It was a very different time when the first Incredibles was released. It’s hard to remember how the comic book film landscape was before the glut of superhero movies currently being released. 2004 was before Christian Bale donned Batman’s cape and cowl. It was before Robert Downey Jr. and Iron Man kicked off the massively successful Marvel Cinematic Universe. It was before any Fantastic Four film had ever (dis)graced the silver screen. Spider-man had yet to be rebooted even once. In fact Tobey Maguire had only been in one film, with a second on the way. And the X-Men timeline was hardly convoluted at all just two films in.
Released 14 years after the original, Incredibles 2 comes at a time when superheroes rule the box office. Can Pixar’s return to the genre stand out in the crowd?
Incredibles 2 sticks to the tried and true sequel formula of reversing a key plot element of the first film. This time out Elastigirl is chosen for a mission while Mr. Incredible stays home to take care of domestic duties. Yes, that’s an incredibly (Sorry.) pat way of boiling it down. But the end result works well. To be honest, Elastigirl’s range of powers are a lot more interesting than her husband’s, making set pieces more exciting and unpredictable and giving the story more compelling places to go. And though the Mr. Mom trope has been well played out on screen, doing it with a superhero overlay gave it a new fresh and fun twist.
I obviously don’t want to spoil the movie for anyone, but I do want to go a little bit more into those two storylines. Elastigirl differs from her husband not just in powers but in the way she goes about crimefighting. Where he is all about brute forcing things and working alone, she’s more flexible (Sorry.) in her technique. Yes, she has powers, but she also isn’t adverse to using gadgets, “the guy in the chair”, or basic detective work. One of the major reasons Incredibles 2 feels so original and different from the first film is solely because the focus of the superhero-ing is on her rather than him.
As for Mr. Incredible, while it almost appears we’re getting the bumbling-stay-at-home-dad thing we usually get from Hollywood, the writers have actually gone in a very different way that’s kind of refreshing. They don’t play on gender stereotypes. Dad isn’t frazzled because he doesn’t know what he’s doing. He’s not an oaf stapling a diaper closed or destroying a kitchen in an attempt to make breakfast. He’s actually doing most everything right. And he’s shown going out of his way to learn more. He’s just tired! He’s rightly not portrayed as a stupid male, it’s just a rough job — made all the tougher when you have a toddler with uncontrollable mutant abilities!
One of the most fun parts of the film was seeing some new heroes. Let’s be honest: even with all the superhero films released over the past few years, how often have we really seen something new? Superman, Wonder Woman, Captain America, Ant-man… we’re all familiar with what they can do. Even in the comics it sometimes seems the powers (Sorry?) that be would rather just take an old hero and swap races or genders rather than write someone new. In Incredibles 2 the writers get to come up with a supporting cast of new heroes then play around with their abilities in ways we haven’t seen before.
While most of the story is very well done, it does unravel a bit towards the end. Without giving anything away, the pace starts feeling rushed, the plot gets muddled, then things wrap up a little too neatly. Part of the problem is the villain is not fleshed out very well so motivations are shallow and what they actually want in the end isn’t spelled out satisfactorily.
The animation is marvelous. (Do I need to apologize for that one?) The styling of the world created in the original film was already extremely cool and getting to see so much more of it here was worth the price of admission by itself. The character designs, while faithful to the original, definitely felt plussed up not only for current technology but for an audience used to seeing superheroes more often in the theatre. I didn’t really like the stylistic decision to have one character whose eyes seemed to be drooping for no real reason the entire movie. Yes, I’ll admit it was interesting to see them going in a very different direction than we’re using to with a facial design, but the overall effect in this specific case wasn’t very appealing.
Michael Giacchino is back doing the music. There’s probably no way he could top the first film’s iconic score, and he doesn’t attempt to. Instead he does exactly the right thing by giving us more of what made the original score so good without forcing it to be “better”.
The voice casting for the first film was spot-on, and even 14 years later those actors — Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, and Samuel L. Jackson — still bring those characters to life perfectly. Hunter, especially, shines in this movie. Voicing Dash, Huck Milner steps seamlessly into Spencer Fox’s shoes (Shoes? That could imply running. Hmmm. That’s probably stretching things. Stretching? Dangit! Sorry!) so much so that I was convinced it was the same actor. Of the newcomers, Bob Odenkirk does a fine job as Winston Deavor while Catherine Keener is perhaps a little too laid back voicing Evelyn Deavor.
In a world where blockbuster over-the-top superhero movies have become as mainstream as westerns were back in their heyday, Incredibles 2 brings the humanity back to the genre. They call their spouse after a long day at work. They take the kids out to dinner. Then they save the world. Unlike just about every such character in one of these types of films released in the past decade, Mr. Incredible, Elastigirl, and Frozone are — even though they’re animated — real people, despite incredible jobs. That’s a side of heroes that’s usually left unexplored since they all tend to be mega-geniuses or ultra-rich or god-like — before even bringing their powers into the mix. That emphasis on the human part of the hero is at the heart of what makes Incredibles 2 so super. (Not sorry!)
June 15, 2018
directed by Brad Bird