Brad Bird’s first contribution to Pixar animation, 2004’s The Incredibles, was a rather prescient film. Using 1960s Silver Age superhero comics as inspiration, The Incredibles foresaw a future of superhero films and cheekily toyed with the tropes before they were firmly established (the modern era of the genre, led by Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy and the formation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, was a few years away).
It commented on a lack of female representation in the world of caped crusaders. Its plot involved complications around fear and distrust over supers, long before Captain America: Civil War and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. And how many modern silver screen superheros still wear capes?
14 years later, Bird returns to the characters that make up a better big screen Fantastic Four than the previous big screen iterations of the Fantastic Four. Incredibles 2 boldly opens right where its predecessor left off. The Underminer (John Ratzenberger) barrels through the streets, wreaking destruction in route to a bank vault.
The nuclear family of supers quickly pursue. Parental figures Helen (Holly Hunter) and Bob Parr (Craig T. Nelson)—Elastigirl and Mr. Incredible, respectively—go after the supervillain, leaving behind the invisible Violet (Sarah Vowell) and speedy Dash (Huck Milner) to watch after the baby of the family, Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile).
The damage caused in the incident becomes the nail in the coffin of the anti-super initiative. Bob’s only sympathetic connection within the government, Rick Dicker (Jonathan Banks), is fired, and it appears as if the Incredibles are done with supering for good.
That is, until wealthy siblings Winston and Evelyn Deavor (Bob Odenkirk and Catherine Keener) come in with a plan to make superheros legal again. That plan: good PR.
The siblings put Elastigirl into the field to save the day, adding a camera to her suit so that the public can see her actions as heroic and not destructive. This leaves Bob as stay-at-home dad, a role that he accepts begrudgingly and executes clumsily.
For a film set in the ’60s, Bird does a good job translating a 1960s fear of technology vis a vis television to a modern day sense of technology as a fragile ecosystem prone to exploitation. Compare this to another film from this year, Fahrenheit 451, which wholly fails at translating different eras of technology-based apprehension. This fear comes in the form of The Screenslaver, a villain who hypnotizes using screens. It’s an obvious metaphor, but it functions just fine for a film aimed at children.
On the other hand, Incredibles 2 is only geared toward children in that it is a PG-rated animated movie. Thematically it is about the trials of parenthood. It is about balancing personal desires with those of your significant other and children. It is about the exhaustion that comes with raising a toddler. It is about the struggle of providing for your children while also being present in their lives. It is about tracking down a terrorist hacker and fist-fighting him blind in a dark storage closet.
Strike that last one.
Like with the first film, Incredibles 2 mixes these mature themes into a slick, clever plot about people in masks saving the day. But whereas The Incredibles might be one of the greatest superhero movies ever made, Incredibles 2 shows some slack. At least by comparison.
There are still fantastic sequences of visual humor, the most notable ones involving Jack-Jack. The writing is still clever, if not less so. But the plotting is not as tight. The high points are not as high. The aforementioned technology-based A-plot is interesting, but it does not tie into the broader themes as coherently as the Syndrome A-plot did to that film’s broader themes.
It is still an enjoyable experience—this is arguably the best non-Toy Story Pixar sequel to date—but the flaws do stand out. It is exciting to see these characters again. They aren’t fleshed out any further, but they are placed in a new situation that gives each of them plenty to do. The subplot involving Mr. Incredible and the children is consistently funny. And the A-plot action that is driven by Elastigirl makes for fast paced, engaging action sequences.
Incredibles 2 is a really good Pixar movie. It is a fairly good superhero movie. As a long-awaited follow up to The Incredibles, it doesn’t stack up as strongly. All the same, it feels worth the wait.
Incredibles 2: B
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)