I was 18 when The Incredibles was released, fresh after my first summer out of high school and starting my college studies in film and television. It was the 6th Pixar film, and their 5th original film overall, and the first to come written and directed from someone who didn’t come home grown out of Pixar: The Iron Giant helmer Brad Bird. It was unlike anything Pixar had done before, and unlike any featured animated film before it. Packed with legit superhero action, a perfect and heartfelt family dynamic, and themes that weren’t afraid to get just a smidge mature, The Incredibles was a full blown critical and commercial success. It managed to pick up two Oscars and went on to be considered one of the best animated films, hell, one of the best superhero films ever made. Which is why it’s always been crazy that it hadn’t got a sequel until now.
Superheroes are made for continuous stories, it’s in their nature as a storytelling device. Comic books and the characters that fill them are our modern day parables and myths, so it was refreshing that we got a completely original creation like The Incredibles, but sad when we didn’t get more. To their credit, Pixar and Bird weren’t content with just rolling out another sequel, instead wanting to find a story that is worth making as a follow up.
Frankly, if they keep cranking them out as good as this, they can have all the time they want.
Incredibles 2 picks up literally right where the first film ended, with the Parr family taking on The Underminer in a rollicking opening action scene. Unfortunately for the supers, their heroics are still illegal in the world, and they‘re apprehended soon after. With their house still blown up from the previous film’s finale, and their government safety blanket gone, the Parrs are forced to relocate to a motel. Fortunately, superhero loving tycoon Winston Deavor pitches them a plan to get superheroes back into the good graces of the public and make their heroic actions legal again. With the less-destructive Elastigirl taking the spotlight for this new campaign, Mr. Incredible is left trying to keep home life from spiraling into madness as a new villain emerges to make life difficult for everyone.
The script and characters are as whip-smart and witty as you’d expect from Bird, and all the voice actors, from Holly Hunter and Craig T. Nelson to Samuel L. Jackson and newcomers Bob Odenkirk and Catherine Keneer are outstanding and effective. Even Bird himself returns to voice the hilarious Edna Mode once more, making perfect character-based callbacks while giving everyone new material and situations to work with.
What really sets the film apart is the way that Bird can stage a sequence, be it an action scene where Elastigirl is chasing a runaway hover train or comedic sequences like when Mr. Incredible learns to deal with baby Jack-Jack’s growing power set. Bird has a gifted eye that never steers him wrong, and the creativity practically pours off the screen.
One of the things that has always impressed me about The Incredibles as a superhero franchise is how it manages to be the best version of The Fantastic Four brought to the silver screen. The powers don’t exactly match up, sure, but their close enough to make the comparison. Incredibles 2 solidifies this further, giving us never-before-seen superpower applications that thrill and excite. Elastigirl and her new Elasticycle feature in one prominent action sequence that is more creative and breathtaking in ways that Mr. Fantastic and his stretching abilities have NEVER been. Violet and her invisibility and force fields are used in ways that Sue Storm should be fuming over. Sure, punching things really hard is cool, and running really fast is fun, but seeing Elastigirl use her arms as a slingshot and then transition herself into a kite to fly between buildings is just AWESOME.
Making Elastigirl the main character this time around works wonders for not only the family dynamic but also in the different situations that the characters find themselves in. While Elastigirl gets some of the best action sequences, it’s the rest of the family, particularly Mr. Incredible and Jack-Jack, that get the biggest laughs. Sure, the Mr. Mom scenario isn’t anything new, but introducing additional elements such as superpowers and the fate of the world have a way of freshening things up. Jack-Jack in particular gets an extended sequence squaring off against a pesky raccoon that might be one of the funniest things Pixar has ever done. it’s a sequence that incorporates slapstick, wit, and hilarious visuals into a sequence that made the audience roar with laughter.
Bird is excellent at balancing the family dynamic in the film, and even though having the mom take the lead fits perfectly into the growing trend of putting females front and center, it never gets preachy and or heavy handed. You could even make the argument that superheroes being illegal and the PR campaign to bring them back into the spotlight could mirror other real-world events and causes, but Bird never brings that real world into it. Some may see this as a slight, but it feels instead like refreshingly focused storytelling, focusing on why things could be great instead of why they’re terrible.
It’s also a deft storytelling move to set the film immediately after the first rather than age the characters up with the 14 year span between films. There are so many more interesting stories that can be told of a family of superheroes that really only has one big victory under their belt. Sure, some of the stuff with the kids is a bit repetitive, but the Jack-Jack scenes are among the films funniest, and seeing Mr. Incredible run ragged as a stay at home dad is never boring.
The animation is improved in every way, shape, and form, but still retains the same aesthetics from the original. Sure, the faces are a bit more details, and the suits seem more slick and shiny, but it’s never a distraction. Rather, the improvements to animation help flesh out the world and build it in a way that is deep and detailed. Explosions are more realistic, chases are fast and more exhilarating. One big winner with the animation upgrade is the villain Screenslaver, who uses flashing strobe screens to hypnotize his victims. There’s one particular fight sequence where this effect is used very strongly, heightening the threat of the situation that struck me as really impressive.
It’s also important to note that this is one of the more recent films in Pixar’s output that doesn’t take a deep dive into mature emotions to the point of wringing tears from the audience (Cars 3 notwithstanding). While Inside Out, Finding Dory, Coco, and even The Good Dinosaur are all different levels of excellent while dealing with complex emotions, Incredibles 2 is focused on making a thrilling, funny, but not entirely skin-deep superhero family adventure.
Joining The Incredibles again after 14 long years is well worth the wait. The decision to immediately continue the story after the original is an excellent choice, and the film features some of the funniest and most thrilling moments of any Pixar, or any animated film, yet. The gender switch putting Mr. incredible at home and Elastigirl on the job works wonders for the action and the story, and Jack-Jack proves to be a fantastic wild card that keeps getting more and more fun as the picture rolls on. If I have to wait 14 more years to get another Incredibles film of this quality, then so be it.
The Final Pop
Incredibles 2 is a rousing, hilarious, and thrilling follow up to one of Pixar’s finest earlier films. Writer/Direct Brad Bird, his army of animators, and his excellent voice cast are in top form in delivering another excellent chapter not only as an animated adventure film, but as a superhero film.