The Incredibles is one of my favorite movies ever. The premise—“supers” forced into retirement ala witness relocation due to crushing litigation—was inspired. The 60’s era, Bond-film aesthetic, and score were ultra-cool. The set pieces were pulse-pounding. Above all, though, the characters made that movie.
Director Brad Bird bottled everyday family dynamics, such as sibling strife and marital discord, and adeptly infused it into the superhero genre. Each member of the Parr family’s incredible, but Elastigirl resonates the most with me.
“She’s a superhero mom, fighting for both the greater good and her family. How awesome is that?!”
Incredibles 2 really is Elastigirl’s movie. She takes center stage in an effort to rebrand supers as benevolent members of society. As a solo act, trying to figure out what’s going on with the mysterious Screenslaver, she kicks butt with her brains, brawn, and detachable motorcycle (wow!). She gets plenty of help from her husband, kids, and friends (such as Frozone). But nobody shines when the chips are down like Helen Parr.
Previously I defined my Heroism Quotient (HQ) and Villainy Quotient (VQ). I rate pop culture heroes along five factors (0-20), yielding a Heroism Quotient (HQ) with a maximum score of 100. The higher the HQ, the more heroic the hero. The factors are inspired by the thinking of Dr. Philip Zimbardo, who has explored heroism following his ground-breaking work on the roots of evil with the Stanford prison experiment.
Here’s how Elastigirl fares.
1. Acting In Service to Others In Need:
Elastigirl routinely throws herself into the action, such as to stop a speeding train full of commuters or rescue a diplomat from an assassination attempt. But she also fights for the ideal of heroism itself. As the face of the supers’ image recovery campaign, she paves the way for others who want to act heroically without fear of backlash.
She fights so that her children can choose to be heroes. Her motivation is a better tomorrow, which is in line with the women’s movement in our society today. She gets a max score of 20.
2. Serving Voluntarily:
I’m giving Elastigirl 16 out of 20 on this factor, docking her just a few points because of her hesitations to step back into the ring (going back to the original movie as well). She makes up those points on this next factor, which gets to the reasons for her hesitancy…
3. Recognizing Possible Risks/Costs:
Elastigirl’s flexibility powers make her impervious to most forms of physical harm, but she still puts her life on the line when she jumps into the fray. The stakes are higher for her, though, than for many other supers. The deeper she gets into superhero work, the more jeopardy for her children. Dash, Violet, and Jack-Jack have superpowers to defend themselves, but their abilities have limitations and they’re short on experience.
The risks Elastigirl takes lead to a lofty 20 for this factor.
4. Accepting Anticipated Sacrifice:
Elastigirl would not plunge into danger without accepting that harm may befall her or her family. But I’m shaving a couple of points because it’s hard to imagine any mother truly being okay with sacrificing her children. She gets a very strong 18, however.
5. Anticipating No External Gain:
Again, Elastigirl fights for other supers and for a better tomorrow, resulting on a 17 on this factor. The 3-point deduction was due to the fact that she seems to like, just a little bit, the celebrity that comes with being a super. She’s a rock star, so it’s hard to blame her for digging the limelight once in a while. Also, she didn’t mind the mansion her family got to use while she’s off saving the world.
Sum these 5-factor scores and Elastigirl’s HQ is an outstanding 91, though still below Wonder Woman’s record.
Craig Pohlman is the co-author of CinemAnalysis: Learning about Psychology through Film. He tries to be heroic at least once a week.