Movie Review: The Incredibles 2
The Incredibles 2 is a predictable, cookie-cutter story that fails to live up to the Incredible namesake. While technically impressive, everything else about the movie is a step backwards.
Pixar seems a little lost in the woods these days. The body of work coming out of the studio feels wildly uneven. Cars 3 was just plain bizarre, and the Good Dinosaur…well… wasn’t. In between that, Coco and Inside Out were delightful, in a very Disney way. Enter The Incredibles 2. The first was a fantastic film, blending superhero and family conventions into a product that was pleasing for both children and adults. That was 14 years ago. It was largely free of The Mouse’s influence, and it came at a time before the MCU started churning out 3 superhero films a year. It was fresh, funny, and smart.
The Incredibles 2 doesn’t have any of that. It’s formulaic, cloying, and seemingly designed to check off conventions that market well. It’s not the worst film out there, but compared to other animated and live action blockbusters vying for your dollar, The Incredibles 2 is just not up to Parr.
The Incredibles 2 (2018)
The Parr Family has fallen on hard times. The world at large has grown weary of the collateral damage that Superheroes create, and they’ve outlawed spandex vigilantism. Just as the family was coming together as an unbeatable team, the Incredibles find themselves with no sanction, and more importantly, no sponsor. Mr. Incredible (VO: Craig T. Nelson) and Elastigirl (VO: Holly Hunter) have to figure out how to make ends meet in a society that prefers ties over capes.
Into this crisis steps the Deavor Corporation, which promises Elastigirl a high paying job rehabilitating the Superhero reputation. While she is off creating a world safe for supers, Mr. Incredible must man the home-front. Daughter Violet hates what being a hero has done to her love life, eldest son Dash can’t outrun his homework, and baby Jack Jack is coming into his powers… all 17 of them.
A Golden Age Family in a Bronze Age World
A lot of the charm of the first Incredibles movie was how smartly it updated an old premise for a new audience. The Parr’s are analogs of Golden Age super-families like The Fantastic Four or Johnny Quest. It was a fresh, novel idea 14 years ago. Now, that conceit has been bled dry. The Venture Bros. have taken the concept to its satirical conclusion, and both Wonder Woman and Captain America have mined the retro nostalgia for every nugget they could find. Relying on old tricks just wasn’t going to work this time around.
And to be fair, The Incredibles 2 does have new things to say; they’re just not very interesting. The working mom, stay-at-home dad angle isn’t terribly groundbreaking. And the concept of superheros having to win back public support is both trite (for anyone who’s picked up a comic in the last ten years) and dull. The new villain is a snooze. The baddie’s motivation is bargain basement Baron Zemo from Captain America: Civil War, and if you don’t figure out who they really are 15 minutes into the film… well… are you paying attention?
If the Incredibles had the temerity to really do a deep dive on either the gender dynamic or political reality of their franchise, it might have had a chance. But this film feels way too safe and neutered for those lifts.
The overwhelming feeling behind this film is corporate branding. The Incredibles 2 feels less like the labor of love that director Brad Bird claims it to be, and more like a Disney mandate to make the Incredibles a bankable franchise. Elastigirl’s arc smacks of a coat-tail riding attempt at “Hey, we have a super-heroine as our lead!” The villain’s arc is bland and designed to reboot the world to a point where we can get more stories, every other year or so, whenever Disney/Pixar finds itself in-between Finding Nemo pay-outs.
And then there’s the one-baby toy line that is Jack Jack.
I’m sure having a cute baby with 17 different superpowers isn’t an accident; I could hear the umpteen different toy versions of him rattling off the production line every time he was on screen. He’s the “perfect” Disney amalgamation: a mischievous, marketable combination of Groot and BB-8.
He’s also a drag on the team dynamic. Every time the Parr’s get together to strut their stuff, someone’s always gotta watch the baby. It hamstrings the action in favor of comedy, and it’s not that funny the 3rd/4th/5th time it happens. I wish they had left him with Aunty Edna.
On the plus side, The Incredibles 2 is a gorgeous film. Elastigirl is a much more dynamic hero compared to Mr. Incredible, and her solo missions really let the animators cut loose and work in all 3 dimensions with her power-set. The animation is top notch, and Pixar can’t help but show off its new tricks. Elastigirl gets in some trippy situations, and you could almost hear the Pixar crew patting themselves on the back in a scene were Jack Jack teethes on an ice ball that Frozone (VO: Samuel L. Jackson) makes for him.
There’s new supers this time around, and while most of them are ho-hum, Voyd (VO: Sophia Bush) has a portal-based power that let Pixar go nuts with even more 3D shenanigans. I saw the film in 3D, and it was used in a satisfying way. The only complaint I had visually was that the Villain uses a strobe light as his power, and the film really should have warned people about that. It definitely made me uncomfortable.
Can’t Go Back, Jack Jack
Summer 2018 seems to have one theme going for it: safe. I don’t always hold that against a film, but here it really cramped my enjoyment. When your first film is incredibly clever, waiting 14 years for paint-by-number Disney fare is a big let down. Nothing in The Incredibles 2 is egregiously bad (unless you end up disliking the baby as much as I did), but none of it rises to the level of the first film. And just being a prettier film isn’t that big a deal: I saw Coco. I know you can do pretty, Pixar.
Maybe the super-family story is a doomed gambit. Fox sure as hell can’t get the Fantastic Four to work on screen, and even in the comics those types of stories constantly fail to find lasting appeal. We’ll probably know for sure when Disney announces the inevitable Incredibles 3: Jack Jack Boogaloo.