Review: Incredibles 2
Incredibles 2 picks up right in the middle of the action teased at the end of The Incredibles. The superpowered Parr family, decked out in their costumes, face the super-villain Underminer. In terms of action and production design, writer-director Brad Bird and crew haven’t lost a step in constructing dazzling set pieces. It’s been 14 years and the sequel seamlessly brings us back into this James Bond-influenced, high-tech stylized world of superheroes. Unfortunately, Incredibles 2’s story is nowhere near as inventive and thrilling as its action or its predecessor.
Mr. Incredible, Elastigirl, Violet, Dash, and Jack-Jack don’t manage to catch the Underminer, instead they are held responsible for all the damage laid waste because of the attack and attempts by the heroes to save the day. In turn, the Super Relocation program that helped the family in the past is shut down, leaving the Parrs to fend for themselves. Lucky for them, they have fans in millionaire Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) and his sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener). The Deavors hope to use Elastigirl to help campaign for the legalization of superheroes. Every civilian she saves and every criminal she captures is filmed in order to spread their message across TV screens everywhere; but there’s a new villain terrorizing the city, using those screens against her: the Screenslaver.
Incredibles 2 flips the standard gender roles, making Helen/Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) the superhero/working parent, while Bob/Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) stays home to take care of the kids. It’s the one theme, among many in the film, that works. Thanks to Hunter’s performance, and the introduction of strong female characters, both super and normal, Incredibles 2 makes a statement about women and their rightful place alongside their male counterparts. What’s disappointing is how scattered the rest of the film is; Bird doesn’t just want to say one thing, he wants to cram so much into his close-to-two-hour Pixar sequel.
Media manipulation, the morality of the rule of law, the invasion of ever-growing technology; these are just some of the topics Bird preaches to us about. The Incredibles, in retrospect, feels quaint compared to how bloated and messy its sequel feels—no longer is this just about one family. Added to that, Bob’s main focus is sweet as he learns to cope with being a stay-at-home dad—but this is derailed by Jack-Jack’s super ability shuffle. The 2005 short Jack-Jack Attack is expanded on, as we see the littlest Parr jolting back and forth through a cavalcade of powers. It’s cute, sure—there’s some fun with a racoon that almost makes it almost worth it—but it really amounts to a short lesson about dealing with fussy babies and growing into yourself. More often than not, Incredibles 2 side-steps too far from a central focus, instead expanding the world with new unnecessary characters and proselytizing.
There’s a reveal late in the film that doesn’t pack a big enough punch because it feels just too telegraphed. While the action is beautifully constructed, there are limited honest thrills. A cool new superhero, Voyd (Sophia Bush), is introduced and her portal jumping powers are a delight, but there’s nothing as pulse-pounding or fresh as the original’s action moments—nothing even comes close to the “100 Mile Dash”, but to be fair, not many superhero films in general have a scene as amazing as that. Each action beat in The Incredibles was tied to real emotional weight—a mom saves her children, a brother protects his sister, a family finally comes together. But there’s nothing of that weight in Incredibles 2—it’s as by-the-numbers as any weightless action film.
Bird is a capable director for sure, but it feels like he had no interest in trying to reach the heights of the original. It’s an achievement in filmmaking in terms of visually continuing the story set up 14 years ago, but Incredibles 2 ultimately feels pointless. One too many threads remain floating by the time the credits roll. It could be that Bird and/or Pixar are confident that Incredibles 3 is on the way, which undoes so much of what made The Incredibles work. There was a sense of wonder with how the original film ended; we were left to our own devices, thinking of how the story would follow from there. The sequel proves that what’s wrapped up with a perfect bow shouldn’t be unwrapped.