Director: Brad Bird
Screenplay: Brad Bird
Starring: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, Huck Milner, Samuel L. Jackson, Bob Odenkirk, Catherine Keener, Brad Bird
Runtime: 118 Minutes
Of all of Pixar’s output, The Incredibles was the only film that ever felt like it loaned itself to the prospect of sequels, and yet at the same time it was a film that felt entirely of itself, and a lot has changed since Brad Bird’s 2004 original, with the superhero genre exploding into one of the biggest sensations on the planet and the industry tripping over itself to follow in the footsteps of the titans.
So, seeing where this highly anticipated continuation would take a film that has endured thanks to a self-contained narrative and completed character arcs would be of more than just passing interest to a generation of fans who grew up with the original film – and 14 years on it’s become clear why it took so long to gestate in the first place.
Incredibles 2 picks up in the immediate aftermath of the original film’s knowing cliff-hanger ending, where the Parr family do battle with the villain Underminer (John Ratzenberger). It’s a spectacular, breathlessly infused bravado action sequence that dazzles with as much rendering detail, clarity and imagination as any set-piece that the studio or its filmmaker have yet offered up. The consequences of which also offering a staunch commentary much in the mindset of the original’s concepts of superhero regulation realised in an acknowledgeable new form.
What comes after that is the main story, or rather stories. Which is kind of the biggest problem with the film and why the entertainment factor of its spectacle comes accompanied a collection of asterisks.
Although starting with a storyline that purportedly places Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) centre stage, performing heroics under the guidance of billionaire brother/sister team Winston and Evelyn Deavor (Bob Odenkirk and Catherine Keener), the film divides its attention uneasily between a handful of other storylines. There’s Bob’s (Craig T. Nelson) struggles to look after the kids while moms away, which collides with baby Jack-Jacks manifested powers being discovered, and daughter Violet’s (Sarah Vowell) issues with dating. The introduction of a new generation of Supers, and the emergence of a new supervillain known as the Screenslaver.
That’s a lot to get through, and very little of it ultimately ends up paying off in any meaningful way for the characters as far as arcs are concerned. It’s a collection of ideas thrown together that feel mostly unrealised in their full potential. But what makes it worse is that by the time the film ends, you realise just how little the narrative has progressed. Characters like Dash (Huck Milner) and Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) aren’t even given anything to do except stand in the wings in waiting.
What this feels uncomfortably evident of is a production that was willed into being by a studio that had a quota to fill, and the possibility of Bird and co. simply lurching a feature into production that didn’t have a cohesive narrative to work with, or a point to even make. At its sorriest, it feels like one of those straight-to-DVD sequels that Disney used to shit out in the early 00’s, where the narrative feels stilted and lacks progression for fear of breaking the original mould or resolution.
This ends up extending to the villain Screenslaver as well. While going into the details of their real identity, background and motivations would qualify as spoilers, their ultimate reveal is underwhelming with a muddled sense of reasoning. Even if their motivations do align with similar perspectives of the last film’s nemesis it does feel like retreading old ground, and it ends up bogging the film down with a surprisingly uninvolving and weakly managed third act.
But, for all of this trouble, the film still works in the broader strokes. Mainly because of the elements that already worked in the first film. Although being asked to jog in place, the characters are still entertaining to watch with great comic vocal performances and heightened emotions. Pretty much all the attention paid to baby Jack-Jack and Bob’s attempts to deal with a highly unpredictable and dangerous problem child is physical comedy gold, even though it borders closer to stylings closer the Looney Tunes than anything else going on.
Bird’s direction as well, even lacking a central theme to be working with, is as visually strong as its ever been. The retro-futurist design of the world and its aesthetic looks even better given the decades worth of advancements in computer animation, and Michael Giacchino’s score of hair-raising bombastic John Barry influenced brass is loud and brash enough to fill every action scene with some air of excitement.
Incredibles 2 doesn’t feel like it was quite worth the wait as many have been hoping for. It’s trivially managed and bafflingly empty for most of the time, but if not a totally rewarding experience it’s a fun enough distraction and revisit that doesn’t progress anything but might work for those with justifiably lowered expectations.