by Benjamín Harguindey
When Pixar’s The Incredibles (2004) ended 14 years ago with its family of superheroes springing into action nobody was actually banking on a sequel. The ending was just “here-we-go-again” routine: very much in line with the movie’s cheerfully passé zest, in which your average suburban middle-class nuclear family comprised of dad, mom, two kids and a baby17 goes through the motions of a sitcom in an effort to restrain their hero calling.
The Incredibles 2 (2018) doesn’t just dovetail into the first movie’s ending, it actually rewinds time back a few seconds so we watch the family Parr spring into battle against the villainous Underminer (a joke unto itself) from the perspective of a secondary character. The ensuing action scene causes such rampant destruction that, in a move that seems inspired by the politically correct mea culpas of their DC and MCU counterparts, the titular Incredibles are censored for the city infrastructure damage and sentenced once more to quiet, mediocre anonymity in suburbia.
As far as structure is concerned, this sends the Parrs back to square one: yet again Bob (Craig T. Nelson) and Helen (Holly Hunter), AKA Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl, suffer an existential crisis of having to abide by unfair laws that stifle their inherent superhero selves, while their kids Violet (Sarah Vowell) and Dash (Huck Milner) freak out about a lack of normalcy and having way too much of it, respectively. Soon enough it becomes evident that the sequel will be following more or less on the same footsteps as the original: the Parrs are contacted by a mysterious benefactor in order to fight an equally mysterious villain, an offer that will allow them to effectively relive their glory days while putting their powers to good use.
The movie is, essentially, a repeat of the exact same story of individual exceptionalism triumphing over collective conformity. It doesn’t really build up on anything already established nor does it elevate the concept of the original movie. That it took 14 years to make is less indicative of the creative ambition behind it and more suggestive of a decision to finally cash in on the superhero fever that wasn’t quite there yet back in 2004 but is certainly a-booming in 2018.
Two key decisions, however, stand as clearly reflective of the progress of time. The first and most obvious one is a reversal in traditional gender roles that will be noted and celebrated by many: it is now wife Helen who takes over crime-fighting while hubby Bob sits out as a stay-at-home dad, meaning Elastigirl is at the forefront of most of the movie’s spectacular action while “Mr. Incredible” dispairs over newfound domestic stress. No complaints here: the action is a blast, Elastigirl is a dandy heroine and watching Bob’s ego be put to the test as he’s torn between love and jealousy for his wife is a lot of fun.
The second decision is a little trickier, and it involves Helen’s fight against a villain named Screenslaver, who is slowly lulling the city via hypnosis-inducing screens. Surely this is a comment on social media brainwashing. The irony that Helen’s benefactors, siblings Winston and Evelyn Deavor (Bob Odenkirk and Catherine Keener), are heads of a telecommunications corporation in charge of “altering the negative perception people have of superheroes” by staging feats of heroism isn’t entirely lost on the movie.
Coco (2017) is a tough act to follow, but I feel maybe I’m being too hard on the movie for being an uninspired retread with a couple of PC updates. You can do worse than update The Increidbles. Writer/director Brad Bird is back and he pulls off Pixar’s staple double act of balancing visual spectacle with an emotionally touching story (albeit one that errs less on pathos and more on likable, relatable characters) and so is composer Michael Giacchino, whose jazzy soundtrack resonates beautifully with the retro-futuristic aesthetic reminiscent of 60s action and Cold War spy flicks. The animation is fluid and nuanced and characters convey tons of personality through movement alone (consider Bob’s body language as it impulsively acts out the jealousy he’s trying to hide while on the phone with his wife).
Perhaps following that old-fashioned ethos on a hunch, baby Jack-Jack gets a cartoony Tex Avery treatment and becomes the burden of Bob’s daily life, putting himself and others on danger by randomly cycling through a barrage of hazardous superpowers while demanding the attentions of a regular baby with adult-like entitlement. An extended fight scene with a nasty raccoon will be smash success with the kiddies. Jack-Jack is the movie’s resident crowd-pleaser, second only to fan-favorite Edna Mode.
To say The Incredibles 2 is middle-of-the-road Pixar sounds like faint praise. It doesn’t do much of anything new, doesn’t take any bold steps or make bold statements, overall seems perfectly cozy with delivering an encore to its one party trick. As far as sequels go it’s several steps under the Toy Story franchise, whose every entry explores the same themes but on different layers and through different artifice (you could make a case for the maturing Andy being sort of Pixar’s own Boyhood-esque project as his sentient toys explore their mounting obsolescence). On the other hand it’s certainly a cut above Pixar tripe like yours Cars sequels and spin-offs and even that one Monsters Inc. pointless prequel. The Incredibles 2 doesn’t have much of a point either, but it’s still a lot of fun.
Benjamín Harguindey / Managing Editor, Writer (Mar del Plata, Argentina – 1989) Screenwriter graduated from Universidad del Cine, Buenos Aires. Benja’s worked for EscribiendoCine as a film critic since 2010, covering the Biarritz, San Sebastián and Venice festivals. He judged the CILECT Prize and won several writing & criticism contests. He’s published one novel, Noches de Tartaria (2006).