In 2004, being a standout superhero movie was a lot easier. There was no Marvel Cinematic Universe raking in billions at the box office. It wasn’t all about making the next big epic, world-altering popcorn flick. It was a lot easier to be… incredible.
For 14 years we’ve waited and wondered if writer/director Brad Bird would ever follow up his superhero family hit with an equally impressive and semi-prolific sequel.
Wonder no more, The Incredibles 2 has arrived. And while it may not quite live up to its predecessor, it’s still got a lot going for it.
Pretty much all the original cast are back for this family adventure that picks up immediately where the first film left off. The family is leaving a school event only to be confronted by The Underminer (don’t worry, he’s not that important going forward). From there, superheroes are back in the news and the question of their legality becomes, once again, the basis of the plot. Only this time, the superheroes have an actual advocate in their corner with real leverage.
Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) and his sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener) own and operate a telecommunications business that’s essentially this world’s version of AT&T or Verizon. Powerful, plugged into everything and highly influential in political circles. Their parents were murdered shortly after superheroes were outlawed and Winston is convinced that one was directly responsible for the other. A bit thin as motivations go for such a big undertaking, but it is a superhero movie, after all.
Winston, a marketing guru, has worked up a plan to bring superheroes back into the limelight and get the law from the first film repealed. And he wants Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) to be the face of this new campaign. She tends to cause less collateral damage than her over-eager husband, Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson).
With genius, if a bit cynical, Evelyn in her ear and a new suit (much to Edna Mode’s (Bird) hilarious chagrin), Elastigirl runs up against new villain Screenslaver, who winds up this film’s most underserved and thinly-plotted character. Also, the identity reveal is so easily spotted, they might as well have told you from the start.
All the while, Mr. Incredible takes on the task of being a full-time dad to mixed, if often touching and hysterical results. The film really shines during these moments as it reminds us that this is a familial dramatic comedy first and superhero/spy thriller second. Mr. Incredible gives way to Bob Parr, family man, and shows us that underneath all that bravado and macho heroism posturing, there’s a real person there who is trying desperately to raise and relate to his kids while being supportive, if frustratingly so, of his now successful wife.
The performances from the cast are easily as strong as they were the first time around and it’s easy to get drawn back into this world, even if it does feel a bit low-key by comparison to its brethren in the MCU.
The villain this time around is the weak link of the story, though still manages to be better than some of the low points Marvel has turned out such as Ronan The Accuser or Yellow Jacket. Though it’s a decided step down from Syndrome, the excellent commentary on toxic fandom from the first film.
This time around, things take a decidedly feminist tone and it’s a strong statement from a movie that’s trying to make maybe one too many strong statements. There’s also a parable about technology dumbing us down, people living vicariously through others instead of living life, frustrated parents not being able to get something as traditionally simple as math homework… but at its heart, Incredibles 2 is all about putting family first. And while not every character gets a ton of screen time, Bird makes sure to give everyone at least one good defining hero moment. And more than a few strong laughs.
That said, Elastigirl is a great character to put the action focus on as her superheroics are some of the best animated sequences Pixar has ever produced. In the 14 years since the original, lots of advancements in animation have been made and Bird takes full advantage of them. The pacing is never slow and the action never feels too repetitive. It’s even highly inventive at times. A train rescue scene has what might be the most fun motorcycle sequence anyone ever dreamed up.
With all the superhero movies we get every year, something as quaint as The Incredibles 2 might not hit with nearly the same strength as something like Wonder Woman or Black Panther, but it does still carry a strong message wrapped in a fun romp at the movies. And if you’re planning to see it, make it an IMAX screen, if possible. You won’t regret it.