It’s bigger! It’s badder! Ladies and gentlemen, it’s….Incredibles 2! Whew, sorry. Syndrome took over for a sec there. In all seriousness, “Incredibles 2” is a film I’ve been waiting for since 2004 – the exact moment my eight-year-old self exited the theater after seeing “The Incredibles,” to be precise. The original film is my favorite animated film of all time. Needless to say, it was difficult to tamper my expectations when “Incredibles 2” was officially announced. Leaving the theater as a twenty-one-year-old, I can say that while “Incredibles 2” doesn’t quite match the heights of its predecessor, it’s still a wildly fun ride that was worth the wait.
For those of you who are familiar with the first film (who am I kidding, you’ve all seen it by now), you’ll remember that it ends on somewhat of a cliffhanger, with the superpowered Parr family ready to face off against a new foe – the Underminer. “Incredibles 2” picks up right where that film left off as our favorite heroes try to stop him.
This segues into the main plot of the film. Even though the Incredibles tried to help, they are still viewed as liabilities in the eyes of the government. Enter wealthy businessman Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) who, along with his tech-genius sister, Evelyn (Catherine Keener), want to change people’s perception of supers and make them legal again. Do do it, they recruit Helen Parr/Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) to build up a better image for supers by fighting crime. This leaves Bob/Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) at home to take care of their kids – Violet, Dash and baby Jack-Jack (Sarah Vowell, Huck Milner and Eli Fucile, respectively).
From the opening shots, it’s clear how much this production has been influenced by advancements in computer animation. The characters look more vibrant, and the details – from natural effects like lighting to the characters’ hairstyles – are far more pronounced. I’ll be honest, though: because I’m so familiar with the first “Incredibles” and how that film looks, it was a bit jarring to see the updates on these characters. That’s not to say that the animation looks bad – quite the opposite – but the updates are noticeable, especially because “Incredibles 2” is a direct continuation of the story.
That being said, director (and writer) Brad Bird proves once again that he has full control over these characters and this story, both narratively and visually. The first film focuses largely on Bob’s story arc, so I was glad to see that the focus pivots somewhat to allow Helen an opportunity to shine. Most people will come out of this film talking about Jack-Jack (which I’ll get to), but I would like to propose that Helen is the unsung hero of this whole film. We saw glimpses of what Elastigirl can do in “The Incredibles,” but let me tell you, she kicks ass in “Incredibles 2.” Bird’s vision comes to life most explicitly through her, because it allows him the opportunity to explore a character with different, yet arguably more competent, abilities than that of Mr. Incredible’s.
In particular, there is a stunning action sequence that involves Elastigirl chasing a runaway train on her motorcycle. Everything from lighting effects, to POV shots, to the innovative usage of Elastigirl’s powers shows how much potential there is to explore these various characters. For me, this was the best scene in the movie.
As I alluded to before, the other standout character is Jack-Jack. As an audience, we know that Jack-Jack has powers, but for Bob and the rest of the characters, that revelation proves to be comedy gold. In total, Jack-Jack displays seventeen powers, but with him being a baby, he has no control over any of them. There’s a scene where Jack-Jack faces off against a raccoon which encapsulates that perfectly. It’s equally entertaining to watch an exhausted Bob try to handle the situation.
All of these moments are underlined by another fantastic score from composer Michael Giacchino. As with “The Incredibles,” his themes accentuate the spy-thriller undertones of the film. “Incredibles 2” proves that Bird is a master of blending genres, and Giacchino really brings that out with his score.
There’s plenty of fun to be had with “Incredibles 2,” but it’s not a perfect movie. One of the weaker elements was the villain. The group finds themselves up against Screenslaver, an antagonist who hypnotizes people by taking over their screens and monitors. The concept is interesting, but in execution, the villain doesn’t feel that menacing. Unlike Syndrome, this character lacks a personal connection to the Incredibles, which makes the stakes feel less dramatic.
“Incredibles 2” also expands its universe which, for better or worse, makes this film feel less focused. “The Incredibles” really placed a microscope on the Parr family to examine their personal motivations and story arcs. While they are still the center of “Incredibles 2,” the film also introduces new characters with arcs of their own, from the Devour siblings to new superheroes like Void (Sophia Bush).
As fun as these characters could be – especially the new supers – I found that I was most interested in the original characters. At its core, the “Incredibles” franchise is about an ordinary family with extraordinary gifts. Ultimately, I think the sequel is at its best when it focuses on those aspects, from Helen donning the super suit once again, to Bob learning how to be a better dad, to Dash and Violet learning how to navigate growing up with superpowers. That’s what makes these characters, well, incredible.
Perhaps it’s unfair to compare “Incredibles 2” so heavily to its predecessor, but knowing how attached I am to “The Incredibles,” there’s really no other way for me to review this film. Mainly, I just wanted the opportunity to return to this world and see these characters evolve, and Bird’s film ultimately delivers that in spades. Fans of “The Incredibles” should be satisfied with its sequel. I’m pretty sure my eight-year-old self would have been, too.