Pixar sequels are a curious thing. On the one hand you have a sequel like Toy Story 2 (1999), which takes its child-play-thing-characters from the first installment and gives them raw, human emotions, earning a spot on the top shelf of Pixar’s filmography. On the other hand you have a sequel like Cars 2 (2011), which pales in comparison to the first. There is also a third hand, which produces sequels that meet the bare minimum like Finding Dory (2016); these feel more like a cash grab than a continuation of a story. Incredibles 2 (2018) thrives because, despite the fourteen year gap, the sequel feels like an organic follow-up to its predecessor that never skips a beat. While he may not deliver a film as profound as the 2004 original, director Brad Bird still gives us plenty to laugh at and never skimps on the thrills as we return to the family that makes a better case for a Fantastic Four movie than any of the Fantastic Four movies.
Picking up literally where The Incredibles (2004) left off, after foiling the Underminer’s (John Ratzenberger) plan, the Incredibles find themselves in hot water because Supers are still illegal and the media have been doing their part to justify the law, painting the Incredibles’ triumph as unnecessarily destructive. Enter telecommunications billionaire-siblings Winston (Bob Odenkirk) and Evelyn Deavor (Catherine Keener), whose goal is to bring Supers back into the limelight. They pick Elastigirl/Helen Parr (Holly Hunter) as the face of their campaign due to the minimal damage she causes when saving the day, as opposed to Mr. Incredible/Bob Parr (Craig T. Nelson), whose strength can have devastating repercussions (an age-old case in the age of modern superheroism in film). As a result, the roles are switched from the first film and Elastigirl is now out in the field reliving the glory days while Mr. Incredible stays at home to help the kids: Whether it be Dash’s (Huck Milner) math homework, Violet’s (Sarah Vowell) teen angst, keeping tabs on baby Jack-Jack’s developing array of powers, or simply finding time to catch up on sleep. Both storylines parallel the bulk of what made the first Incredibles so engaging and at first glance this sequel may seem derivative, but at its core there are lessons to be learned for both parents.
While the themes of the movie can be inconsistent at times (sometimes it’s about keeping a family afloat, other times it’s about the world’s dependence on screens), the story and narrative are a blast. Elastigirl gets to show off the flexibility of her powers and her action scenes are yet another display of Pixar’s attention to detail and pacing. One sequence, wherein Elastigirl acquires a new Elasti-Cycle, allows her to show off her resourcefulness and quick decision-making in the field while keeping the scene fun and engaging for anyone. It makes you wish that this movie was solely focused on Elastigirl’s adventures, or hope for a prequel of such. Holly Hunter is as charismatic as she was as Elastigirl fourteen years ago, and even when she is kicking butt in the streets, there’s an agency to her that tells you she is still a mother and she is doing all of this for the betterment of her children – something all parents can relate to when it comes to taking the necessary steps to provide. While Elastigirl’s arc provides the excitement for Incredibles 2, it’s Mr. Incredible staying home and minding Dash, Violet, and Jack-Jack that really pulled me in – only because it shows being super for Mr. Incredible doesn’t strictly require physical strength.
Even if you don’t have kids, Mr. Incredible’s story in Incredibles 2 shows how trying it can be keeping your house afloat, especially when you’re down one parent. Mr. Incredible learns that the real super villain isn’t some evil mastermind or a bomb set to destroy the city; it’s a lack of sleep and the fact that he has to wake up the next morning and do it all over again. It’s certainly a continuation of Mr. Incredible’s story in the original, which is a great touch because Incredibles 2 does pick up where the first one left off and it is clear Mr. Incredible is still struggling with some of the same issues. He still doesn’t know his place in the world, especially now that Supers could be returning and his wife holds the spotlight in his place. He struggles with his masculinity before realizing the best way to be super is to care for those who need caring, no powers required. Where the first Incredibles addresses family over pride, Incredibles 2 goes the same route as Caesar in the new Planet of the Apes trilogy: “Apes together strong.” Only in Incredibles 2, it’s “Family together strong.”
Great action and characters aside, the movie isn’t perfect. While I’ll always believe there’s no such thing as a perfect movie, there are some concrete examples here: the villain, Screenslaver (Bill Wise), isn’t that compelling and the big third-act twist I saw from a mile away. I can let this slide, however, because it’s pretty tough to follow a villain as good as Syndrome (Jason Lee) in the original. Syndrome has the perfect motivation and acts as the perfect villain for the protagonist, Mr. Incredible. Seeing as Elastigirl is certainly more the protagonist in this run, it would have been great to have a villain who has some connection to Elastigirl’s past, but it’s simply not here and I couldn’t get past the scant motivation. The pacing isn’t as fluid as the first either. I rewatched the first Incredibles the night before I saw the second and while both are pretty much the same runtime (just about two hours), the first feels significantly better paced. Sometimes Mr. Incredible’s time at home feels like a crawl, but then again I’m sure that’s how parenting can feel at times. Elastigirl’s and Mr. Incredible’s stories weave in and out of each other seamlessly, regardless. I was never disappointed when we checked back in with Mr. Incredible hating math or Elastigirl meeting a slew of Supers motivated by her heroism.
To say Incredibles 2 is a fun time is an understatement. It’s funny, it’s endearing, and full of action. Supporting favorites Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) and Edna Mode (Brad Bird, yes the director) only add to the experience – and 2018 computer animation is certainly on Frozone’s side with his array of powers. The only instance where Incredibles 2 falters for me is it just isn’t as profound as the first one. I distinctly remember Syndrome in the first film explaining how if everybody is super, no one is, and even to this day that philosophy affects me. Incredibles 2 doesn’t have anything as penetrating as that for me, period.
Sequels are always a tough hurdle, especially when such a sequel as this comes from a near-flawless predecessor and fourteen years between the two. The 2004 original cast a long, long shadow as time went on and Incredibles 2 (2018) handles that time away from the super-family with ease. It works as a succinct follow up to the first and never loses sight of what makes this family truly incredible.