For those of us who were in elementary school when “The Incredibles” came out in 2004, its sequel has been a long time coming. Director Brad Bird toyed with the idea of a continuation to his beloved Pixar classic as early as 2007. “If I can come up with a ‘Toy Story 2’ with ‘The Incredibles,’ then I would do it in a second. I have pieces that I think are good, but I don’t have them all together,” he said in an interview with ComingSoon.net. The delay is exceptionally long in a time when sequels abound, like “Transformers: The Fallen Knight” and “Jurassic Park: A Fallen Kingdom” that were created by teams who neglected storytelling in the hopes that nostalgia for the original would be enough to keep audiences interested. Pixar itself is guilty of participating in this very phenomenon—its “Cars” franchise has not been as well-received as it would have liked. But lucky for us, as its success both at the box office and with audiences would indicate, that’s not the case for “The Incredibles 2.” Though it took 14 years to come to the big screen, Brad Bird used that time wisely to find just the right balance between a nostalgia-filled wink at the past and forward-thinking social commentary in “Incredibles 2,” all the while ensuring that the family-focused action comedy never lost its heart.
“Incredibles 2” picks up right where we left off in its predecessor, with the Parr family taking on their superhero identities to stop the Underminer from robbing a bank. When the Underminer escapes, leaving the city’s destruction in his wake, the Parrs get blamed, further vindicating the law making supers illegal. Lucky for them, Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) wants to use his resources as head of telecommunications company DevTech to rebrand superheroes and get the leaders of the world to repeal the law. The first step? To have Helen (Holly Hunter) as Elastigirl show the country that supers can protect the public in a way no one else can, endearing all supers to those who made them go into hiding in the first place. And as Elastigirl goes out to save the world, Bob (Craig T. Nelson) must take on the role of a stay-at-home dad to their three children, something he himself is wholly unprepared for.
The film’s conceit isn’t original in and of itself. “Avengers: Age of Ultron” addressed the effect that worldwide backlash could have concerning the destruction superheroes are capable of, and an (albeit failed) “Fantastic Four” reboot just three years ago featured characters with eerily similar powers. But enhancing elements of the past is what “Incredibles 2” does best, not only plot-wise but also stylistically. “Incredibles 2” develops what the first film had the time to only hint at, like baby Jack-Jack’s (Eli Fucile) burgeoning powers, Violet’s (Sarah Vowell) budding romance and growth into adolescence to the complicated family dynamics of the Parr household, and the consequences of the superhero ban. And because Pixar is Pixar, that enhancement extends to the animation itself. The first “Incredibles” movie was already gorgeously animated, but the technology Pixar has developed in the 14 years since then elevate the animation to another level. The artwork is sharper—so detailed we can make out individual strands of Helen’s hair as she brushes it off her face, the flames of Jack-Jack’s state of combustion, the faint wrinkles on Bob’s face. And while, with heightened aesthetics and sublime artistry “Incredibles 2” takes the material somewhere “The Incredibles” literally wasn’t capable of going, the films bleed seamlessly into each other as the aesthetics of the characters’ looks, their voices—despite a few voice actor changes—and the essence of “The Incredibles” remains intact.
And though its homage to the past is undeniable, “Incredibles 2” makes sure to speak to the present as well, particularly in the role reversal of Helen and Bob. When Winston approaches Helen as the super to change the public image of superheroes, Bob is visibly frustrated with his relegation to the household, perhaps both because he is a man and because of his unrestrained desire to work as a superhero regularly, something he got a taste of in the previous film. Here, however, the film focuses more on depicting the difficulty and importance of the roles stay-at-home parents take on, depicting Bob’s (not so) subtle misogyny in a way that both criticizes and mitigates it. “Incredibles 2” also highlights women’s strength to not only be great parents, but to also be just as competent, if not more so, than men in the workfield. “Girls, come on. Leave the saving of the world to the men? I don’t think so!” Elastigirl says in an archival video. And whereas that wasn’t the case in “The Incredibles,” Elastigirl’s hope becomes a reality in “Incredibles 2.” Winston’s younger sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener) is the brainchild behind DevTech, the engineer who designs DevTech’s innovations, and Voyd (Sophia Bush) proves herself to be a promising new hero who takes after Elastigirl. This time around, women really are doing the saving. In the best action sequence of either movie, Elastigirl fights the film’s villain, Screenslaver; the scene solidifies Elastigirl’s physicality and ingenuity all at once, something Mr. Incredible never masters.
Unfortunately, where “Incredibles 2” thrives in its representation of women and commentary on parenthood and family life, it fails in developing its villain and relies too heavily on what fans liked in the previous film to drive the comedy. Screenslaver’s motives are compelling, refreshing, and almost eerily accurate, especially in 2018—”You don’t talk, you watch talk shows. You don’t play games, you watch game shows,” denounces Screenslaver who, as his name would indicate, thinks society is a slave to the screens we hide behind—but his integration into the film is subpar. The villain’s identity is much too predictable, his Achilles’ heel too blatant to equal the villain that Syndrome (Jason Lee) was. Unfortunately, it undermines some of the other great work the film does, as does its overuse of Jack-Jack as a comedic tool. People always want to see more of adorable babies (and to be honest, so did I) but the emphasis on Jack-Jack veers too much into the manipulative, turning him into a crutch that attracts audiences based on his cuteness rather than on the film’s merit itself.
Despite its few flaws, “Incredibles 2” deserves all the acclaim it’s been getting. Its astute combination of both past facets of the “The Incredibles” and contemporary conversations is the result of Bird’s meticulous directing ability to finally bring all the pieces he had in mind together. It’s no wonder “Incredibles 2” is not only one of the top 10 biggest movie openings of all time, but the first one that isn’t live action. It’s no wonder those who saw the first film as children returned to the sequel as adults (and I’m not just talking about myself—according to comScore PosTrak, 40 percent of moviegoers were aged 18 to 24). Featuring a cameo of fan-favorite Edna Mode and the evolving bickering between Dash and Violet, the film was clearly meant for fans of the original. But the important issues it highlights, from the ups and downs of family life to digitally-based social indoctrination, also make it relatable to those who didn’t. And though it took us a while to get, “Incredibles 2” is definitely worth the wait.
—Staff writer Mila Gauvin II can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.