Incredibles 2 June 18, 2018
Craig T. Nelson
Samuel L. Jackson
1 Hr., 58 Mins.
about as well as Ross Gellar’s faded “Frankie Says Relax” T-shirt.
The last few moments of The Incredibles featured the family attending a track meet. The expeditious, elementary-aged middle child, Dash (voiced by Spencer Fox), participated in a race and received a medal. The eldest, the reserved Violet (Sarah Powell), scheduled a date with a crush. Parents Helen (Holly Hunter) and Bob (Craig T. Nelson), sitting with their prattling infant, Jack-Jack, appeared at peace. All seemed right in the world.
But while heading home, the Parrs’ bliss was interrupted. A pudgy, buck-toothed villain, the Underminer, rose from underground atop a cumbersome, militaristic death machine, laughing maniacally. Like clockwork, the Parrs slipped on their Hamburglar-style masks and red, bodycon superhero costumes; their facial expressions were synchronously smug. Non-diegetic orchestrals swelled. Soon after, the closing credits started rolling.
When I first saw this finale in the theater as an easily impressed 7-year-old, I remember convincing myself that a sequel to the movie would likely be coming out in a year or so. Two, at the most. Although I had yet to understand that movies ending with a relative question mark is a fairly commonplace occurrence, I was positive that Pixar, who had by then given me some of my favorite films, would abstain from leaving audiences hanging. It was uncharacteristic. The comparably precipiced Toy Story (1995) received a sequel in 1999. And while rewatchables such as A Bug’s Life (1998) and Monsters, Inc. (2001) had not gotten the follow-up treatment, they at least ended conclusively. The Incredibles, in contrast, did not.
But the expected sequel turned out to be elusive as the years passed. As I grew up, I found myself progressively irritated whenever Pixar announced a new sequel that wasn’t related to The Incredibles. Cars, from 2006, received not one but two successors, the first in 2011 and the next in 2017. The worlds of Monsters, Inc. and Finding Nemo (2003) would respectively be expanded on through Monsters University (2013) and Finding Dory (2016).
I’ve liked these films, some more than others. But why were we going on new adventures with Mike and Sully, and then with Marlin and Dory, when we still had not seen how the lionhearted Parrs were going to confront the Underminer crisis?
The day I paid $12.48 to see the long-awaited Incredibles 2 in theaters, then, proved itself cathartic. After 14 years — a time span which saw me grow from a nose-picking twerp to a prickly pessimist — I finally found out how the Parrs defeated the Underminer: they didn’t. Though they were able to stop his humongous vehicle from severely damaging city hall, they were unable to prevent him from slipping away with millions of stolen dollars. Authorities subsequently slapped the family on the wrist; career prospects, once again, seemed dim.
That Incredibles 2 is set in the days immediately following the events of The Incredibles is jarring. Those of us who grew up with the film have changed so much: some members of the audience, who likely were a little older than me when the original movie came out, brought their kids to the screening. Yet things have stayed the same in the retrofuturist universe in which the Parrs live. Following 14 years, it’s odd beginning with what feels like nonchalance.
But Bird, who returns to write and direct, ensures that that insouciance
doesn’t last long. Not long after the Underminer incident, which leaves the Parrs feeling dispirited, Helen, Bob — aka Elastigirl and Mr. Incredible — and their ice-brandishing best pal Lucius “Frozone” Best (Samuel L. Jackson), receive a message. It is from the overeager telecommunications magnate and superhero stan Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk), who is disheartened after learning that superheroes have again been named illegal by the overanxious government.
The troika is called to Deavor’s expansive headquarters downtown, where they learn that they are wanted for a publicity stunt. Deavor wants to help make supers legal again, and has started plotting ways to regain public approval.
The first step in his scheme doesn’t sit well with Bob and Best, though. Because Helen has statistically caused less damage in her crime-fighting outings in the past, Deavor wants her alone, at least for the next few weeks, to be the one making public appearances. (Which essentially means she will fight crime, with the assistance of Deavor, and then have her adventures positively publicized by his influential company.)
In what feels like a day or two, Helen becomes a matriarchal version of the limber Sydney Bristow. The family relocates to a posh, Deavor-funded home in the hills; Bob unwittingly metamorphoses into a dissatisfied househusband, his time mostly consumed with figuring out how to take care of his polymathic newborn, Jack-Jack.
The film’s principal conflict stems from the entrée of a supervillain who calls himself the Screenslaver. Masked and anonymous, he is able to brainwash audiences through, er, screens, often interrupting scheduled programming to spread his dogma. But this fiend proves himself a cipher — the truth is best revealed in the theater, not on the page — and so Helen, with the help of her family, must defeat the movie’s antagonist(s) in appealing pulp fashion.
And Incredibles 2 makes for appealing pulp itself. The attention to visual style is upped; the simultaneously retrophilic and futurist styles are more ogled this time around. The narrative unfolds with improved action-movie flash; the conflict is nicely melodramatic. I especially liked the gender swap that drives much of the story: it’s a kick to watch the hypermasculine egoist Bob reevaluate himself as his wife gets to spend abundant time in the spotlight.
But the film is inferior to its predecessor, which is an unusual development for Pixar. Although it would be hyperbolic to claim that every sequel the studio has produced has been finer than the movie preceding it, it’s true that, aside from the Cars follow-ups, second chapters have consistently been characterized by new emotional beats and heartfelt storylines that have stanchioned vitality and the ability to stand alone.
While Incredibles 2 offers shinier thrills, the dramatic punches and general inventiveness of its antecedent are missing. It is merely a well-packaged romp whereas The Incredibles was and is an inexhaustible, innovative family comedy and then some. After almost 15 years, though, it will have to do. B
he Incredibles, Brad Bird’s rousing family film from 2004, ended on a cliffhanger. Three months after defeating a flame-haired villain known as Syndrome, it seemed as though the Parr family, who comprised the primary cast of characters, were en route to living a normal life once again. Such a notion, of course, was preposterous. Because all of the clan’s members possessed fantastical, superheroic powers, fighting crime was perhaps always predestined. For the Parrs, living a normal life fit