“The costumes! The powers! The mythic struggles!” These words come from Winston Deavor (voiced by Bob Odenkirk), and a lot of this new character’s attitude holds true to Pixar’s aspirations for Incredibles 2, a franchise being “brought back to the spotlight” after 14 years, in the same way its super-powered family has been forced to keep their powers away from the public.
Incredibles 2 picks up right where the first film left off, with the Parr family struggling to hold back their urge to fight crime in a world where it’s illegal to be a superhero. To “right this wrong,” Winston Deavor and his gadget genius sister Evelyn (voiced by Catherine Keener) make an offer the Incredibles can’t refuse: a dose of public relations that might change how superheroes are perceived.
We could certainly use some of that change of perception in our super-soaked culture of comic book blockbusters. Pixar released The Incredibles in an entirely different era for superhero movies, after all. In 2004, we didn’t have a Marvel Cinematic Universe, Christopher Nolan hadn’t even begun his trilogy of Batman films, and “superhero fatigue” wasn’t a common complaint.
But The Incredibles proved to be ahead of its time, subverting a genre that hadn’t even come off its training wheels yet. So, a huge question for Incredibles 2 was whether or not it could have the same culturally poignant message to make about its own genre, thus giving it room to be even better than the original. Why else would Pixar wait so long to make a sequel, long after they’ve made two for Cars and a prequel for Monsters Inc.? Surely, they were waiting for the right time, one might imagine.
Interestingly, Incredibles 2 shoots for no such goals, making it somewhat lesser than its predecessor. If anything, Pixar’s latest film feels like the second episode of a strong TV pilot, expanding the world of the franchise a bit, but not setting any compelling stakes that stand on their own.
This time around, fans have specific expectations for an Incredibles movie. They want more Jack Jack, a breakout character who was underused in the last film and saved for some last-minute surprises (and a wonderful short film). More broadly, fans want a superhero movie that sets itself apart from Marvel movies, also owned by Disney. Mileage may vary on those terms, but with Jack Jack (voiced by Eli Fucile), there’s plenty reason to revisit these characters and their “retro cool” world.
And Jack Jack isn’t the only character given more attention in this sequel. Helen/Elastigirl (voiced once again by Holly Hunter) is chosen to become the poster child and advocate for superheroes returning to the world legally. While Helen is away enjoying her new job of superhero work, Bob/Mr. Incredible (voiced by Craig T. Nelson) jealously stays home with the kids: infant Jack Jack, Dash (voiced by Huck Milner), and Violet (voiced by Sarah Vowell).
Once again, this animated sequel truly comes off like “the episode where Elastigirl gets a new job and Mr. Incredible has to learn how to become a better dad.” And similar to a serialized TV episode, not that many lessons are learned by every character by the end of the story.
Helen goes on an action-packed adventure with a central mystery to solve, but most of the drama and character change happens with Bob, who despite his super-strength finds himself completely overwhelmed by parenthood, especially when he discovers Jack Jack’s “jack of all trades” set of seemingly infinite powers, proving the baby to be too much of a handful to handle alone. Bob struggles with his own insecurity concerning his wife’s success, an intriguing detail that is never fully resolved due to a bombastic third act that gets in the way.
Violet also gets a specific, well-earned arc in this film, as she deals with balancing her superhero life with meeting boys and being normal. Dash, however, is a static character, used here mainly as comic relief, akin to superhero costume designer Edna Mode (voiced by Brad Bird) and family friend Frozone (voiced by Samuel L. Jackson), who return as memorable plot device characters, but not much else.
These are the clearest shortcomings of Incredibles 2, as it fails to be as strong an ensemble piece as The Incredibles, where every main character (even the villain) had a defined, cohesive arc. But in virtually every other respect, Incredibles 2 is just as wonderful, gorgeous, and thrilling as the first, to the point where most super fans of the original likely won’t care about these flaws.
And in a surprising twist, Incredibles 2 also manages to be a good comedy, offering up a consistent flow of big laughs and smart jokes that shorten the runtime a great deal. Add a brilliant reprisal by Michael Giacchino’s pitch-perfect soundtrack, some extraordinarily animated set pieces, and a welcome expansion of the first film’s stylish alt-60s worldbuilding, and you have a sequel that all but lives up to its name, and perhaps even its legacy.