In 2004 Disney and Pixar gave the world one of the best non-adapted superhero stories of all time with a family of powered humans coming together to fight crime. Now, 14 years later, fans have finally received the sequel they have longed for with director and writer Brad Bird back in the saddle and most of the original cast returning to bring the family to life once more. So, after all this time does this animated sequel live up to the lofty expectations set before it? Let’s dive in and find out. This is my review of “The Incredibles 2”.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT
Picking up immediately following the events of “The Incredibles”, this sequel sees the titular family, Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), Violet (Sarah Vowell) and Dash (Huck Milner), under scrutiny for deciding to utilize their powers in public despite the illegality of the matter. When the eccentric head of a telecommunications company named Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) and his sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener) call on the Incredibles to return to action to help re-legalize supers Elastigirl becomes the face of their cause and tries to hunt down a new villain named Screenslaver who is using technology to hypnotize people and cause mischief. Meanwhile Mr. Incredible takes on the role of stay-at-home dad, a job he finds more stressful than he originally assumed. When circumstances give Screenslaver the upper hand the entire family, along with Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) and a team of new supers, must band together to save the world once again.
While Pixar may have delved a little too deep into the sequel pool that they once allegedly promised they wouldn’t depend on, sometimes a followup film is fully warranted and this is one of those times. First and foremost, “The Incredibles 2” doesn’t feel like a waste of time or a cash grab. It’s a fun sequel that builds on the first movie properly showing us the aftermath of the family’s newfound embrace of their powers and introducing a fun new villain while also building on each character’s personality. Despite juggling several storylines and balancing family dynamics with superhero action “The Incredibles 2” seldom slows down and keeps a great pace that’s engaging from the first minute to the last even through it’s more tedious moments.
The voice acting in this movie is spot on as always with the familiar cast, and some newcomers, coming on board to bring each character to life. The dialogue might not be the most creative Pixar has even produced but it’s enough to give these characters depth and heart without making them feel stale or overdone. It seems like the cast legitimately had fun making the project and it’s not hard to imagine them all in the same room exchanging these lines face to face. Smooth inflections and vocal reads provide more than enough for us to be invested in every conversation and there are plenty of effective lighthearted moments and even a swear or two thrown in for spice to add some adult-friendly flair to the project.
As with any good superhero movie “The Incredibles 2” also sports a worthy villain. The Screenslaver may not be quite a memorable or well developed as Syndrome was in the first film but by the time we find out who is truly behind these dastardly deeds it’s a satisfying, if predictable, twist that makes for a pretty cool genre moment. Screenslaver is a modern villain with classic flair and the villain’s design makes him feel right at home in a world of costumed heroes and villains. Screenslaver also provides some cool dialogue via monologues which is honestly some of the best material from the entire script.
I would be remiss if I didn’t touch on the animation which is as smooth as you’d expect from a Pixar film. Each hero, new and old, is well detailed with their own logos and styles to give even the most minor of characters some personality in their design alone. I particularly loved the action sequences and set pieces especially when Elastigirl gets to try out her new electric motorcycle. The animation is so smooth and polished that it’s easy to become immersed in the combat without losing touch of the action. It’s fun to watch and the stakes feel truly high most of the time which keeps “The Incredibles 2” from ever feeling anywhere close to outdated or formulaic. A touch of Pixar flair in the visual style that gives it that unique feel that provides it with its own identity. I have to say I enjoyed the whole experience overall and I’d go so far as to call “The Incredibles 2” the complete animated package, but there are some issues worth pointing out as well that keep it from being the absolute definition of Pixar perfection.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK
While the battle scenes and the villain, Screenslaver, are enjoyable to see I feel obligated to warn anyone going into this movie that the use of flashing lights and black and white colors for Screenslaver’s weapons and hideout were probably an unwise choice on the part of Brad Bird and his staff. I saw the movie with a friend of mine who was immediately affected by these visuals that COULD pose a problem for anyone suffering from even minor epileptic issues. One time I even found myself suffering from a minor headache because of all the flashing lights and it kind of made that part of the experience a little frustrating. There were plenty of ways to bring Screenslaver’s plan to life without the use of these kinds of visuals and while the point might have been to provide some discomfort it works maybe too well on that front. As nitpicky as it might be it just seemed like an unnecessary risk and it didn’t even add anything to the scenes to begin with. So, this possibly disturbing imagery doesn’t even benefit the story much which is a rare miss in terms of creative choices for a man like Brad Bird.
For all the praise I give the action in “The Incredibles 2” I will say a lot of the superhero stuff was stolen straight from previous projects. There are a lot of possible callbacks to the three “Fantastic Four” movies, which doesn’t seem like an accident considering how The Incredibles are often compared to Marvel’s original superhero team. Whether intentional or not these moment took me out of the movie a bit and speak to the lack of creativity this sequel has compared to its predecessor. We do get other clichés from the genre in general, including the token train scene that seems to be in every major superhero franchise at one point or another. While these portions of the movie are spectacularly satisfying on their own it did give me a sense of déjà vu. These ideas aren’t new and using them in the film felt like a crutch to some extent. Even though they are done well done (i would even go so far as to call this movie’s train scene one of the very best in any superhero movie) they felt like true clichés, but if I’ve said it once I’ve said it a hundred times it’s all about how you utilize tired ideas that determines the success of that approach. With that said I can give “The Incredibles 2” a bit of credit for at least making these tired story elements fun and appealing in their own right.
I would say the most frustrating thing about “The Incredibles 2” for me though is that I wasn’t quite sure what to take away from the project. We see a lot transpire in this movie including some fun cracks at modern math education, a quick revelation about the realities of a stay-at-home dad and some tongue and cheek commentary about the public’s obsession with the hero versus the average Joe, but “The Incredibles 2” really has no solid message when its all said and done. The significance of the story is limited to its relevance to the world within the film but really doesn’t share any truly powerful revelations about reality outside the movie which is usually how Pixar chooses to approach its narratives. Whereas the first movie was more about acceptance of what makes one special and the importance of the family dynamic it almost feels like the sequel was all about the fun and the action and less about the deeper social significance which was relegated to small moments that are here and gone in a matter of minutes. This doesn’t make “The Incredibles 2” a bad movie really, it just makes it an odd one especially for Pixar that chooses to look more toward the action and suspence for substance than the emotional weight of the story. I’d have to say for this reason alone that the first movie was a superior film because it balanced emotional depth with pure action, but if having fun and providing great animated escapism was truly the point of this long-awaited follow-up I’d say it succeeded.
“The Incredibles 2” may have been a long-time coming but it doesn’t disappoint. Although it fails in many ways to live up to the original film, which provided big shoes to fill from the very beginning, it’s still a great time at the movies with wonderful visuals, well established characters, great voice acting and an all around fun superhero-centric story that takes off immediately and seldom slows down. It offers excitement for both children and adults to appreciate even if it does lean heavily on a lot of genre clichés and lacks to trademark originality of the studio that brought it to life. Its biggest flaw is a lack of true direction in terms of its message or morals but in the end this is an animated superhero offering that was built to be a good time and a good time it certainly is. If anything this is the kind of movie that proves that films don’t necessarily have to be all about the moral. Sometimes they can simply be great fun to escape reality for a few hours. It might not be absolutely everything we wanted or expected, but it’s more than enough and shows once again that Pixar can get the job done even after 14 years of waiting and anticipation.