Incredibles 2: Mostly Credible After All These Years
The Incredibles wasn’t just a great Pixar movie. It was the film that proved the campy, hyper-realistic, and fantastical superhero story could still work -a refreshing departure for a genre that, for a long time, has been concerned with dark tones, relatability, and complex characterization. And while there’s nothing wrong with that, it can’t be denied the 2004 animated movie is closer to the roots of superhero comics than most of its big-budget compatriots.
It’s also the only Pixar movie that deliberately set itself up for a sequel, only to be the last from the early era to get one. After a couple forays into live-action films, Pixar’s best director Brad Bird came back to follow up the fan favourite movie fourteen years later. And judging from the sold out showings two nights in a row at my theatre (which never sells out), fans have been clamouring for it all this time.
Despite how long it’s been, Incredibles 2 picks up right where the first movie left off. After collateral damage from solving a crisis puts the Incredibles in bad public favour, a telecommunications magnate approaches the Parrs with a plan to redeem the Supers’ image. Selecting Helen’s Elastigirl as the safest choice to pull this off means Bob now has to stay at home to look after the family. And while he struggles, particularly with the baby Jak-Jak’s burgeoning powers, his wife finds herself locked in a deadly game with a hacker supervillain called Screenslaver.
The 60s pop sensational aesthetic that Bird is so fond of is still present in Incredibles 2, but it’s far less pronounced, in part due to the setting remaining largely in the city. And while this movie, like the last, is divorced from any one particular era, it’s still a little too commonplace to see the action of this film playing out in an urban environment. It’s not as fun or stylish as its predecessor because of this. Nevertheless, there’s uniqueness to its presentation. The superheroes, the conflict, and even the evil technology is still very much in that comic book world, and the story, though lacking the first movies’ boldness, is not too far removed from an episode of Super Friends or Johnny Quest (which actually makes an appearance).
Unfortunately, like episodes of those shows, the plot can be pretty thin, especially to a couple points. Once again we’re dealing with a twist villain, which Disney and Pixar seem to think is a really great idea. However in cases like these they’re far too easy to spot, and this villain forecasts themself with one of their earliest lines. Thus even though the main thread is entertaining enough, you’re waiting for the inevitable reveal. It’s made more disappointing by the fact that the villain of The Incredibles, Syndrome, is probably Pixar’s best, yet his follow-up does nothing to make Screenslaver memorable at all. And the subplot of the bumbling father out of his depth trying to raise the kids while the mothers’ away is an old comedic cliché since before Mr. Mom. But in fairness to the movie, it does get a lot of good mileage out of the same types of jokes, especially revolving around Jak-Jak, and is actually pretty funny through a lot of this arc. However with it being so separate from Elastigirl’s more important story, it makes the film feel a little unfocussed until the last act.
Elastigirl is done great by this movie though, which is a real delight. Holly Hunter’s clever, assertive, dynamic heroine was my favourite character of the first movie, and she’s essentially the lead of this one. A lot of the creativity inherent to her superpower is taken advantage of by the animators too. There’s even a small feminist theme addressed with her being in the limelight now, over her husband, and his having to adjust to that while envying the attention she’s getting. However it’s not quite taken far enough and is somewhat forgotten by the end. In spite of his insecurity, Bob (Mr. Incredible doesn’t appear a ton in this movie) is incorporated nicely, with Craig T. Nelson doing a great job again. The kids, Violet (Sarah Vowell) and Dash (Huck Milner) are developed about as generically as in the first movie, but they do get some good laughs, and some notable moments in the climax. Bob Odenkirk is a welcome addition as the Supers’ benefactor, with Catherine Keener as his tech-savy sister and Isabella Rossellini as a foreign ambassador. Returning characters include Samuel L. Jackson’s superhero Frozone, greatly expanded, and Bird’s hilarious Edith Head inspired designer Edna Mode. Jonathan Banks replaces the late Bud Luckey as the Parr’s sympathetic relocation agent, and John Ratzenberger, though not the villain of the picture the last movie implied, makes a return as the supervillain Underminer.
The animation is really good, especially in the movies’ fun action set pieces. Like the first movie, especially with regards to the powers, it’s very energized and inventive, but never indiscernible. And Bird again uses live-action filmmaking techniques to enhance the movies’ visual ingenuity. But it should also be noted this movie uses a good deal of strobe light effects, so exercise caution watching it if you have visual sensitivity.
Incredibles 2 is enjoyable and funny, but it doesn’t pack a staggering punch. Formulaic plot-lines and unambitious situations could be justifiably attributed to the influences, but the vision’s not fully apparent. The first movie challenged the new era of the superhero through utilizing heavy stakes and some dark subject matter (especially for a Pixar movie) to make its point about the value of simple comic heroes all the more effective. There’s not really any of that to be found in this sequel, likeable though it is, and Bird’s singular meticulous touch on that film seems surrounded by others on this one. Watch it and have a good time, but don’t expect something as significant or unique as The Incredibles.
As with all Pixar movies, I feel obliged to address the short film that accompanies each feature. And Bao, directed by Chinese-Canadian animator Domee Shi, is the best since Sanjay’s Super Team. I’m not going to give anything away, but it’s all at once bizarre, funny, and immensely heartfelt. It does something I’ve never seen one of these Pixar shorts do: make use of a narrative device that results in it being a lot more resonant and emotionally mature than it initially seemed. It’s a wonderful short you have to look forward to ahead of Incredibles 2.