What it's about: Bob and Ellen Parr are two of the most powerful superheroes in a world where superheroes have become illegal. The public can't trust those with super powers, they seem to do more damage than good. The power couple is approached by a wealthy entrepreneur who has a plan to change the perspective of the public by equipping their suits with cameras to record all their good deeds. For their first mission, however, only Elastigirl is needed. She's more likeable for the general public and her style of crime fighting doesn't cause so much collateral damage. That leaves Mr. Incredible to stay home with perhaps an even more difficult task: raise their three kids, their moody teenage girl, their over-active boy, and the baby whose incredible powers are just coming of age.
With the release of Incredibles 2, I recently went back and revisited the original 2004 film for the first time in more than 10 years. Brad Bird's first work with Pixar is still renowned as one of the animation studio's best work and it was released in its heyday. In recent years, I've become less enthused and less enthused by each Pixar film's release. The work is still good -- they make beautifully artistic stories -- but they've lost some of their magic.
A lot has changed in the superhero genre since 2004. Marvel Studios hadn't yet started their reign at the release of The Incredibles, though films in the Spider-Man and X-Men franchises had already established the forms of the genre. I wondered if Incredibles 2 would have much to say about the increasing popularity and presence of superhero films. Really, though, Incredibles 2 isn't concerned with that. Much like the original film, the major thematic focus is on raising a family.
All that said, Incredibles 2 isn't a great film or transcendent like the best of Pixar. For me, it isn't a film that puts the studio back on top. It is, however, incredibly fun. When it is an action focused superhero film, it really zooms.
The thematic ground that the film covers is important and interesting within the narrative, but it makes the film feel super stuffed. There is so much going on, core characters are separated for large sections of the film, every character gets their own subplot which leaves them underwhelming or undercooked [looking at you, Tony Rydinger].
When Elastigirl is first recruited for a crime-fighting gig instead of Mr. Incredible, his disappointment is a bit overplayed -- I can see the character being offended that he isn't the first hero chosen, but to be so indignant toward his wife didn't seem right. This leads to the "Mr. Mom" narrative, which is definitely a lot of fun -- and a little scary as a soon-to-be father.
Meanwhile, Ellen finds an ally in Evelyn, the sister of her new benefactor and the brains behind the operation. Evelyn, like Elastigirl, is unsung, in the background compared to their male counterparts, even though they have greater claims on glory.
In the past few years of superhero films, a major trend has emerged: villains, though bad and needing to be stopped, have a point. Incredibles 2 tries to get there but the messages of the big bad are completely jumbled through misdirections and twists. Without giving too much away, the mystery centered around Screenslaver is pretty easy to suss out early on. This takes a lot away from the surprise and the important messages that a certain character [both the villain and the alter-ego] make.
There are two big improvements from The Incredibles. The simplest is the animation, which has taken a big step forward over the long 14 years -- Pixar has figured out how human mouths move. The more interesting improvement is in introducing a number of new super-powered characters with cool and creative powers.
The highlight among the new characters is Voyd [voiced by Sophia Bush], a super-fan of Elastigirl who has the power to create portals that matter can pass through -- it is basically the premise of the video game Portal with a bit of Doctor Strange mixed in. The visual of her power is really amazing. I can't imagine a live-action film being able to nail this power with as much clarity while maintaining its quickness. Other new characters include a guy who can crush things with his mind [but don't ask him to un-crush them] and an old man who vomits lava.
Elastigirl, as the plot suggests, gets more to do throughout and the breadth of her powers are also pretty great. A sequence where she stops a runaway train on a modified motorcycle that compliments her powers in a particularly clever way is another example that the film is at its best in pure action sequences.
Jack-Jack isn't a new character technically, though Incredibles 2 gives him much more of a direct impact on the narrative. His variety of powers offer a lot of entertaining hijincks. I was confused by his family's reaction to gaining his abilities, though, as they are unveiled in the finale of the original -- I could definitely be missing something here.
The screening opened with a short message from the actors, similar to other blockbusters thanking fans for coming out to see the film on the big screen. Strangely, this one acted more as an apology than a thank you, which was a weird tone to set. It tried to come across as a highlight of the hard work of so many people over the past 14 years, but I wish this message was hit harder.
Like all Pixar theatrical releases, the presentation opened with a short film, Bao, directed by Domee Shi. This was one of Pixar's best shorts, a beautiful, emotionally resonant, and surprising story of parenting and letting go. Strangely enough, this is thematic ground also covered in Incredibles 2, but told infinitely better. Incredibles 2 is fun enough to warrant a trip to the theater, Bao is worth the price of admission in itself.