Letterboxd Review: Incredibles 2 (2018)
Belated sequels almost never work out. Too often, with more than a decade since the first entry in the series, there's an instinct to reacquire the zeitgeist and affection for it through simple, rote mechanics. Remember this line? Remember last time when they did this? Remember your favorite scene? It's the cinematic equivalent of microwaved leftovers. This rehash problem never seems to affect Pixar films nearly as bad, however. Now, after fourteen years, one of the best-loved of the animation juggernaut's early triumphs has been given a follow-up that stands proudly on its own next to the Toy Story sequels and Finding Dory as a mark of quality, care, and invention.
It's funny that 2004's The Incredibles is hailed by a lot of movie fans as the most ideal adaptation of Marvel's Fantastic Four. The film was made long before Disney would hold the rights to an entire multiverse of existing superhero properties, and therefore Pixar was tasked with creating their own. Not only were the characters rich and fully realized, they were also cast terrifically and given a personal story that dovetailed nicely with their larger-than-life heroics. And, in proper comic book superhero parlance, the character designs and the visual motif of the film were just as important to the storytelling. It's a great movie, and it's timeless. It holds up just great. How do you pull off a sequel to that?
Brad Bird answers this with an escalation of the stakes, a smart reflection on the new superhero landscape of 2018, and a further deepening of those same characters and their relationships. It sounds deathly serious, but really it succeeds the most by still being primarily a fun family comedy aimed at children. Craig T. Nelson and Holly Hunter return as Bob and Helen Parr, superheroes and parents to Violet, Dash, and Jack-Jack. Now that the long-retired Mr. Incredible and ElastiGirl have donned their tights once again, some eccentric billionaires have come out of the shadows to fund their heroics and lobby for the repeal of the ban on superheroes. The catch is that they have to start out small, with one hero as their pilot program. This time out, Helen gets to save the city and usher in a new group of superpowered allies while Bob stays at home with the kids.
Bird almost seems to be daring an audience to say it's been too long, as the film opens immediately on the confrontation with the villainous Underminer teased at the end of the first film fourteen years ago. This works fantastically, thanks to the spot-on 1960s futurism in the design of the world that renders it appropriately timeless, as well as the vocal work from Nelson, Hunter, Samuel L. Jackson, and Sarah Vowell. Stepping right back into their characters without a single syllable tripping them up, the cast sounds absolutely invigorated to be back. The new plot smartly adapts to the post-Wonder Woman landscape and provides Helen with the meaty storyline, tracking a techno-terrorist and attempting to step into the spotlight as a standalone hero. Whereas the first film was content with the bulk of the action taking place on a remote island, we now have collateral damage, infrastructure problems, corruption threatening the city, all the kind of stuff that superhero stories need to grow and sequels need to up the stakes.
That's not to say that Bob's less immediate domestic story isn't amusing; Craig T. Nelson long ago perfected the charm necessary to portray the typical clueless dad type, but as the voice of an animated indestructible Hercules dad he provides a frantic energy that makes for an apt shift from the sedated, frustrated, depressed insurance rep we met early in the first film. And while it's always fun to watch an action sequence featuring a daring hero punching and flying around--and boy, does this film have a couple of really great sequences like that--a superhero story now, in 2018, demands some sort of relatable parallel.
To say that Brad Bird might need to overhaul this franchise's villain department is...fair, but the plot behind the treacherous ScreenSlaver absolutely works even if the adults in the crowd see the twists coming from miles away. I'm ready for a third entry to explore the idea of a villain who is gifted with superpowers rather than a Bruce Wayne type with an unlimited bank account and a gift for gadgetry. Lately I've been reading that a lot of folks find Bird's filmography to contain some Ayn Rand style of commentary on innovation, technology, individualism, and exceptionalism that might rub an audience the wrong way. I see what said folks are talking about, sure. If you squint hard enough, pretty much any superhero story is going to have something to say about individualism and exceptionalism, but typically Bird keeps the "rational self-interest" parts of Randian thinking assigned to the technologically-savvy villains.
After a decade and a half of animation progress, and Bird's maturation as a filmmaker (I maintain that his Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol was a leap forward for him), it's comforting to know that an early triumph of the studio and the genre is still in capable hands.
Rating: ✰✰✰✰ 1/2
This review is a part of Kyle's Letterboxd profile, which includes reviews and movie lists not covered here at the blog, including a ranking of several franchises and excerpts from the book, Cinema Autopsy, which is available on the Amazon Kindle store.