal matter, it was wholly sufficient background for the events of the first movie. “SUPER HEROES NOW ILLEGAL, SUPERS RETIRED” proclaims a spinning newspaper headline in The Incredibles, which, okay, that’s just about all I need to know.
Incredibles 2 largely concerns itself with efforts to reverse this “ban” (if not in name, then in practice) after more than 15 years. Here, sadly, is where confusion mounts.
After fostering a grassroots pro-superhero movement, telecom executive Winston Deavor announces about an hour into the sequel that “leaders from more than 100 of the world’s top countries” have agreed to legalise superheroes, with a signing ceremony for the International Superhero Accord scheduled shortly afterward. The world coming together to support superheroes is certainly a nice thought, but this, alas, doesn’t make any fucking sense.
Is a multilateral treaty really the best mechanism for repealing anti-superhero laws? Can so many countries truly commit to pursuing the ratification of such an agreement at a domestic level? Also, how would an international agreement even address the core liability issues raised in the first Incredibles? The answers to these questions (in order) are no, no, and I have no goddamn clue, man.
In the movie, however, the accord is fully signed by eight (?) national representatives, which, sure, that’s fine. In a literal cartoon where at least one person has the ability to stretch into a human parachute, all of this is plausible enough. Inevitably, crisis then strikes and is averted, which leads us to the most baffling moment in the Incredibles movies, one that makes all of the laser vision, and invisibility, and super-speed seem relatively pedestrian. After the treaty signing and subsequent messiness, we are taken to Municiberg City Hall, where a judge declares “the legal status of superheroes is hereby restored” in recognition of “the extraordinary service they have demonstrated.”
Now, wait a minute.
Wait just one goddamn second. A municipal judge is able to unilaterally repeal whatever criminal law was passed against superheroes? Seemingly not even by decision, but decree? And they couldn’t convince another judge to do this in the intervening 15-plus years?
As exposition, this sequence works fine: Thanks to the courtroom scene, we know that, despite everything else that has happened, the efforts to legalise superheroes were successful. As an amateur cartoon legal scholar, however, I am disturbed. Whatever the law is in The Incredibles universe, it appears to be a deep perversion of what most of us would consider justice.
Who are the true super humans of The Incredibles? Is it the super-powered? The super rich who try to destroy them? No, it’s the judges who can seemingly exert near-complete control over both with the bang of a gavel.
Some might argue that this strongly mirrors our own reality, and in practice, maybe that’s how it feels. Mysterious men and women in wizard-like robes make decisions in private that profoundly shape our lives. But if this is The Incredibles’ vision of the law, then what is the justice that superheroes fight for? The justice, it must be concluded, where the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.
Also, does Elastigirl also have super-strength or what?