Incredibles 2 is a wondrously-crafted rehashing of many of the same narrative beats and jokes that made the first movie so great. But there’s one very important part of the new film that highlights a painful truth that’s been a part of the Incredibles franchise all along: Helen needs to break up with Bob.
Elastigirl speeding off to her latest solo mission and leaving Bob at home where he belongs. Image: Disney/Pixar
Incredibles 2‘s core plot focuses on the strain that’s put on the Parr family when Helen (Elastigirl) is chosen over Bob (Mr Incredible) to become the new face of a media campaign designed to boost the public’s support for repealing the law banning super-vigilantes.
After the Parr family inadvertently helps the Underminer destroy much of downtown Metroville while trying to stop the villain’s bank robbery, the heroes are arrested by the police.
Rick Dicker’s Superhero Relocation program is able to save the Parrs from gaol time, but their highly-publicised arrest provides just enough controversy to justify shutting the program down, leaving the Parrs back at square one and needing to restart their lives.
When Winston and Evelyn Deavon of DEVTECH approach Helen, Bob and Frozone about participating in their campaign to bring supers back, the siblings explain that Helen – as Elastigirl – is their strongest play, in large part because of her ability to handle villains and diffuse dangerous situations while causing minimal collateral damage.
More importantly, though, Incredibles 2 goes on to emphasise that even though Helen may primarily see herself as a wife and mother, the public still keenly remembers and has faith in Elastigirl as a superhero in her own right.
Bob, being the well-meaning, but still decidedly pigheaded meat-and-potatoes alpha male that he is, initially baulks at the idea that anyone would choose Helen as the de facto “leader” of what would essentially be a super team of spokespeople.
Helen’s hesitant to admit at first that she does miss hero work, even though it would mean having to hand off most of her parenting duties to Bob – but she also makes a point of pushing back against Bob’s assumption that she shouldn’t be the one to lead DEVTECH’s initiative.
The tension between Helen and Bob creates an emotional rift that drives much of Incredibles 2‘s story forward. Bob comes to appreciate just how much work Helen’s been putting in for years as she’s raised Violet, Dash and Jack-Jack, and Helen learns to trust that Bob can be an attentive, responsible father.
This all makes for a lovely family movie with the simple, but important message that marriages, like all romantic relationships, don’t have to be defined by traditional gender roles.
That being said, the way Bob treats Helen throughout the first third of the film is so plainly chauvinistic, retrograde and straight-up insulting that it’s kind of difficult to believe that she doesn’t call him out more explicitly on his bullshit and force him to own up to his trash feelings.
It’s more than understandable why Bob, who’s spent most of his life acting as a quintessential leader type (a Red Ranger, if you will), one of the last great heroes of his generation, is resistant to a challenging change of identity.
He’s in a situation where he can’t coast on his physical strength alone. Even when he tries to forcibly “fix” some of the kids’ personal issues, he’s dismayed to learn that he still has to deal with the consequences of his actions when they don’t play out the way he intended.
Bob doing his best to keep Jack-Jack out of trouble. Image: Disney/Pixar
But at the same time, Bob’s refusal to acknowledge his wife’s competence and the fact that she was a successful, independently-operating super long before she married him is never really addressed in a way that feels meaningful or satisfying.
While Bob never tells Helen that she isn’t up to snuff outright, Incredibles 2 is peppered with moments where he unsubtly negs and casts doubt on her ability to handle heroic situations simply because she’s a more strategic fighter than he is.
Bob and Helen aren’t newlyweds; they have been together for over a decade. Even if Bob somehow hadn’t come to understand just how hard Helen had already been working to hold their family together as a stay-at-home-parent, it’s wild and honestly gross to see that he could so easily forget (or purposefully ignore) what Helen achieved during her full-time Elastigirl days.
When you’re in a long-term, committed relationship with someone, slights and digs such as the ones that Bob throws at Helen are the sort of things that lead to major conflicts, because they cut deep and are coming from a person that, in theory, you’re supposed to trust and have faith in.
The things that Bob says aren’t just mean – they’re profoundly hurtful and reflective of the fact that, on some level, he doesn’t really see Helen as his equal. Given the kind of person that she is, it just doesn’t quite make sense that she’d be fine with the fact that he never actually apologises to her.
Bob is a simple man – a nice man, even – but in his deepest heart of hearts, he’s also a small man who’s in a league far behind Helen’s. Couples counselling could perhaps help the two of them get into a space where Helen could more directly confront Bob about his behaviour, but you really have to wonder whether it would be worth the effort.
After Incredibles 2, it’s clear that Helen isn’t about to leave the superhero game behind. She’s at her very best when she isn’t being held back by the expectations of others who can’t appreciate just how powerful and dynamic of a person she is – and while Bob definitely cares for her, there’s a part of him that can’t quite accept this about her.
The Parrs have had a good run and they’re raising three great kids, but Helen deserves to be with a partner who unfailingly supports her. The issues that Bob needs to work through are larger than just his relationship with Helen. She shouldn’t have to bear the burden of helping him learn that he isn’t the centre of the universe.
Put simply, Helen’s done more than enough to help Bob become a better man than the person he was when she first met him. But at this point, it’s high time that she moved on to bigger and much more incredible things.