Incredibles 2 is everything we want from a sequel and everything we want from Pixar; fun, funny, and worth the wait.
Incredibles 2 is both everything we want from a sequel and everything we want from Pixar. It’s fun and funny and colourful enough for all the family, but smart enough in its ideas, themes, and development of the same that the adults who enjoyed the first film as children will feel what a difference fifteen years has made – even if the story itself picks up just seconds after the last one ended.
For a long time Pixar mostly shied away from sequels, and writer-director Brad Bird himself insisted for over a decade that his 2004 animated classic was the story he wanted to tell; that he had no interest in telling more of it. And yet here we are. Nobody can really say why. It might be that with Toy Story and Cars and Monsters Inc. and Finding Nemo, Pixar has well and truly gotten over its sequelitis. It might be that superhero movies – and subversions of superhero movies – are currently at a previously-unimaginable level of cultural prominence. It could just as easily be that Bird’s big live-action auteur project, Tomorrowland, was a giant, unmitigated disaster. Who knows?
More importantly, who cares?
Certainly not me, although that isn’t to say I wasn’t cynical. The Incredibles, contrary to popular belief, wasn’t really an origin story. And even though it ended on what was ostensibly a cliffhanger, a sequel didn’t just seem unnecessary to me but also, in a way, counter-intuitive. It took Incredibles 2 roughly five minutes to dispel those concerns. As the Parr family pursue The Underminer, a subterranean bank robber who emerged at the end of the first film, I was immediately grabbed again by the retro aesthetic, the Michael Giacchino score, the endlessly inventive action; the sheer radiating personality of the whole enterprise. Superficial? Maybe. But enough? Definitely.
The outcome of that opening is a lot of damage and destruction. The Underminer escapes with the bank’s money, which was insured, and it’s carefully explained by officials that this kind of thing is the very reason superpowered vigilantism was criminalised in the first place. It would have been better to do nothing. But what does that say about society? What does it say about truth and justice, and a host of other cultural concerns?
Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) and his sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener), telecom billionaires, believe that the world would be safer if superheroes were legal. Their plan to make costumed crimefighters great again is to strap them with body cameras and live-stream their heroic deeds. The people only see what the media shows them; the bodycount, the destruction. The Deavors pick Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) as the cost-effective face of their campaign, and with the government program that keeps superheroes’ identities secret facing budget cuts, their money and public-relations muscle seems an enticing prospect to the Parrs and their family friend, Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson).
You’ll recognise some of these themes from the first film: the perils of a nanny-state, particularly an always-online one; exceptionalism trumping mediocrity; the allure of nonconformity. The characters mostly retrace similar arcs and relearn the same lessons, and there’s a case to be made that the fact they fall into a scheme so similar to the scheme they fell into last time (which, in the film’s timeline, was only days prior) undermines some of the character work. But with Elastigirl in the spotlight and Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) reduced to stay-at-home dad to three superpowered children, there’s a freshness to the setup that keeps Incredibles 2 feeling brisk and new, despite the similarities.
It helps that the kids are given their own things to do, even if Dash (Huck Milner) is noticeably underwritten and underused. Violet (Sarah Vowell) has a teen-romance subplot which is complicated by a memory wipe, and baby Jack-Jack’s burgeoning powers add a reliably hysterical complication to proceedings. Babies are difficult enough, even when they don’t spontaneously combust or walk through walls.
Bird, as he often does, is playing with societal expectations. The husband stays at home while the wife goes out to work; the baby doesn’t need much looking after. Throughout the two-hour runtime he inserts new heroes, some of whom are stand-ins for cultural trends, like our tendency to obsess over screens. But in Incredibles 2, his talents as a writer often give way to his talents as a composer of imaginative imagery. This film, and I say this with all seriousness, contains perhaps the best action sequences of the year. They’re triumphs of imagination and graceful momentum, seguing one into the other with seamless, effortless panache. Pixar films are famously beautiful, but rarely this beautiful, and almost never in motion. It’s a stellar technical achievement.
And, really, a stellar achievement, full stop. As I said before, Incredibles 2 is just what we want from a sequel – a family one, in particular. It’s more of the same, but not idly repeated. It relocates what we loved about the movie the first time around, and serves it to us again, presented slightly differently each time. If some of the concept’s novelty has been diluted, it’s gained a little more contemporary flavouring. Incredibles 2 is a movie of today, but like all good Pixar films, it’s timeless.