How Super is “Incredibles 2?”
After nearly 15 years, expectations are high.
Fans of The Incredibles have been waiting almost fifteen years for a sequel. In that time we’ve had three Cars movies (for some inexplicable reason), but no sign of the lovable crime-fighting family—until now. The amount of time between the first and the second movie carries with it a couple of implications: First, that anticipation for this movie, at least among fans of the first, is high, and second, that there are certain expectations, even if they are unfair, for a movie that many see as fifteen years in the making. So does Incredibles 2 live up to the anticipation and expectation? Well, sort of.
I want to get this out of the way early so that there is no room for misinterpretation: I like Incredibles 2. It’s a solid movie, especially for families. However, as a movie with as much going for it as it does, it falls short of what it could have been.
To recap, the events of the first movie left the Parr family in a bit of an “in-between” state. Supers, as they are called, are still illegal, but as a family, they have embraced who they are and are doing better than ever. The first movie ends with the appearance of a new villain, The Underminer.
The second movie picks up right at that spot. And as is the case of most sequels, it does quick work of unweaving the gains made by the protagonists in the first movie, and we re-meet the Parrs while they are at an all-time low. But just when things look their worst, with Bob Parr/Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) contemplating returning to the nine-to-five grind, they are invited to the corporate headquarters of DEVTECH to meet with moguls Winston (Bob Odenkirk) and Evelyn (Catherine Keener) Devers about a plan to legalize Supers. The catch, for Mr. Incredible at least, is that they want to put Helen/Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) in the field, not him—at least at first. So while Elastigirl goes out to fight crime, Mr. Incredible is “left” to run the household. At this point there is some passing commentary on what it means to be a man who is not necessarily the “breadwinner” of the family unit, but it doesn’t cover any ground that hasn’t been covered before. No, being a good parent who is present with their children and supportive of their spouse’s career does not detract from someone’s manliness.
There are two points of conflict in the movie: At home, Mr. Incredible tries to navigate the tribulations of everyday family life, and out in the world, Elastigirl battles the appearance of a new, more intelligent villain that goes by the name of The Screenslaver. Both of these conflicts lead to wonderful moments and set pieces. However, the twists (if they can even be called that) and their inevitable resolutions (along with a tendency towards over-exposition) lead to a lack of drama, and a feeling that there is never really that much at stake for the Parrs (or the audience) throughout the story.
But let’s talk about what worked in this movie. On a scene-to-scene level, this movie succeeds—it’s only when those scenes are tied together into an overarching story that things feel a bit flat. If you’ve seen the movie, or have read other reviews, you already know about the epic fight scene between Jack-Jack and the raccoon. But if you don’t know what I’m talking about, then let me just put it this way: It is probably the best fight scene in any superhero movie this year, maybe ever. It only reinforces my point that, taken as individual scenes, much of what this movie does not only works, but works brilliantly.
The voice acting is also great, with new additions Catherine Keener and Bob Odenkirk both shining (even if Samuel L. Jackson as Frozone is again criminally under-utilized). The animation has only benefited from the fifteen-year hiatus, and the extended cast of Supers (especially Void) are great in their limited roles.
The antagonist, Screenslaver, is a mixed bag. They’re interesting as far as the character serves as social commentary (even if the movie beats you over the head with it), but waiting for the final reveal of the face behind the mask is so absent of drama that it feels like a distraction.
It’s truly a pity that if writer/director Brad Bird had aimed to make a movie for the audience that watched and loved the first movie in their childhood, he might have made a movie that built on the mature commentary only touched upon in the new narrative, instead of making what feels like an enjoyable, if all-too-safe, family movie. But then again, the movie he ended up making is still pretty good. And Bao, the Pixar short that precedes the feature, is so good that it’s reason enough to spend the price of admission.