It’s been an, um, interesting summer for Disney so far. Of course, the Mouse House kicked off the “summer movie season” in April this year on an undeniably high note with Avengers: Infinity War. That film had already earned a bajillion dollars — okay, more than $600 million domestically — by the time the studio’s other big early-summer release, Solo: A Star Wars Story, hit theaters with a resounding meh, relatively speaking (it’s still earned over $300 million worldwide so far).
So, naturally, all eyes are now turning to Incredibles 2, Disney and Pixar’s long-awaited follow-up to Brad Bird’s beloved 2004 superhero adventure. Audiences have waited many years to see Mr. Incredible, Elastigirl and their kids back in action, which means the hype — and, conversely, the potential to fall short of impossible expectations — are very real. If the history of superheroes onscreen has proven anything, it’s that oftentimes costumed vigilantes can be better the second time around. But does Incredibles 2 disappoint or is it, well, super? If you answered “both,” you’re on the right track.
First off, anyone entering the theater with unrealistic unexpectations should probably shed them beforehand. While Incredibles 2 is very much a worthwhile sequel, it’s a sequel nonetheless and falls prey to many of the “more and bigger” storytelling traps that typically result in diminishing returns whenever a cinematic tale is continued in subsequent films. The novelty of Bird’s distinctive, hyper-stylistic approach to the genre may have faded a bit but Incredibles 2 — though not as pristine as its predecessor — exhibits admirable effort in dusting off the Parr family for a second go-round. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
The film picks up mere seconds after The Incredibles ends. So fans who have been craving more of The Underminer (John Ratzenberger) will be pleased with the opening sequence (Bomb Voyage fans will be sorely disappointed, however). As it turns out, the Parr family’s showdown with The Underminer ends up causing untold damage to the city, and authorities shut down the superhero relocation program, leaving Bob (Craig T. Nelson) and Helen (Holly Hunter) with little option but to hang up their tights for good. Thankfully, inspired by the Parrs’ incredible (pun intended) feats, telecom tycoon siblings Winston and Evelyn Deavor (Bob Odenkirk and Catherine Keener) hatch a campaign to change the public’s perception of supers.
In a clever inverse of the first film’s narrative, Helen/Elastigirl re-enters the crime-fighting world just as a new supervillain emerges, and Bob finds himself overwhelmed by the various plights of his three children. Violet (Sarah Vowell) has perpetual boy trouble, Dash (Huck Milner) is struggling with math, etc. So the film goes for most of its runtime, following Elastigirl down a fairly straightforward superhero tale — albeit one rife with relevant social commentary (politics, public relations and even the ubiquity of technology) — and Bob in a kind of superhero riff on Mr. Mom (dated reference alert!). The action is as thrilling and visually stunning as ever, the comedic bits (especially those involving Jack-Jack and a raccoon; you’ll see) land hard and, by and large, Incredibles 2 plays out exactly like what you’d expect.
Perhaps that’s why the film feels like a mild disappointment, even as it leaves you pumped up and hoping that Bird and Pixar don’t wait another 14 years to give us Incredibles 3. The first film was such a breath of fresh air when it hit theaters, coming from a talented filmmaker finally getting his due after an undeserved box office failure (The Iron Giant) and a studio that had yet to establish its tendency to churn out subpar fare like the Cars franchise and The Good Dinosaur. Incredibles 2 doesn’t quite up the emotional ante like Toy Story 2, though it does level the playing field between its co-leads in a similar fashion.
Taken on its own, Incredibles 2 is a damn fine addition to the Pixar ouevre, but when put up against its predecessor — the pair line up more precisely than they should, right down to the villainous twist that audiences can see from miles away — it falls short on nearly every level. Hunter steals the show as (let’s keep it real) the most dynamic member of the Parr family and, as mentioned above, little Jack-Jack is just about the closest thing the film has to a scene-stealer.
Moreover, Bird does earn points for not overplaying the fan service card, as so many sequels tend to. Aside from a very brief callback to Frozone’s (Samuel L. Jackson) unseen wife and a smaller-than-expected role for fan-favorite Edna Mode, Incredibles 2 remains remarkably focused on the story it’s trying to tell. It’s just too bad that its tale isn’t as tight as it should be. The beauty of Pixar’s best films is so often in the artful simplicity of their storytelling, and Incredibles 2 goes for a more complex route, simply because it feels like it must.