As unique as each Pixar movie is, there’s no doubt that Incredibles 2 had a very special mountain to climb. It had to match the high quality Pixar have set themselves in other movies; measure up to the various sequels they’ve produced; as well as meeting the insanely high standards they had set themselves with the original movie.
On top of ALL that though, there is the added issue of 14 years having passed since the release of The Incredibles. A time when Shrek ruled the roost and it was possible for a movie like Meet the Fockers to make the top 10 highest grossing films worldwide. While the superhero train had already pulled out of the station by 2004, outside of Sam Rami’s Spider-Man and the X-Men movies, there really wasn’t a lot to keep said train moving.
That’s probably why The Incredibles felt so fresh on its original release. Sure, it had a fairly traditional family unit caked into an old school 60s-style aesthetic. But in the same way The Dark Knight would do four years later, The Incredibles showed us how fantastical stories could still work even when set in more realistic surroundings.
In addition, it wouldn’t be exaggerating to say that, over the past 14 years, cinemas have become dominated by superhero fare; making returning director/writer Brad Bird’s job all the more harder. While he makes a pretty decent attempt to give a new spin on a well-trodden genre; he still doesn’t quite beat the lofty heights set by his first installment.
Picking up literally seconds after the end of The Incredibles; The Parr family must take on The Underminer (John Ratzenberger) as he tries to rob the Metroville Bank. Though their efforts to stop him mostly succeed; the amount of destruction causes public opinion of superheroes to plummet even further than the already low point seen in the original film.
But witnessing their actions is Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk), a telecommunications titan who, along with his sister, Evelyn (Catherine Keener), wants to bring superheroes back into the mainstream. Winston decides that this can be done through several heroic publicity stunts, for which he wants Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) to be the face of.
This results in Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) becoming a stay-at-home dad, having to struggle with the pressures of his three children: Violet (Sarah Vomell), Dash (Huck Milner) and Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile).
However, behind-the-scenes a new threat has emerged. Calling himself the “Screenslaver”, this new villain of Metroville will stop at nothing to make sure superheroes are wiped off the face of the earth.
Incredibles 2 continues what was undoubtedly the best part of the original: its 1960s/futuristic James Bond aesthetic. As we zoom through the streets and skies of Metroville and other locations, it’s impossible not to appreciate how much work the production team have put into making old-school technology still feel modern in our 21st century world.
Those same production values are most apparent during the action sequences; specifically the opening scene and a motorbike/runaway train chase sequence. Not only is the massive 14 year improvement in animation blindingly obvious, but the imagination on display during these sequences rival anything seen in the best of Hollywood. It’s clear that the action beats of Bird’s previous live-action films, Tomorrowland and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, have greatly influenced his work here.
But the new is also accompanied by the old and it’s great to see so many of the original voice actors reprise their roles once more. Even the one that couldn’t return (R.I.P. Bud Lucky), is replaced by the stupendous dulcet tones of Johnathan Banks. But the standout is probably Nelson as Mr. Incredible. While the other adult characters are mostly seen in their superhero guises, Mr. Incredible spends the bulk of the movie as an animated Mr Mom, taking charge of the home life when Elastigirl is occupied with more pressing matters. It’s a great performance by Nelson, as he effectively gets across the desperation of a man completely out of his depth, while at the same time inviting sympathy as he tries to do his best.
But despite the engaging character voices and action (as well as the many scene-stealing Jack-Jack moments), there are elements that don’t work quite as well as they did in the original. Most noticeably the movie’s main antagonist. While the mystery of Screenslaver keeps the intrigue going for most of the runtime, he doesn’t have the same emotional connection or drive that Syndrome had in the original. Here the villain merely pontificates about society’s addiction to technology. A most apt observation in this day and age; but one that still feels like an antiquated position, considering that much of our digital screen use is down to the requirements of our employment, as opposed to a voluntary decision.
Much like The Iron Giant and Ratatouille; Incredibles 2 is an exciting lovable film that has as much for adults as it does for younger audiences. It may not achieve the (pretty much impossible) task of topping the original, but when you can get story, action, comedy and emotion this well-blended together, who on earth would want to complain?