I’m probably the A-1 Incredibles disliker. When I finally saw it, a few years after its release, I found it a pleasant enough diversion, and then I spent the next decade scratching my head anytime someone would bring up Brad Bird’s name whenever the internet commentariat was fishing around for fantasy casting their favorite potential Justice League or Superman directors. After I caught up to The Iron Giant even years later, I started to at least see it a little more, but that first adventure with the Parrs struck me as little more than middle of the road Pixar (for the record, I think Inside Out is their crowning achievement to date, and Pete Docter the finest filmmaker in their stable). After a rather big case of the extremes – the acclaimed Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, and the derided Tomorrowland – in his foray into live-action, Bird returns to the characters that really helped launch his reputation in fanboy circles. And really, as a piece of entertainment, it’s totally fine.
Despite a 14 year gap between productions, the long delayed Incredibles 2 picks up in very short order, with the Parr family (Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, Huck Milner) taking on the villain, The Underminer, who popped up the very end of the first film and caused them to return to action. After dispatching of him and causing some significant damage in the process, we see that the Parrs are currently living in a motel and at the very end of the kind services that Rick Dicker (now played by Jonathan Banks) is able to provide them as part of the Superhero Relocation Program.
At perhaps their lowest point, they are contacted by billionaire tycoon Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) and his sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener), who have designed a plan to get superheroes back into the good graces of the public. In a turnabout from the first film, they elect to have Elastigirl be the test case for this effort, and she hits the streets again in her superhero duds, while Mr. Incredible has the equally tough task of being a stay at home parent for three super-powered children. And then, a new villain called the Screenslaver appears on the scene…and suddenly the family finds themselves facing their toughest challenge(s) yet.
The biggest struggle sequel finds is that it really doesn’t have anything new to say that wasn’t present in the first film. The Parrs’ struggle to remain relevant in a world that constantly wants to reject them is just as present here as it was in 2004. And while the original film is not a favorite of mine, it at least propelled itself on the spirit of invention, particularly in its retro-60’s environs and repurposing of some of the standard superhero tropes (and a dash of Watchmen) into fun for the whole family well ahead of the Marvel Studios crew. And there’s just so much here that’s simply one big retread, at least where Bob and Helen are concerned, and the larger story regarding their partnership with the Deavor siblings. It’s all too familiar, with story turns you’ll see coming a mile away. The one benefit of this sequence of events is that it does give way to a set of newer heroes, and watching their powers on display in the film’s almost never ending supply of action sequences, is one of its big visual delights. I was particularly fond of Voyd, a heroine who can create portals that leads to some really neat looking approaches to throwing punches.
But where the elder Incredibles are leaning more towards being the Mediocres, the children get a little more to do that tickled my fancy. For example, Violet has a subplot that sees her head over heels for a boy at school who early on learns her big secret, and the way that is dealt with is one of the intriguing bits of thematic meat that’s tossed aside and a little too underexplored, but is at least inching towards something approaching novel for this sequel. And of course, little Jack Jack’s growing power-set is probably the real star of the show. Watching the Baby Incredible get into a fight with a raccoon gave way to one my deeper chuckles, and I was giggling right along with those 8 year olds, and his Franklin Richards-esque ability to conjure up almost any ability at will is when Incredibles 2 is at its most playful and joyous, rather than giving way to the sense that Bird was being drug across the finish line for a sequel he had only a modicum of actual interest in.
The other big thing I found kind of intriguing was the occasional dalliance into mini-Objectivist diversions at brief moments within Bird’s script. I know for years, people have claimed that the first film has its share of Randian-esque leanings, and maybe there’s something to be said for Syndrome’s scheme as a sort of pro-egalitarian stand-in/”when everyone is super, no one is”, but I always found that to be a stretch. But here, when Helen and Evelyn have an extended conversation about who is more important between creators vs. sellers or when a policeman chastises an arrested young man to “not blame it on the system”, among a few other small almost unnoticeable moments, those comparisons zapped right back into my brain. In a way, it was kind of exciting, as it felt like it was the moment when the filmmaker behind it all was finally peeking out at me. Or maybe I was just so bored at points, I was trying to hang onto anything that was going to pique my interest.
I carry an admitted ongoing struggle with Pixar offerings that lean heavier on the action, and find myself preferring the somewhat more subdued adventuring of Bird’s own Ratatouille, or those lauded first 10 minutes of Up we can’t seem to stop talking about. These more action-focused computer animation features tend to make these eyes glaze over, especially when the big set-pieces click into place. It all just starts to become static fuzz. And Incredibles 2, along with its predecessor, cements that for me. But I’ve also made my peace with the fact that these simply are NOT MOVIES MADE FOR ME. And the kids who surrounded me at the screening ate it up like manna from heaven. It clearly connects with its intended audience, and whether that audience is you is really all you need to know before going in.