7.5 out of 10
Craig T. Nelson as Bob Parr/Mr. Incredible
Directed by Brad Bird
Incredibles 2 Review:
An exciting return to (and of) one of Pixar’s best creations, Brad Bird’s Incredibles 2 falls prey to some of the sins of sequels (and proves itself just a movie in the process) but mostly manages the breezy fun and excitement which made the first film so beloved.
If Incredibles 2 has a problem (or more accurately, an adversary) it is time. It’s not just that 14 years have elapsed since the first film arrived while approximately 14 seconds have elapsed for the actual Incredibles (a time scale which offers both the possibility and temptation of easily repeating successful theme and plot elements). Picking up roughly the moment Incredibles ended with the arrival of the short-statured, short-tempered Underminer (Ratzenberger) attempting to rob the Bank of Municiberg, the family of superheroes quickly finds its hero-ing efforts getting out of hand again and putting targets on their backs. Stuck in a motel and facing the dread of returning to the work world and ‘normalcy’ it looks like the jig is up for supers once and for all. That is until a wunderkind billionaire (Odenkirk) with an astounding amount of optimism and a genius sister (Keener) shows up at the n-th hour with a plan to make superheroes legal again. Could it be too good to be true?
We’ll let that question lie though you probably know the answer to it. More important is the fact that all of this happens in roughly 5 minutes of this super-sized superhero fable, an example of just how fast Bird can move his excitement along when he wants to. In this case (and in much of what follows) that is clearly a requirement to keep the audience engaged because though only 14 seconds have elapsed on screen, 14 years really have come and gone in the real world. Fourteen years to absorb the plot of the first film over multiple viewings and thus reasonably wonder if the same people who applauded the Incredibles saving of the city from a giant robot 14 seconds previously would turn around and want to banish super heroes again in order to re-implement the status quo. Fourteen years to become so thoroughly familiar with the first film that a plot revolving around a mysterious billionaire promising to help outlawed superhero’s straining against the freedom they’ve lost may sound really, really familiar.
If that sounds like a nitpick it is, or at least could be. Repeating the same plot over and over and over again has worked for plenty of franchises in the past – just ask James Bond – especially if it provides a platform for digging into the characters more, offering new perspectives on familiar themes. And to an extent Incredibles 2 does that, swapping roles for Elastigirl (Hunter) and Mr. Incredible (Nelson).
Realizing a smaller footprint might make the re-introduction of supers easier to swallow, Elastigirl is chosen to become the face of superheroics while patriarch Bob must take her place raising the children, particularly precocious super baby Jack-Jack. This is a good decision, easily the best one the film makes, as Helen remains the most interesting member of the family. While Bob’s pursuit of super action was accurately played as a mid-life crisis, a quest for lost youth, for Helen it is much more about asserting her own identity beyond the box the world wants to force her into. It’s more dynamic and relatable than the first film’s ‘perils of fandom’ focus and Incredibles 2 is at its best when those themes are front and center. A blunt and honest conversation between Helen and behind-the-scenes genius Evelyn about what it’s like to support the men in their lives as a default rather than a choice is the best thing Bird has ever done.
But nothing else in the film ever rises to that level (even if it is an admittedly high bar to clear), instead coasting on the laurels left behind by the first film. Having Bob and Helen switch places stretches their characters some, but beyond that not much effort is made to differentiate Incredibles 2 from the first film. Worse, while all of the family members were integrated into the plot the first time around, in the new film the children are reduced to being foils for Bob as he attempts to prove he can be as good a parent as he was a superhero. Actually, it’s worse than that as much of Dash and Violet’s screen time is given over to gags about baby Jack-Jack’s different powers and his feud with a neighborhood raccoon.
More importantly, it has been 14 years since the first film and our experience with the superhero film has changed significantly since then. Part of the first Incredibles’ charm was the way it luxuriated in the classic tropes of the genre. But superheroes have become the dominate mode of the big budget genre since then and our understanding of the ways and means of their storytelling has changed with that growth. It’s the nature of sequels to be backwards looking and that was already very true for Incredibles even in the first film, but much of that nostalgia now seems less classic and more retrograde.
What was good about Incredibles is still good in Incredibles 2. That is, exactly what was good about Incredibles is exactly what is good about Incredibles 2. Beyond the shift in perspective there’s little willingness to experiment, a reality at stark odds with the sheer creativity on display most of the time.