The Incredibles 2 may have very little trouble winning over audiences at the box office, but its biggest storytelling challenge is moving beyond the themes explored in Alan Moore's Watchmen. At first glance, this seems like an odd comparison. With vastly different target audiences, these two properties hardly seem like they're even in the same ballpark, but Watchmen's influence is more woven into The Incredibles than any casual fan might have ever noticed.
Pablo Picasso famously said, "Good artists copy; great artists steal." This would explain why so many great pieces of fiction sometimes have direct ties to the classics that came before it. Star Wars probably wouldn't exist without Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe, La La Land would have had nothing to borrow from without Top Hat, and even Stranger Things is more or less a cocktail of '80s references stemming from Stephen King to Steven Spielberg.
But while The Incredibles deftly incorporated the themes and questions raised in Watchmen into a family-friendly animated adventure film, The Incredibles 2 will need to step out on its own. Pretty much every movie sequel faces the challenge of bringing something new to the table, instead of just being a retread of the last movie, but for The Incredibles 2 the real challenge will be moving beyond Watchmen.
The Incredibles Was Basically Watchmen
The Incredibles is a family-friend Disney/Pixar vehicle aimed at a younger audience embellishing in the tropes of superhero lore, but it's not an entirely original idea. For the PG-rated crowd, it's pretty unique. As far as the concept goes, however, Alan Moore beat them to the punch with his graphic novel Watchmen.
Now, the popular angle to take when comparing The Incredibles with an existing superhero property is Fantastic Four. Both of them are comprised of a family unit who just so happen to be superheroes, and they even have similar powers (Mr. Incredible and The Thing have superhuman strength, Elastigirl and Mr. Fantastic can stretch their bodies, and Violet and the Invisible Woman can create force fields around their bodies), and their archenemy is a scientific genius who tends to keep to himself. But while those similarities are pretty surface-level, the thematic connections between Incredibles and Watchmen are much stronger.
Aside from lighter connections (both Watchmen and The Incredibles toy with the concept of capes being more troublesome than necessary), the plots are almost identical. In both universes, superheroes are outlawed. There was once an "age of superheroes," but the government deemed them criminal vigilantes with zero authority, forcing them to live out the rest of their lives as their non-super alter egos. As it so happens, the superhero ban in both properties has ties to corporate villains killing off supers one-by-one so as to create their own twisted and morally-compromised version of peace.
Rorschach and Mr. Incredible play similar roles. On their pursuit to reclaim their duty as heroes, they uncover a plot to wipe out supers, but are ultimately thwarted, leaving it up to their former teammates to finish the job. Nite Owl II and Silk Spectre II continue Rorschach's investigation while he's imprisoned, and Mr. Incredible's family continues his investigation while he's locked up in Syndrome's lair. Speaking of Syndrome, his plan is nearly a beat-for-beat copy of Ozymandias' in Watchmen. Both involve throwing off the general public by creating a threat against superheroes, so as to convince the world to side with them. Ozymandias' endgame is at least slightly less selfish, but they're both equally catastrophic. And despite all the bloodshed, Ozymandias and Syndrome both believe that they are heroic in their own way.
The Incredibles Is Already A Critique Of Modern Superhero Films
The superhero genre is kind of all over the place. Though movies like Superman, Hellboy, and The Incredibles are all made from the same mold, their unique approaches are what distinguish them. Superman wears camp on its sleeve and Hellboy is based purely in fantasy, but The Incredibles does precisely what Watchmen did: approaching the genre from a more grounded angle. These heroes aren't billionaire geniuses or royal extraterrestrials; they're insurance agents and stay-at-home moms. Just like the characters in Watchmen, they're living in the real world.
It's through this approach that The Incredibles creates a discussion that pivots around the whole spectrum of superhero movies. It respects the genre's core elements, but plays the role of a critical participant. And like any decent comedian, it embraces self-analysis, even when it borders on self-mockery.
When Watchmen was released in 2009, superhero movies were already playing around with a more mature, down-to-earth tone. Especially in the wake of Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, superhero movies were no longer being treated like fantasy stories aimed solely at children. So, when Brad Bird sat down to write The Incredibles, he created superheroes that were visually aligned with the bright colors and domino masks of the Adam West Batman television series, but were thematically modern. This is what makes The Incredibles feel so timeless: it has nostalgia for the past, but also offers a tongue-in-cheek commentary on modern superhero storytelling.
Just like Watchmen, The Incredibles succeeded in differentiating itself from the rest of the genre, so its sequel needs to evolve in such a way that it can be just as relevant as its predecessor.
- Incredibles 2 (2018) release date: Jun 15, 2018