I've been watching The Incredibles a lot lately; this has something to do with the fact that my daughter comes home from preschool with the words, "Can I watch The Incredibles?" practically bursting from her lips. It's actually displaced Toy Story 2 from the top of her "never sick of watching" list, which I didn't think was ever going to happen. So I've seen it on a near-daily basis, something that's afforded me a few opportunities to think about what Brad Bird was saying with the movie.
One of the things that's interested me is the way that Syndrome, Mr. Incredible, and Dash all seem to have different surface motivations, but the same basic underlying drive. Mr. Incredible, of course, insists that he's being genuinely altruistic; he feels bitter about the public reaction to superheroes (which is actually a matter for another post, because the idea of "superheroes getting sued into retirement" is kind of a handwave, to be honest, but I'm digressing here) and wants nothing more than to go back to the way things were.
Syndrome, on the other hand, is bitter and resentful about the lack of emotional support from Mr. Incredible when he was younger. He wants to show Mr. Incredible that he's a better hero, and that if he'd been allowed to be Incrediboy, he would have been a huge asset to the cause of good--to prove that Mr. Incredible was wrong to dismiss his gifts.
And Dash? He just wants to show off. He wants the world to acknowledge his specialness, and to receive the adulation he feels he deserves for his amazing abilities. Which is a little childish, but then again, he's ten. When he grows up...
...he'll wind up either like Mr. Incredible or Syndrome. Because underneath their surface motivations, that's exactly what they want too. Bob Parr doesn't want to save people anonymously, just because they need saving; he does do that over the course of the movie, but only because he can't go out as Mr. Incredible anymore. He only really comes to life when he's wearing his super-suit, performing amazing feats for an admiring audience (even if that audience is just Mirage and her mysterious benefactor.) Deep down, he really wants things to be the way they were when the world looked upon him with quiet awe and adulation.
Syndrome, of course, makes a second career out of self-justification in the movie. Looking at his actions, he's a pathetic, needy child who needs everyone to praise him for his gifts. As Mr. Incredible points out, he's killing real heroes in order to create a fake villain that people will praise him for stopping. While he claims that he's doing it all for Mr. Incredible, there's never been anything to stop him from using or selling his inventions to make the world a better place; it's just that doing so won't give him the emotional rush that comes from crowds cheering his name. Deep down, he and Mr. Incredible are two sides of the same coin, which is why he makes such a perfect nemesis. (And thus I make good on the implicit promise in the title...)
The real hero of the film, of course, is Elastigirl. She's the only one who can put aside her costume easily, because she wasn't ever in it for the glory; she was a superhero when the world needed one, and only when the world needed one. She's tried to pass along to her kids the belief that it's what the world wants ("the world wants us to fit in") and not selfish personal needs that are important; nonetheless, when her family needs Elastigirl, she proves to be easily the most competent of all of them.