Incredibles 2, the new film from Disney’s Pixar (written and directed by Brad Bird), is a wonderful sequel, building on top of the first film and focusing on what worked. It expands on the original’s groundwork—also written and directed by Bird—and gives us a fun ride, becoming one of the strongest Pixar films in almost a decade.
The film opens on the stinger at the end of the first film, The Incredibles, where a new villain, the Underminer, has come from below to offer a new threat. After a property damage-ridden opening sequence, the hero program is disbanded, seen as too costly and certainly not worth the trouble. The Parr family are relocated to a hotel, where they must decide what’s next. An offer comes in the form of Bob Odenkirk’s character, Winston Deavor, and his sister, Evelyn (voiced by Catherine Keener), where marketing and bodycam footage will prove to the world that superheroes aren’t as bad as society thinks. But this will be a slow rollout, and only one face can be the pilot program: Helen Parr (Holly Hunter), better known as Elastigirl.
The film makes excellent use of a very real and grounded notion a lot of families feel, of when things change and an uncertain future faces them. Tying this to such a grand scale gives the movie a motivation that not a lot of its kind have, especially in the animated realm. It also deals with the shifting family dynamic, where the spouse joins the workforce and there can be some resentment or jealousy in the emasculation of Bob’s character (voiced wonderfully by Craig T. Nelson). Using those as the broad strokes, Bird’s movie aims for a heightened version that digs deep into each character, providing each with a story and development which contains impressive sequences to rival any hero film.
Outside of Dash (voiced by Huck Milner), who has been relegated to more comic relief, all of the main cast is given this aforementioned fair share. Bob/Mr. Incredible faces being a stay-at-home father, the dial turned all the way up to superhero proportions. It is a fun role for the animation team and Nelson to play; his unending exhaustion and much-more-than-five-o’clock shadow from the various troubles of his new role in the family life coupled with the jealousy of his wife’s fame form a growing lesson his character needs. It does lack closure, this role reversal of parenting and the changing family dynamic the movie is portraying, though by the time it would have to come up as a moment of clarity in the third act, that would have brought the movie to a grinding halt.
Violet (voiced by Sarah Vowell) faces the loneliness of her crush no longer being able to remember her. It is a great analogy to how alone some teenagers can feel, and how they can feel like the person they care for might not notice them. To have the superhero who can turn invisible to play that through is an extra layer that could come across as on the nose, but it isn’t used in an obvious way.
Jack-Jack is a big focus of the film, as his new powers are put to exceeding use, and to Bob’s great concern. These powers were briefly shown at the climax of the first film, but here they are used to great and usually comical effect and far broader than originally seen. Bird’s voiced Edna Mode returns, at first dismissive of Jack-Jack’s baby-ness, but becoming endlessly fascinated once she realizes the potential for hilarious results.
But this is Hunter’s Helen Parr/Elastigirl film. She plays the character with a charm and a glowing warmth, her voice smooth and a joy to the ear, and the animation team and Bird are able to really sell her as both an action hero and a mother excited to return to a work she loves deeply. It’s the right character to have as the central core of the film, as her elasticity and quick thinking lead to some of the more memorable moments on top of the emotion her character goes through.
This movie is also a looker, one of the most beautifully animated films of its kind. The shot of Elastigirl riding the Elasticycle in the blood-red sunset, stretching to propel herself after the train, is only one of the great visual treats this film has to offer. The action sequences are elaborate and clever, never over the top and always to the means of something incredibly important. Bird captures some setpieces in such smooth and masterful filmmaking that you will want to see them a second time as soon as possible (the train sequence and one involving portals are two such moments). Some other superheroes manage to add to that visual zest, with portals straight out of a video game, acid reflux to the extreme, and a superhero that only knows to crush, confused when asked to un-crush something.
Michael Giacchino’s score is horn-heavy and seductive jazz, adding character and personality to every scene. It’s some of his finest work, something well worth listening to both in and out of the film.
The only real downside is that it does not quite equal to the original film. But those are huge shoes to fill, an uphill battle not worth trying to climb. As a sequel, it does an excellent job of continuing on where the first movie left off and takes advantage of the foundation and builds upon it. The villain, Screenslaver, does not prove to be incredibly interesting, and the Deavor siblings are somewhat one-note for most of their screentime, despite great voicework. Even if there are a few missteps along the way, it’s never dull or a misfortune; instead, it’s a tiny bump in an overall great movie.
Incredibles 2, outside of perhaps Coco (2017), is Pixar’s best film since Toy Story 3 (2010). Bird has made the excruciating wait well worth it, giving us an entertaining and fun movie that is great for the family and for animation lovers. It offers a human story deep inside all of its spectacle and beauty and comedy, and gives a message of how powerful a family can be… especially if they’re superheroes.