It’s been 14 years since Brad Bird’s now-classic The Incredibles hit theaters and, for many, the wait’s been excruciating. Gratefully, not only are Parrs returning, but they’re returning with a story that’s a sequel in the purest form – a continuation with the characters we met in 2004 but for whom time has barely passed. With a script and direction from Bird, along with most of the original voice cast, Incredibles 2 does, well, the incredible by offering an adventure that feels organic to the already established world and tapping back into the uplifting nature of superheroes stories, even if aspects do feel a touch trite. More than that, though, it succeeds just as the original did by presenting a family story that just so happens to be wrapped within a superhero story, making it feel fresh and new.
Three months after Bob/Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), Helen/Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), Violet (Sarah Vowell), Dash (new addition Huck Milner), and Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile) battled with Syndrome (Jason Lee), life is going swell. Violet has a date with her crush Tony (Michael Bird), Dash is finally competing in sports, and Jack-Jack is just happy to be with his family. Things are feeling normal for the Parrs when the Underminer (John Ratzenburger) appears, threatening to destroy the city. Billionaire-philanthropist Winston Deaver (Bob Odenkirk) bears witness to the Incredibles taking on the Underminer and sees it as a chance to bring all supers out of hiding. Since Elastigirl is the least destructive of the original supers, Winston, along with his sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener), select her to be the face of a new public relations campaign in the town of Municiberg to change the public’s perceptions of supers, leaving Bob at home to care for the kids. It’s not the first time Helen and Bob had to divide and conquer to provide for their family and everything seems to be running smoothly, that is until a new villain, the Screenslaver (Bill Wise), begins taking control of citizens around the city.
The first thing audiences will notice is how beautifully animated everything is. While Incredibles 2 maintains the timeless mid-century look adopted by the original, all of the characters and scenework appear smoother, updated via 14 years-worth of technological advancements. There’s one scene in particular, one that should come with a seizure warning, in which the Screenslaver and Elastigirl go toe-to-toe and their surroundings are illuminated with what appear to be thousands of small blinding strobes. It’s wildly disorientating to behold, while also unmistakably beautiful. It’s the kind of cinematic sequence 4k is built for: a full-on assault of the senses which perfectly encapsulates Elastigirl’s sense of confusion while also being undeniable beautiful, if a bit hard to watch. This is just one example of how Incredibles 2 really gets to open up and throw the audience into the mayhem of supers versus villains since The Incredibles already established the rules of this world. Building upon what came before, Incredibles 2 truly feels like a continuation rather than just a new adventure, which sequels rarely tend to do. Rather than pushing aside growth and storytelling in exchange for extravagant action set-pieces, Incredibles 2 spends more time focused on exploring Bob’s remaining sensitivity to hiding his powers, Helen’s role as breadwinner, and the kids’ burgeoning powers. There’s not a single father, nay – parent – who watches Incredibles 2 and doesn’t feel some sense of “It me” as Bob struggles to take care of his kids, manage the house, and somewhere find time for sleep. Don’t be put off by the familial focus as Incredibles 2 still possesses fantastic spectacle of supers being, well, super. These action set pieces just serve to move the story forward instead of as an excuse to cause rampant destruction.
This particular aspect will be the source of great joy for fans of the original series. The best part of The Incredibles is finally seeing the Parr family teaming up in the jungle and watching how they used their powers in seamless coordination. In Incredibles 2, not only is there more of the family bouncing off of each other, but each character is afforded an opportunity to use their powers in new, exciting ways that will incite real wonder. Other than Jack-Jack, which the marketing makes clear his polymorphic abilities are going to stir up trouble, it’s really the girls who make the largest impression. By nature of her powers, Elastigirl is the perfect character to put in the spotlight over her husband. We’ve seen what Bob can do and Helen has proven time and again to be a more cerebral character. This works to great effect as the super hero narrative is more of a technological mystery, making Helen’s brand of problem-solving a natural fit. Eldest child Violet’s given multiple opportunities to showcase the invisibility and forcefield projection powers we’re familiar with, but finds different uses for these abilities that highlight amazing offensive potential. Then there’s newcomer Voyd (Sophia Bush), likely to be a fan favorite, whose powers to create portals produce some of the more creative action scenes in the film, hinted at in the trailers.
The issues with Incredibles 2 largely feel like quibbles in comparison to everything that works within the feature. Where the original film possesses quite a bit of glut in order to set up this world of supers and villains, all of this is understood going into the second film, so there’s no need to waste time on this. Instead, Bird’s narrative digs into Bob managing a house and family while Helen is working in another city, the exploration of Jack-Jack’s abilities (previously only known to Syndrome and Kari), and Violet’s adolescent rejection of her powers. Each of these things are undeniably necessary to the success of Incredibles 2. These sequences bring about the most heartfelt and humorous moments, which is why it’s such a shame that they feel like they distract from the core mystery of the Screenslaver. The villain begins to feel like more of an after-thought, which would be absolutely fine if the actions of the Screenslaver didn’t raise the stakes higher and higher with each attempt to disrupt the public’s faith in supers.
In many ways, Incredibles 2 feels like visiting old friends. Everything is just like we left it 14 years ago, for better or for worse. Incredibles 2 shares many of the wonderful things of its predecessor – the characters feel real, motivations pure, and arcs resolve themselves naturally – but it also shares the main problem – an unavoidable narrative drag in the middle. Time will tell if Incredibles 2 reaches the high status of the original, though it would be surprising if it didn’t. The Parrs, Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson), Edna Mode (Brad Bird), and the world they inhabit are a part of the cultural zeitgeist. They are the greatest good we’ll ever know. And just like family, that means loving them and their world because of, not despite, their imperfections.
Final Score: 4 out of 5.