More Interesting Superheroes

So, a while back I went to see the Incredibles 2. Unlike other corners of the Internet, I hadn’t been clamouring for a new instalment in the series. However, I like a Pixar movie as much as the next guy and it had potential. Generally, I enjoyed the movie. Shifting the focus to Elastigirl was an enjoyable turn. However, when it got to the villain’s revelation of their grand master plan, I was thoroughly whelmed. It wasn’t bad, however, there was potential for so much more.

So, the villain of Incredibles 2 is the Screenslaver. The Screenslaver espouses general ravings about us all being too attached to our screens, which is a weird message for a series that doesn’t seem to be based in modernity. Its art deco stylings evoke the 1960s. The villain’s monologuing is just muddying the waters of the setting, which is frustrating. However, eventually it’s revealed that the real villain is one of Elastigirl’s allies in the fight to make Supers legal again. She wants to get rid of superheroes again because her father relied on them too heavily. His dependency caused its death as the villain sees it. It’s a decent motivation and it is enough steps removed that the vague similarities to Syndrome are mild at best. However, here’s a villain plot that I think would be more interesting.

The Screenslaver’s technology apparently works by hypnotising people with screens. Typically, small screens flashing a rapid flashing light. Now, their plan is to hypnotise the superheroes while they’re on a boat with a delegation of politicians and such to repeal the law that made superheroes illegal. Now, what if instead, the villain was helping superheroes out of the shadows in order to get more people watching their screens. Now, most folks won’t watch the news because it’s fairly dry. How do you get everyone to watch the news in a world where superheroes exist? Create situations that allows superheroes to get great publicity. The brother of the villain works in PR for the superheroes so he can be an unwitting pawn all the same. To what end? The more people watching, the more people the Screenslaver can control.

Why? Because they can. As the second fiddle child in a wealthy family, power has always been just out of their grasp. Now it’s their turn in the light. Oh look, a parallel to Elastigirl in this movie. You know the other great thing about this plot. There’s a little meta-narrative about how people love to watch superheroes rather than focus on more mundane issues. In this regard, you can use the Incredibles 2 to look at the current superhero epoch. At its heart, that’s the thing I want.

This era of superhero is approaching twenty years old at this point depending on where we start marking the era, either with Blade in 1998 or X-Men in 2000. Superhero movies are most often compared to westerns as that was a sustained genre in the 1950s. Perhaps they might also be compared to noir and its dominance in the 1940s. Both these genres had deconstructions made some time after the genre had died, Unforgiven and Chinatown respectively. Those probably aren’t the only two but they are two notable ones. Have we seen a deconstruction of the superhero genre in film? Maybe.

People might mention Logan, a film I have not seen, which seems to be a sort of western/post-apocalyptic take on the genre. Is it a true deconstruction? I can’t say. It’s just not my type of movie. There was Watchmen and the early offering of the DCCU. While Zack Snyder is doing something with those movies, I’d call them deconstruction in the same way that taking a jackhammer to LEGOs is a deconstruction. If there is anyone who could do something interesting with deconstruction, it is the company who making the most of them. Disney. Disney might be the savviest about how and where they deconstruct their media. Nibbling at bits of it like the elements of the princess story that they critique in Frozen like the love at first sight trope. However, they have done some more interesting deconstructions such as The Last Jedi and the ways it plays with the Star Wars formula.

Perhaps its too early in the lifespan of the genre for a proper deconstruction. Unforgiven and Chinatown looked at the genre decades after the fact. I’m not sure what the right way to tackle a deconstruction might be but if a deconstruction does something interesting, we could certainly come out the other end with more interesting superheroes.


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