It only took fourteen years, but Disney and Pixar have finally released the sequel to 2004’s The Incredibles! Was it worth the wait? Yes and no. Written and directed by Brad Bird, Incredibles 2 picks up exactly where the first movie ends, with the Parrs suiting up to defeat the latest supervillain to threaten their city: The Underminer.
Everyone’s favorite family of superheroes is back in “Incredibles 2”–but this time Helen (voice of Holly Hunter) is in the spotlight, leaving Bob (voice of Craig T. Nelson) at home with Violet (voice of Sarah Vowell) and Dash (voice of Huck Milner) to navigate the day-to-day heroics of “normal” life. It’s a tough transistion for everyone, made tougher by the fact that the family is still unaware of baby Jack-Jack’s emerging superpowers. When a new villain hatches a brilliant and dangerous plot, the family and Frozone (voice of Samuel L. Jackson) must find a way to work together again–which is easier said than done, even when they’re all Incredible.
This is a really enjoyable movie. It’s got pretty much everything you want out of both a Disney film and a superhero film. The action is extremely well executed, the pacing is tight and spot-on, the character work is exquisite, the animation is beautiful. It’s a truly good film. Why do I say it’s a mediocre Incredibles movie, then? Because the first one had a level of depth that Incredibles 2 just doesn’t have. Yes, there’s a lot of interesting commentary about gender roles, and the reversal of them, but that’s all pretty surface level stuff. They try to do a commentary on society’s reliance on technology, but they never go further than surface level with that either., so it just sorta falters. Even the commentary on unjust laws doesn’t go anywhere near as far as it could go, which makes it feel sorta half-baked. Contrast that to the first Incredibles movie which really took a deep look at the superhero genre and what makes it tick and why we all gravitate towards it. That movie had a viewpoint of “if everyone and everything is special in the exact same way (ie: if everyone has superpowers), then nothing really is.” Sure, it’s a viewpoint that’s often misinterpreted to be advocative of “not everyone is special”, but any good theme or viewpoint should be complex enough to be misunderstood. This movie can’t seem to pick a viewpoint and flits between a few: “yay superheroes?”, “screens are bad for you and you shouldn’t be addicted to them”, “fight unjust laws – but only if they directly impact you”, “good PR is important”, and others.
This isn’t an inherently bad thing. Like others have said, many films have an abundance of underexplored themes (or no discernable overarching theme) and are still very good, and Incredibles 2 does deliver in a lot of ways. It really feels like no time has passed as you watch the movie. The characters feel exactly the same as you remember them, and each character gets a nice character arc. As usual, Bob (Craig T. Nelson) and Helen (Holly Hunter) get the meatiest character arcs, while the kids, Dash (Huck Milner) and Violet (Sarah Vowell) are left with the fairly standard “set aside your differences and come together and be a good family” kind of storyline, but it’s all still interesting and well executed. Unfortunately, Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) got the short stick, just like he did in the first film, but he’s still a scene stealer here. Animation has gotten better over the fourteen years since the first Incredibles came out, and it shows, but the film very much looks like it still takes place in the same universe as the first film. The action sequences continue to be plentiful and inventive, always letting the characters show off their powers in the most visually arresting ways. All the scenes with Jack-Jack are a particular joy to watch as they really utilize and show off his set of powers in really entertaining, and often hilarious, ways. It’s just that all those great elements don’t quite mesh together into a film as strong as the first.
Where does the film go wrong, then? The story. It’s a weak story. In certain ways, it’s very similar to the first movie: split up Bob and Helen as quickly as possible, have the one who stays at home struggle with that and be a bit unhappy about it, have them struggle with the kids, have the kids struggle with what’s going on, have something go wrong with the parent who’s out being a superhero that requires the parent staying at home to leave the kids behind in order to go rescue the endangered parent, have the kids follow behind and team up with their parents to ultimately save the day. That’s the general plot breakdown of both movies. Yes, there are differences as to what makes each of those things happen, but that’s still the basics of the movie. It’s the same foundation with a new coat of paint. The thing that makes Incredibles 2‘s story so mediocre is how predictable it is. I won’t give anything away, but you know who the ultimate villain is from pretty much their first appearance on screen. The “twist” is one that can be seen from a mile away. And, again, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does take a bit of the excitement out of everything. Then, the villain’s motivations are also weak, especially in the wake of a number of other movies featuring villains with the same motivation: regular humans shouldn’t rely on superheroes to save the day because superheroes will let them down. We’ve seen it before and it’s just unoriginal at this point. Yes, Syndrome’s motivation in the first film was sorta lame (wannabe sidekick gets spurned by his idol and turns into a bad guy), but at least it was unique for the time. This one is a better motivation, but one we’ve seen a thousand times. It’s also never really explored to its fullest; it’s mostly relegated to a few lines of monologue towards the end of the movie after briefly being hinted at (in a different light) earlier in the film. It’s a problem that plagues pretty much all the themes in the film: they’re introduced and explored briefly and then dropped. It’s a shame because any one of the themes introduced in this movie would’ve been good enough to carry the film if they’d just done anything with them.
At the end of the day, Incredibles 2 is still a really good movie. It’s a very good superhero movie, delivering everything you want out of one. The punches come quick and hard, the story moves at a brisk pace and is easy to follow, the characters are likable and developed consistently well, the score (by Michael Giacchino) is evocative and well-utilized, and the film never feels as long as it actually is. The clincher is that it has no aspirations to be anything bigger than just another superhero movie. While the first wanted to examine the genre and play around with it and actually say something about superheroes and society and rise above the genre to become something special, Incredibles 2 is satisfied to just be one of the pack. So much time has passed, and the genre has changed so much from 2004, that Incredibles 2 just wants a seat at the table. I can’t blame it; it wears the uniform of a superhero movie well and performs admirably, I just wish it rose to similar heights as the first one.
3.5 out of 5 wands.