Movie Reviews

Incredibles 2: Worthy of its Name

Full disclosure right up front: The Incredibles is, hands down, my favorite Pixar movie. I remember going to see it opening night 14 years ago, and being, well, incredibly excited (sorry, I had to do at least one Incredibles pun, so I might as well get it out of the way early). It was my two favorite things as a kid coming together into one movie: Disney/Pixar, and superheroes. And it completely held up to my expectations. Kid me appreciated the movie for its humor and action, while adult me, rewatching it, loves its nuanced approach to family relationships and some pretty heavy philosophical and thematic content for an animated film. It was essentially the greatest Fantastic Four film that’ll likely ever be made, and probably the best Watchmen film, too. It was an excellent  deconstruction of the superhero genre before it even really existed, as well as being an excellent spy thriller, with notes of old-school James Bond and Mission Impossible with it’s now-iconic score. It was a childhood favorite of mine, and still remains in rotation as one of my favorite movies to just put on and relax. (As a side note, I consider The Incredibles to be such a huge part of my childhood that I was almost offended seeing young kids in line for the sequel. They weren’t even alive when the original came out! Come on, kids. This movie is for me, not you.)

But as much as I loved the film, I never wanted a sequel. Despite the fact that there’s a near infinite amount of territory that a potential sequel could cover, I just never imagined that there was a need for it. The first film does such an amazing job at covering all the thematic ground that it sets out to explore that it always felt, to me, completely unnecessary to continue the story. And given Pixar’s track record with non-Toy Story sequels and prequels (I’m looking at you, Cars 2), it seemed like any attempt at a second Incredibles movie would ultimately never hold a candle to the original. Expectations were just too high. I would have strongly preferred the franchise to simply rest, rather than have its reputation tarnished by a mediocre follow-up.

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Well, despite my initial reservations, I can happily report that Incredibles 2 is indeed a worthy successor to the original. It takes everything fun, original, and exciting about the first film, and expands upon them in an amazingly organic way. It follows the first film almost immediately, allowing it to keep the same momentum going well into its own first act, and making the two films almost seamless in how they relate to one another. In fact, the spirit of Incredibles 2 is so much like the first that I’d wager they could be shown together as one film and not lose any steam.

The Parr family is just as fun as ever, with each member getting their own spotlight at some point during the film. The film is predominantly about Elastigirl, seeking to not only restore the legality of superheroes, but also to grow out of her husband’s shadow and assert herself as an equal. Meanwhile, Bob is home with the kids, learning how to grow past his superhero ego and act as a normal, responsible parent. And both of these aspects are handled in a way that doesn’t feel cliché or predictable, despite their thematic familiarity. Since the kids all experienced their character growth in the first film, they are now free to operate as fully-realized characters, playing off each other without having to reestablish their where their minds are. With Violet and Dash now fairly adept at hero work, having gained expertise with their powers previously, the spotlight turns to the unpredictable and adorably over-powered Jack-Jack, who is definitely a highlight. Returning characters like Frozone and Edna Mode all get fantastic moments in the film, without ever feeling pigeonholed in. Edna in particular gets some of the film’s funniest moments, much like in the first, without every retreading the same ground. This is one of the things I’m most impressed by with Incredibles 2: It doesn’t rest too heavily on the legacy of its predecessor. There’s no cheap callbacks, no lazy “Haha, remember this?” moments relying on the audience’s meme-like knowledge of the first film’s jokes and gags (“Where’s my supersuit?!” though does make a brief, albeit slightly altered comeback, though, which I’m willing to forgive because, come on, it’s iconic!). Nor does it repeat any of the character arcs of lessons that we’ve already seen. There’s an impressive maturity in the way that this film handles the further growth of its characters, one that future sequels, animated or otherwise, should make note of. The new characters are also great, with Bob Odenkirk obviously being a standout as the philanthropic and excitable Winston Deavor, who bankrolls the movement to reinstate superhero legality around the world. Cathrine Keener is equally charming as his sister Evelyn, playing a much more subdued and relaxed counterpart to Odenkirk’s typical high-energy, fast-talking style.

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I was ridiculously impressed by the animation quality. After rewatching the first film, I can safely say, it shows its age. The characters look stiff, and have some difficulty really emoting. But in the decade or so that’s passed since the original’s release, Pixar has really stepped up their game. There were moments in Incredibles 2 where I was genuinely in awe of this film’s crispness and realism. Fabric in this movie is absolutely gorgeously rendered, to the point where there were several scenes where I was so distracted by the folds in Mr. Incredible’s loungewear that I caught myself ignoring the actual dialogue in the scene. The way the characters move is also incredibly life-like and organic, with each exhibiting subtle, realistic physical ticks and quirks that really make them feel like living, breathing people. And that same realism is applied to the fantastic action as well, which is fast- paced and dynamic, with a real sense of momentum and weight. With newer animation technology, this film really gets to show-off the Parr family’s powers in a way that the first film could only really touch on. Seeing Elastigirl vault, slingshot, and swing her way across a city feels almost more exciting that watching even some of the MCU’s most fun superhero action sequences. The set pieces in this film share that feeling as well, often with the same adrenaline one comes to expect from live-action superhero films, only in animated form. Helping this is Michael Giacchino impeccable score, building on the brilliant, 60s-sounding spy music of the original.

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Now, this isn’t to say the movie is perfect. In fact, it has one pretty glaring flaw: its villain. Syndrome was an interesting, compelling character. You completely understood his motivations: He feels jilted by Mr. Incredible for not allowing him to join the world of  the Supers, fueling a sense of inadequacy that would ultimately leave him to adopting a philosophy of arming the rest of “normal” humanity, making them all on par with his childhood heroes (and making him a hero in the process). The flashback at the start of the film showed us exactly where his grudge originated, and we clearly see his thought process and emotional journey. The film also makes no real attempt at hiding his identity, revealing it fairly early on. However, Incredibles 2 finds itself with no real Syndrome figure. There is a central villain, but the film never gives the audience any real reason to sympathize with them. They seem almost just evil for evil’s sake, with their motivations being incredibly petty and circumstantial. We see why they’re evil, we just don’t have any real reason to care. There’s also no personal connection to the heroes, like there was with Syndrome, losing some of their emotional impact as a result. The worst aspect of the character, however, is their sheer predictability. You can pretty much guess who they are from the first scene in which they appear. In fact, you may even be able to guess it just based on the trailers. And it’s a shame, too, because the “ScreenSlaver” makes some legitimately fascinating points about society’s overreliance on technology, which the film just sort of brushes aside. Ultimately, this makes the film’s climax seem rather underwhelming, with the stakes feeling much less dire than the original.

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But even in spite of a weak villain, the sequel still manages to capture all the heart and fun of the original without feeling stale or redundant. If this is what Brad Bird can deliver after such a long wait, I say give him another 15 years or so for a third film. Until then, go see Incredibles 2 as soon as you can! It’s honestly one of the most entertaining and joyous experiences I’ve had in a theatre in a long, long time.

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