Read or watch most full-length novels and films and you’ll find what’s often called the B story or subplot. Sometimes more than one. If done well, subplots can add all kinds of crazy flavor to a tale, like a great appetizer or wine paired with an entree. Done poorly, they’re boring slogs that cause people to drop the book entirely or dash to the concessions for that refill.
The Incredibles 2 – and I’ll endeavor to keep this spoiler free – centers its B story on the young family, and particularly (as is shown in the trailers) how Mr. Incredible deals with being a dad. While easy fodder for funny bits, the movie takes a dangerous gambit in introducing a subplot that has little to do with the main story. It’s not, for example, a side story about keeping the evil at bay while the hero works towards ultimate victory (Lord of the Rings) or a dive into why a character is helping the main hero succeed (Creed, a bunch of sports movies).
So if we’re ditching the main plot for family hi-jinks in Incredibles 2, why does it work?
Because the draw of The Incredibles is the family itself. We’re really there to spend time with this goofy collection of kiddos and adults put in hyper-exaggerated situations most of us can identify with. We don’t really care about the nefarious villain or their schemes – we go in knowing the Incredibles family will probably make it out OK, so when the movie gives us the sugary creme filling of their everyday struggles, it’s a grand ride.
So much so that by the time we return to the more rote villainy of the core plot, it’s less fun. The action is more standard superhero fare – stuff we expect but, by that very definition, is less exciting for it.
Which brings us to the big power of a B story done well – it’s a chance to subvert genre expectations and really experiment. We’ve seen superhero families before, but usually from the position of one teenage hero (Spiderman or Superman, namely) who’s so alienated from his ‘normal’ relatives that it’s just a barrel of angst and secrets. Here, there’s no secrets, just ridiculous fun.
A great B story gives characters dimensions the main thrust of the plot doesn’t let them explore. Maybe family, maybe a hidden talent or addiction (Don Draper’s drinking problems in Mad Men) , or even just aspects of daily life in the story’s world (The Shape of Water’‘s artist). They’re the place for the writer/director/artist to exercise their creativity and, simply, enjoy themselves.