The superhero film industry would be wise to look at exactly what Disney-Pixar’s Incredibles 2 has accomplished. Comic book hero sequels typically hinge on the boring formula of a hero, after riding the highs of success, succumbing to a predictable “even more powerful than me” downfall.
But this film has a particularly impressive director: Brad Bird, the animation-storytelling wunderkind behind the emotional likes of The Iron Giant, Ratatouille, and the original Incredibles. Default tropes won’t cut it.
Thus, Incredibles 2 wins by playing its established characters against each other in delightful ways, all while focusing Pixar’s special-effects portfolio on new and exciting cartoon antics.
A new villain: Responsibility
An opening catch-everyone-up sequence pits the Parr family against a city-destroying menace, with a welcome cameo from the original film’s best ally, the ice-blasting Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson). While the Incredibles (parents and kids alike) ultimately save the day, the collateral damage is too much for the city to bear, and the public debacle puts a cap on recent anti-superhero sentiment.
Lawmakers quickly step in. Superheroes are illegal now. The family is forced to duck into a sad motel with two weeks of free rent (thanks to old friends), a scramble to find a new non-hero living, and a lot of conflict between parents and kids. All the “we’re proud of you” from the end of the first film has gone out the window, and the parents’ control-freak status returns.
Conveniently enough, a mysterious, super-rich pair of siblings appear with a sales pitch to the heroes: we want to Make Superheroes Legal Again. (This specific four-word phrase is used a few times but, in good news, is ultimately a red herring and not at all an allusion to a similar-sounding political phrase.) Their plan is admittedly weird: the telecom empire of Devtech will help established heroes find and thwart crimes, then publicize the good deeds through first-person hero camera feeds.
Pixar has officially entered the action-film historical canon.
It’s the kind of lawless-vigilante move that Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) soundly rejects in a private (and hilarious) chat with her husband mere hours before Winston and Evelyn Deavor make the offer. So why the heck do the Incredibles sign on? Because the company insists that Elastigirl should be the first and only hero to take part. She’s buttered up about her versatility and ability to avoid collateral damage, which Devtech says is imperative for their lawless effort to work.
So it’s settled. Elastigirl will sport a sexy new suit, ride on a new, all-electric motorcycle, and save the day. Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) will stay home with the kids so that all heroes (but, really, he) can resume their duties.
And this is where the movie really cranks up.
As the sole hero in two of the film’s best action scenes, Elastigirl is an absolute marvel of abilities, movement, and silliness. In particular, Pixar has officially entered the action-film historical canon with a top-20 all-time scene, in which she must chase a runaway monorail train on her high-tech bike—which can split in half for the sake of her body-bending powers—and stop a major crash. This scene alone feels like the result of Bird spending years dreaming about Elastigirl’s power potential.
Meanwhile, the generic-and-lumbering Mr. Incredible is floored by his most diabolical villain yet: responsibility. His effort to rear three tempestuous kids is rife with comic relief, and Pixar wastes no opportunity to show how draining it can be to deal with a lovesick daughter, a troublemaking son, and… well, the most insane baby of all time.
The Parr family finally learns what the original film’s audience knew about baby Jack-Jack’s superpower potential. Just as the last film hinted, Jack-Jack has more than one power—though I’ll spare you spoilers of exactly what he’s capable of. Still, it’s not a spoiler to say that we first see his madcap potential fully realized in a wacky, unforgettable showdown in the family’s backyard. This “battle” combines absurdity with so much epic staging and choreography that I want to send the scene on a burnt DVD to Zack Snyder’s house in the hopes that it drives him to retire.
Mr. Incredible’s gaffes and struggles feed into a predictable-yet-organic path to redemption, in which he rediscovers family and status as a role model. The result is not quite as moving and gut-wrenching as Elastigirl’s speech from the first Incredibles to her children, warning them that they may truly fail and die—but it also doesn’t try to note-for-note copy that kind of emotional arc.
The film’s weakest moments come when explanatory scenes appear to be trimmed or downright cut to maintain a brisk pace. Mr. and Mrs. Parr leave some of their early-film conflict apparently unresolved; Violet and Dash’s dad issues are abruptly dealt with; and the film’s primary villain, Screenslaver, has an anti-technology manifesto, but it’s quietly tucked into one chase sequence without being acknowledged or fleshed out. I’m curious if there’ll ever be a slower “director’s cut” that adds a little more emotion and resolution to the proceedings.
Yet all of those lapses are quite slight, and they don’t result in glaring holes in plot or logic. In spite of some admittedly predictable plot beats and an all-too-tidy conclusion, Incredibles 2 juggles a lot of moving parts—multiple kinds of sibling rivalry, an intense husband-wife conflict, and a full deck of new tertiary heroes—without dropping any logic or momentum or feeling like a first-film carbon-copy. (New hero Vortex, in particular, combines a very Portal-like superpower with her own touching struggles with anxiety.) It’s fun, it’s funny, it’s dark, and it lets every member of the family enjoy something on their level without feeling like the film compromises to make room for all ages.
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