‘The Incredibles 2’ is an ambitious sequel packed with excitement

by Sebastian Wurzrainer | 6/22/18 2:40am

As any fan who grew up with the 2004 Pixar animated classic will be happy to tell you, “The Incredibles” was always primed for a sequel. For 14 long years, children of the early 2000s wondered why “Cars,” “Finding Nemo” and “Monsters, Inc.” were all granted sequels and prequels, but a follow-up film for our favorite superhero family seemed to permanently languish in development hell. Regardless about how you feel about each of those films and their subsequent franchises, they are all self-contained stories. Sequels may not have detracted from the originals, but they also never truly enhanced them. The ending of “The Incredibles,” on the other hand, begged for closure. But director Brad Bird deliberated, instead choosing to direct “Ratatouille,” “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol” and “Tomorrowland.”

Of course, this is only part of the story and it would be a blatant lie to ignore the more complex reality behind the eventual release of “Incredibles 2” mere days ago. While the appearance of a new supervillain named the Underminer in the final scene of the first film may have been a narrative cliffhanger, it was the perfect ending on a thematic level. It confirmed that the Parrs — including father Bob, mother Helen and children Violet, Dash and Jack-Jack — had finally come to accept their identities as superheroes. But the presence of the Underminer himself, while fun to speculate about, provided no inherent thematic engine for a potential “Incredibles” sequel. Sure, the Parr family had a new villain to fight, but none of that would matter without a good story to back it all up.

Thankfully, Brad Bird and the creative team at Pixar haven’t missed a beat. “Incredibles 2” picks up mere seconds after the conclusion of the first film, yet it’s telling that the Underminer storyline is quickly discarded and ultimately utilized as little more than a catalyst for the subsequent narrative. It’s as if Bird is acknowledging that the first film’s ending was always just a tease, and that the real thematic meat of the Parr family’s story lies elsewhere.

After taking down the Underminer, the Parrs are once again faced with the disappointing reality: the government does not want them to use their powers because the damage caused by superheroes is an insurance nightmare. Thankfully, they are given an opportunity by siblings Winston and Evelyn Deavor to rehabilitate superheroes’ names in the public eye. Helen is asked to resume her crime-fighting career as the ever-stretchable Elastigirl for a publicity stunt, while Bob must learn to cope as a single parent for three wild and wildly different children.

The premise may be simple, but the film is absolutely packed. It’s a breathless and often breathtaking spectacle, bursting at the seams with humor, excitement and pathos. If the film lacks the near-perfect construction of the first “Incredibles,” it makes up for it with the sheer volume of ideas it aims to address. A new supervillain named Screenslaver enters the picture while Helen learns to regain her confidence, Bob learns to be a more attentive father, Violet learns to navigate high school and Jack-Jack learns to control his powers. Moreover, all of these plot strands are seamlessly woven together. It may have been 14 years since the release of the first film, but clearly that time was productive and well-spent. Not only is the screenplay smart, funny and full of heart, but it even manages to address the criticism that the first film touted Ayn Rand’s philosophy of objectivism. “Incredibles 2” may take place directly after its predecessor, but it embodies 14 years of hindsight without incorporating any unnecessary nostalgia.

This immense ambition on the part of the filmmakers can also be a weakness, though. Like “Avengers: Infinity War,” “Incredibles 2” occasionally shortchanges worthy storylines simply because so much is happening. Of course, the latter is a far tighter and better film, but the central flaw remains. The Screenslaver plot thread in particular feels a little underdeveloped, which is a shame because it should serve as the film’s thematic lynchpin. It’s not that it’s bad — it’s just forgettable.

I also wondered whether the humor at times skewed decidedly too adult. Pixar films have historically been masterful at creating stories and jokes that appeal to both children and adults. The trick — a trick that many an animation studio should learn — is not that their films are sprinkled with inappropriate humor that the kids just won’t get. Rather, it’s that their films contain humor and themes that possess a depth the kids will only completely understand and appreciate once they’ve grown up. To be sure, there’s plenty in “Incredibles 2” for the under-12 crowd to adore: Bird seems to have drawn on his recent experience directing live-action films to craft action sequences with a scope and scale that are genuinely exhilarating. That said, while it may be a story for children about the importance of family, it’s very much told from the perspective of adults.

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As I alluded to at the beginning of this review, films like “Cars 2,” “Monsters University” and “Finding Dory” did not retroactively destroy the original films from which they spawned. But none of those films, despite the evident range in quality amongst them, really added much to their predecessors. “Finding Nemo,” for instance, is a great film and would have remained so without its sequel. And perhaps you could say the same of “The Incredibles.” As much as we begged for a follow-up, did it really improve anything? Perhaps not. But “The Incredibles” has one distinct advantage — it’s a superhero story inspired by the world of comic books. These tales are meant to be serialized. In that sense, “Incredibles 2” isn’t the equivalent of Book Two so much as it’s the equivalent of Chapter Two. From that perspective, the film is another gripping entry in a series that I hope will have no proper conclusion any time soon.