Movie Review: Incredibles 2
By Matthew Huntely
June 27, 2018
“Incredibles 2” (the movie's title drops “The”) feels less like a sequel and more like an extension of its predecessor. That is to say, it feels like more of the same, only not as fresh. It also feels derivative and has few parts to call its own.
This comes as a surprise not only because it's been 14 years since “The Incredibles” was released, but also because the original was so good, and because writer-director Brad Bird usually makes movies of the highest imagination and creativity (along with the “The Incredibles,” he directed and co-wrote “The Iron Giant” and “Ratatouille”). Before this latest installment played, Bird and members of the cast appear in a short FYI clip explaining the 14-year gap, letting us know computer animated movies take a long time to make because, among other things, they have such a high level of detail. Fair enough, but I would have happily waited another 14 years if it meant “Incredibles 2” had a more worthwhile story to tell.
Things picks up right where the original left off, which, you may recall, ended with the dysfunctional yet lovable family of superheroes, collectively known as The Incredibles (street name Parr), attempting to thwart their latest villain, the Underminer, who plows his gigantic drill through the streets of Metroville, a sort of cross between 1950s and modern-day Manhattan, destroying roads, bridges and other infrastructure.
Each member of the Incredibles family unit developed such a liking for saving the day in the first movie they once again want in on the action, including dad, a.k.a. Mr. Incredible/Bob Parr (voice of Craig T. Nelson), with his herculean strength; mom, a.k.a, Elastigirl/Helen (Holly Hunter), who's superiorly flexible and can stretch her body to seemingly no end; adolescent daughter Violet (Sarah Vowell), who can make herself invisible and generate protective force fields; and younger son Dashiell “Dash” (Huckleberry Milner), who has superhuman speed.
They pass responsibility for watching baby Jack-Jack (powers yet unknown) over to one another as they chase the Underminer toward city hall, but their efforts seem to cause more damage than prevent, which was one of the reasons “supers” went into hiding in the first place and were forced to permanently maintain their secret identities under the government's Superhero Relocation Program, which is now being shut down.
But smooth-talking media mogul Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) sees this latest incident as a prime business opportunity. He's the head of DEVTECH, a giant telecommunications firm, and after he witnesses the battle between The Incredibles and the Underminer, he believes supers all around the world should be reinstated as legal crime fighters. He and his tech-savvy engineer sister, Evelyn (Cather Keener), have a personal connection to superheroes because of their father (whose back story I won't reveal), and so Winston dreams up a campaign that would refine the public's perception of them. He arranges a meeting with Mr. Incredible, Elastigirl and Frozone, a.k.a. Lucius Best (Samuel L. Jackson), and fills them in on his plan for a publicity stunt would put supers back in a positive light.
Deavor chooses Elastigirl to lead the operation because records indicate her saves have rendered the least amount of collateral damage. Naturally, Bob feels offended and emasculated by such a choice, but he swallows his pride, and so when the campaign gets underway, it's mom who's off to work and dad who stays home with the kids. Bob must tend to such familial growing pains as Violet's first date with a boy, whose memory had to be wiped when he found out Violet had superpowers; Dash's problems with homework, particularly “new math”; and Jack-Jack's developing powers, which range from teleportation, enflaming his own body and shooting green lasers from his eyes, to duplication, self-expansion and telekinesis.
Bob soon discovers that parenting is, perhaps, harder and more exhausting than superhero-ing, but he tries his best, sacrificing sleep in the process. Eventually, he once again seeks out the services of little Edna Mode (Bird), who's to the Incredibles as “Q” is to James Bond, with her primary talent being the development of sophisticated costumes, and she has a field day designing a super suit for Jack-Jack, one that nurtures all his powers and even comes with its own remote so the family can keep him under control.
Meanwhile, Helen tries to sell supers back to the public by going on talk shows and saving citizens from carefully orchestrated crises, which actually turn out to be real when a legitimate villain known as the Screenslaver takes control of various communication screens and hypnotizes anyone watching. Just as she's trying to maintain a positive image, she's trying to perform real superhero work.
The movie jumps back and forth between its two storylines until they eventually meet for the perfunctory climax, which once again boils down to the entire Incredibles family coming together to save humanity. You know the drill.
And that's the general problem I had with “Incredibles 2”: we know its drill, and neither of its genres—dysfunctional family comedy or superhero adventure—are far enough removed from others of its kind, including “The Incredibles.” Bird's screenplay for “2” feels comparatively ordinary and unambitious because we can call most things before they happen, including the real identity of Screenslaver. The movie's plot and character developments, comedic episodes, and standard-issue action sequences are not only what we saw in the first movie, but several others, and part of me just kept waiting for “Incredibles 2” to break out of its traditional ways and develop a rhythm of its own, one that felt independent and alive.
But it never really does, and I started to grow concerned as early as the one-third mark when Elastigirl must use her entire body as a parachute to slow down a runaway train before it goes off the track. Not only did I recall a similar visual from “The Incredibles,” but this same (albeit much more exciting) sequence happened in “Spider-Man 2.” Surely Bird and Pixar weren't going to let “Incredibles 2” be a mere concoction of other movies, but that's unfortunately what I saw as it progressed.
In addition to “Spidey 2” and the original “Incredibles,” other action movies I saw “Incredibles 2” borrow from include Christopher Nolan's “Batman” movies and any number of James Bond pictures, specifically in regards to Elastigirl's “Elasticycle” and Mr. Incredible's “Incredib-ile” car. And as a comedy, much of its humor comes courtesy of “Mr. Mom,” “Three Men and a Baby,” “Kindergarten Cop,” “The Pacifier,” and even “Sixteen Candles” and “Say Anything.” Perhaps I'm being too picky, especially since all popular superhero movies these days essentially borrow from one another, but given the high caliber and original content that Bird and Pixar have created in the past, I expected a movie that was funnier and more exciting, as opposed one that seemed like a retread merely going through the motions of its genres.
As family entertainment, “Incredibles 2” is safe and familiar, and fans can rest assured they will at least get what they got before, which was enormously entertaining. But for me, the entertainment value has been greatly diluted this time around, delivering little in the way of risks, surprises and overall energy. Granted, the screenplay sees the conflicts that were introduced but unresolved in the first film and sees them through, but in so doing, it recycles the overall premise, which is a family of superheros trying to balance everyday suburban life with saving the world. And because it feels so redundant, “Incredibles 2,” as it is, ultimately feels unnecessary. Hopefully by the time “Incredibles 3” comes along, enough time will have passed in the characters' lives that Bird will give them something newer and more interesting to do, which will hopefully translate into a newer, bolder adventure to experience.