Incredibles 2 is less than incredible


Incredibles 2 is a solid outing from Pixar, but after fourteen years of waiting, it should more than live up to its title.

It’s pretty sobering to realize it’s been nearly 15 years since audiences first met the Parr family of Disney/Pixar’s The Incredibles. In that time we’ve gone through two Presidents, a recession, and several Pixar films in-between. But The Incredibles 2 starts right where the first film left off, yet it’s easy to see that the Parr family have entered into a far different world than when they started.

Incredibles 2 has a wave of expectation that’s been allowed to build for over a decade, but you’d think in that amount of time things would be made better than they were the first time. Director Brad Bird’s return to the Parr family certainly looks gorgeous — with animation that surpasses the original — but the rest of the film is like it’s a family searching for an identity in a neighborhood that’s changed around them.

Bringing something old to something new.

The movie follows the Parrs once again as they struggle to adjust to life in the wake of their interaction with The Underminer (John Ratzenberger). When a business tycoon (voiced by Bob Odenkirk) solicits Helen, aka Elastigirl (voiced by Holly Hunter), to be the face of a bill that would make superheroes legal again, she agrees.

Helen gets a chance to show off her superhero skills while Mr. Incredible himself (voiced by Craig T. Nelson) spends his day raising the three Parr kids. But when Elastigirl stumbles upon a villain known as Screen Slaver, it threatens everything the Parrs hold dear, including the entire world.

Incredibles 2 suffers from anticipatory anxiety. Entering a landscape where superheroes have changed so much can’t do much more than leave director/screenwriter Brad Bird wondering where to start, which leads to a jerky start/stop nature to the entire two-hour film.

In the first film, the Underminer was just a means of getting the standard John Ratzenberger cameo in, and here…. it hasn’t changed. The Underminer disappears and is never mentioned again, with government agents reminding the Parrs that they didn’t actually stop him. But before you can ask “then why not start three months later?”, the movie whisks us to the main plot involving tycoon Winston Deavor’s attempt to bring superheroes back to the forefront.

Kid movies and politics… do they mix?

There’s some interesting political commentary within Deavor’s scheme and his use of Helen to alter the “perception” of supers with much of this involving the idea of how the media shapes the narrative regardless of facts.

Lines like “politicians don’t understand people who do good because it’s right” and “laws should be fair” are pointed in their criticisms, and it’s hard to disassociate what the Parrs are talking about from our current political climate. But drawing comparisons to the plot of the original — wherein Mr. Incredible is offered an opportunity to work on a remote island in a bid to show superheroes are worthy — abound. At times the movie comes off as a gender-swapped take on the first film, complete with Catherine Keener’s Evelyn Deavor striking up a close friendship with Helen.

Elastigirl’s incredible-ish takeover.

Helen’s Elastigirl is at the forefront Incredibles 2, mainly because Helen Parr was so marginalized into the “put-upon wife” role in the first film. Where she spent her time wondering if her husband was cheating on her and trying to keep her kids in line previously, here she shows us why she was considered a superhero in the first place. She tells Bob at one point that he doesn’t know everything about her, and that’s true. The audience doesn’t know nearly enough about Helen Parr but this movie proves she deserves her own superhero franchise.

Unfortunately, Bird’s script levels all the “convenient” plot points on Helen, almost afraid to challenge her because she’s a girl. As quickly as Helen takes up hero-work, literally the same day, this villain arrives. That’s sloppy storytelling. The identity of Screen Slaver is so apparent it’s actually shocking to know who isn’t involved more than anything else.

Helen’s actual super heroics though take a backseat to the film’s emotional weight found in Bob Parr raising three kids. The whole “dad’s gotta raise the kid” plotline is pretty tired already, and it’s hard not to see this as Cheaper By the Dozen minus a few kids. The film takes Bob’s entitled masculinity from the first film and turns it into his generally being unsupportive to his wife while faking support.

To him, he doesn’t understand why Helen would be chosen when he can “do it better.” Later, when he explains that his success in dealing with the kids would allow her to keep doing her superhero work, it feels disingenuous because there’s never a moment where Bob admits that to his wife. It all plays like one big secret he’s too proud to admit, even by the end.

And then there’s everyone else.

Bob’s plotline really exists to give room to the other characters, and it often feels like ideas for several Incredibles shorts are mashed together. Baby Jack-Jack takes center stage here as Bob struggles to control the baby’s burgeoning powers. Jack-Jack’s physical expressions and baby gurgles are still just as adorable. An extended scene involves the baby taking on a raccoon that’s hilarious — if feeling the most like a separate short that could have existed separately. Think of it as an extended “Jack-Jack Attack.”

Teenage daughter Violet has to deal with the fallout of her date, Tony, discovering her identity, and it’s as pointless as it sounds. Where the first film dealt with Violet literally being an invisible girl, here she espouses bratty teen rebellion over a boy not dating her. And Edna Mode returns for as much time as she was in the first, which would have been fine but the entire scene, again, feels shoved in to please audiences as opposed to being an organic moment.

Another great short.

What most people will probably recall about Incredibles 2 is the short that precedes it. Domee Shi’s short Bao is a darling story of a woman who becomes enamored with taking care of a magically animated bao (a Chinese dumpling), only to realize the harsh truths about children growing up.

Shi’s short may have the typical Pixar look, complete with adorable baby character, but it’s a deep look at parenthood and the harsh ways parents affect their children. The audience became a taste uncomfortable with where this short goes at a certain point, but it explores parent/child relationships in a way that doesn’t feel as generic as it does in the feature film following it.

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Your enjoyment of Incredibles 2 will vary based on how long you’ve waited for a sequel. Brad Bird’s work of late hasn’t been able to transcend his vision, and while this isn’t as questionable as Tomorrowland, it reeks of a rushed attempt to get something out after failing to capitalize on its success. There will be people who love the Parrs regardless of the plot, and that’s great. But after 14 years this script could have used additional polishing.