Incredibles 2 Review
For years, Pixar managed to avoid sequel fever. Sure, there were two sequels to Toy Story, but those were the exception. However, in recent years, Pixar has alternated their output between original films like Inside Out and sequels to Cars, Monsters, Inc. and Finding Nemo. And yet, even as we bemoaned the sudden outbreak of sequelitis that befell the company, there was always a caveat: “No more sequels…well, maybe The Incredibles.” Brad Bird’s 2004 animated classic felt like the film most primed for a sequel in the Pixar canon. The original was an origin story, an introduction to a universe ripe for exploration. For some reason, it took fourteen years for Bird to return to the world of The Incredibles. Fortunately for us, this world does not feel stale in the slightest. In fact, Bird and company have updated the universe for the late-‘10s while staying true to what audiences loved about the original. This is a smart, fun, and beautiful family film. In short, exactly what we want from Pixar.
Picking up right where The Incredibles left off, Bird wastes no time digging into the story. Sure, it’s been 14 years since we last saw these characters; the medium of animation allows for the suspension of time. And so we witness an attack by the Underminer, burrowing beneath the city, robbing the banks from underground, and we watch the Parr family try to stop him. They do, but there’s so much damage done to the metropolis that no one is really eager to thank them. In a clever twist, officials would rather just let the criminals escape. The banks have insurance and the problem could have been easily resolved, with much less destruction. And it’s that destruction that has led to superhero criminalization.
One person who refuses to believe superheroes should be criminalized is Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk), who calls on the Incredibles with a plan. With the help of his sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener), he’s going to make superheroes great again. He’s going to accomplish this through transparency. They’ll place a bodycam on a superhero and broadcast the footage, letting the public fall in love with heroic deeds all over again. The Deavors elect Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) for this mission, noting that her brand of superheroics is a little more cost-effective than her husband’s. The concept that the general public won’t believe something that they don’t see with their own eyes feels remarkably modern.
Elastigirl gets a new outfit and a new ride; meanwhile, Bob/Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) is stuck at home, where he learns how parenting is its own brand of heroism. Dash (Huck Milner) is still his rambunctious self—and the most underwritten character in the film. Violet (Sarah Vowell), however, is dealing with teenage girl drama, particularly after the boy she likes literally forgets about her entirely. Most urgently, Jack-Jack has begun to display powers, and if you think your baby is difficult to manage, try to imagine anticipating when he/she is going to teleport to an alternate dimension.
As in all of his animated work, Bird is working with social constructs. The Iron Giant doesn’t have to be a weapon; a rat can be a cook; Mr. Incredible can be the stay-at-home parent and Elasitgirl can save the world. This theme of surpassing the expectations and limitations we set for ourselves weaves throughout Incredibles 2, as we’re introduced to new heroes (with names ripped straight from the 1950s—Voyd, Screech, Reflux) and a new villain, Screenslaver, who hypnotizes and controls people through today’s most insidious addiction—our attachment to screens. Yes, Incredibles 2 is a film that encourages us to detach from the screens and experience the world, but it does so with a twist.
Pixar films have always been beautiful in regards to character design and animation, and this film is no exception. Incredibles 2 is fluid, sliding beautifully, gracefully from one scene to the next. Bird’s work on Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol rears its head, as the action sequences in this film are stellar. There’s one scene with Elastigirl and a runaway train that’s gorgeously conceived and executed, and the climax is more exhilarating than any Marvel film in recent years. It’s constantly in motion, flawlessly flowing from action to comedy to family drama, buoyed by a jazzy, Bond-esque score by Michael Giacchino. It’s a testament to Bird that Incredibles 2 feels so effortless; nothing feels too eager to please.
It helps that the voice cast is fantastic, serving as fuel for this finely-tuned animated venture. Nelson retains the gruff tone of Mr. Incredible, a man who loves his family but misses the days when he was the coolest superhero in the world. Hunter, however, steals the show; she can convey more with a single line reading than many actresses could with an entire monologue.
I think the best way to describe the Incredibles 2 is that it has character. In this world of Marvel and DC and legions of superhero films, the fact that it’s not bound to some larger cinematic universe is refreshing. The freedom and distinct personality that freedom allows are (fittingly enough, given the film’s themes) what makes Incredibles 2 special.