The Incredibles 2

After a fourteen year wait, the sequel to 2004’s The Incredibles has finally come to the big screen.  In today’s sequel-heavy climate, it’s a bit surprising that it’s taken so long.  Indeed, nowadays we could hardly have been surprised if those 14 years had been filled with a part 2, a part 3, a prequel and baby Jack-Jack getting his own spinoff trilogy.

But as it is, we’ve just got one film…finally.  Not that we haven’t wanted more.  The first film was a real winner–it successfully blended fun action sequences with stylish visuals, engaging characters, lots of humor and a decent plot.  The superhero stuff in particular, whilst not original to anyone with familiar with comics, was visually innovative and, generally speaking, way cooler than anything we’d seen in animation up to that point.

So how does this sequel measure up?  Does it measure up to the expectations that we have of a sequel of one of the famed superhero family animated classic?

The Incredibles 2

Well, not entirely.

There are a lot of things to like about the movie.  Chief among them is the visuals.  The Incredibles 2 doubles down on the first movie’s retro-modern style and showcases that with some truly epic animated action sequences.  I remember in the first movie’s DVD commentary, they talked about how tricky it was showing Mr. Incredible’s fingers showing through a hole in his old costume; there’s no doubt that technology is miles past such concerns now.  Characters move and use their powers with such fluidity and dynamism that I couldn’t help but be swept along.

The highlight character is Elastigirl.  For me one of the most important elements of a superhero film is actually showing the heroes doing cool stuff–I want to see them use their abilities in innovative, intelligent and creative ways.  Elastigirl was one of the best characters in this regard in the first movie, and here she is even better.  She gets a lot to do in the story, and gets the best treatment as far as “super-powered screentime,”  …although this is possibly to the detriment of the other characters.  Only Jack-Jack comes close, with Violet a distant third, along with a new character called Voyd.

But really whenever any of them would actually do something cool, I found myself wishing that we could see Marvel and DC make animated movies with this sort of power.  Maybe we will, when Into the Spider-Verse comes along.

The musical score, by Michael Giacchino was also a treat, as well as, believe it or not, the movie’s title design.  And really, there’s nothing blatantly wrong with the film.  The characters are funny, the family drama relatable, and Brad Bird’s direction sharp and gripping.

But the story is a bit all over the place, and just a bit too derivative to be fully enjoyable.

I know, it’s sequel, and thus derivative by its very existence.  But if we cast our mind back to another part of Pixar’s impressive oeuvre, we come across Toy Story 2, and we realize it is possible to make a sequel that does it all.  That film managed to honor the original, without feeling like it was just treading the same ground.  It was able to expand the world in new directions, without feeling like it was betraying what had come before.  And it was able to tell a quality standalone story at the same time.  So yes, it is possible.

The Incredibles 2 fills its scenes with impressive superhero action, with amusing family dynamics, and a little bit of angst about finding one’s identity.  And along the way, we get Lucius / Frozone being cool, Jack-Jack being cute, and fashionista Edna Mode stealing the show for one or two scenes.  It’s all great, it’s what we want to see, but it just doesn’t quite add up.

There’s just a bit too much that feels like a retread of where we’ve been before, and maybe just a bit too much in general.  For the second time in two movies, we have a villain who is a technological genius, who has a grudge against superheroes as a species. Both villains manipulate our protagonists by giving them a chance to be heroes again in a world that doesn’t really trust them.  In both films, the Incredibles don’t seem to recognize the fairly blatant signs of deception.  And in the end of both films, the public at large comes to recognize, appreciate, and even embrace the idea of “supers” as part of their daily lives.

And while the main plot with Elastigirl trying to win public support for superheros gets underway, the rest of her family wanders through a series of domestic difficulties that are amusing but don’t really link in thematically.  So while it’s diverting to see Bob’s misadventures as a stay-at-home dad (dealing with Violet’s anger about her boyfriend, Dash struggling with homework, and Jack-Jack’s new tricks) it really seems like the script is trying to make sure everyone has something to do during the bits that really just belongs to Helen.

Thus it’s all a bit disjointed until the film finally gets around to revealing it’s villain and getting on with things.  And that might have been worth it if the reveal had been interesting, but it’s not.  The true villain of The Incredibles 2 is not really a surprise to anyone (except for the characters, it seems), which is shame because the script has spent a lot of time and dialogue trying to invest in this idea that the revelation is going to somehow shocking.

Maybe what I’m saying comes across as too negative for what, really, was a fine movie, and one that my whole family liked.  But I kept wanting more.  There are a lot of times that The Incredibles 2 delivers some fun, but it’s not quite enough.  Helen gets this awesome stretch-friendly motorcycle, but then it’s gone.  Jack-Jack has a funny fight with raccoon, but then it’s over before it starts.  Frozone’s sassy wife makes an appearance, Dash and Violet have to fight mind-controlled superheroes, really, tons of good stuff…but the movie is too eager to fit in the next idea or get onto the next bit to take the time really enjoy much of it.  And other material that’s not that interesting, like a troop of amateur superheroes who end up becoming assistant villains, get screen-time that really should have gone to Dash doing cool stuff at super-speed.

Seriously, this was a film that needed more Dash doing cool stuff at super-speed…and to move beyond an ending (the heroes, having finally gained acceptance from both the world and themselves, race off into action) that is pretty much the same one that the original film had

So let me be clear, The Incredibles 2 is not bad, and there is a lot that is good–even very good.  There’s a sequence where Elastigirl is sneaking around a villain’s lair and ends up fighting in an overlit closet that’s amazing to look at.  You’ll probably love the whole thing, really.

But it’s just a bit too busy with all its business to ever become truly great.  And after this 14 year wait, I can’t help to just be a little bit disappointed with that.

 

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