Despite feeling remarkably familiar for being such a long-awaited sequel, Incredibles 2 adeptly balances exciting action alongside thought-provoking and humorous family relations and is an easy recommendation for viewers seeking heroic adventures that don’t limit themselves to a teenage-and-above audience.
Please note: If you or your loved ones have symptoms of epilepsy or photosensitivity, be aware that several scenes in this film do depict rapidly flashing lights that may not be suitable for all audiences. Thank you for your understanding.
Incredibles 2 and its predecessor take place near one another and share many themes and plot concepts—Robert Parr and his family still persist in a world that distrusts superheroes, he and his down-to-earth wife Helen still disagree on whether to embrace or shun the outside world in light of their invaluable (yet maligned) abilities, and their children still entwine their own powers with their unique personalities.
The main story thread feels like a much lighter take on Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War, with caped crime-fighters and politicians arguing with and against one another over whether superhuman individuals should be celebrated or treated as dangerous vigilantes. The underlying logic doesn’t make a whole lot of sense—the Parrs and a friend stop an enormous machine from destroying a government building, but certain sections of the media still use images of the leftover carnage and of police leading the Parrs away as an excuse to blame and demonize the family along with all “supers” (what would have happened had the Parrs been unwilling or unable to intervene, as the movie addresses?), but the story’s quick and focused pacing make up for its few foundational issues.
The film’s lack of equal emphasis on each of the members of its central family feels at once like a blessing and a drawback—none of the Parrs really “steals the show,” not even the rambunctious infant Jack-Jack whose cavalcade of superpowers is played for comedy, but not all of the family’s results are equally easy to watch. Robert is shown as a hard-working but scarcely competent father who struggles with his son’s math homework, complete with Common Core joke, while juggling the needs of the other two children. He’s not depicted flatteringly, especially not when lying to his wife Helen about the deteriorating state of their household while she is away, but he eventually receives a poignant act of gratitude for all that he does do.
The Parrs’ oldest son Dash doesn’t even get an arc of his own, primarily being relegated to comic relief while still having plenty of solid fight scenes. Jack-Jack, being so young, is also used for laughs, particularly in a subplot that reintroduces the delightful costume designer Edna Mode (voiced by Brad Bird!) and brings out a lot of creative gadgets. Violet’s arc is perhaps the most unusually interesting in the film, combining familiar and sympathetic teenage issues with a disturbing genre twist that underlies the rest of the plot.
Their mother’s story, however, probably carries the “most” emphasis in what is nonetheless a well balanced film: Helen Parr, not so much concerned about remaining a domestic mother as about ensuring that she and her family need not live on the wrong side of the law, receives a special crimefighting opportunity that often places her solo and takes up a fair chunk of the film. She’s not truly alone, as even when the film isn’t bouncing back and forth between her exploits and her family’s day-to-day obligations, the story rapidly introduces her to a band of fellow crew members and admirers, whom it uses exceedingly well.
As with Inside Out, and frankly much of the first Incredibles, Pixar demonstrates an ability and a willingness to allow female characters to take center stage without overly emphasizing or parading their doing so. Gender relations and social roles (especially in the area of raising a family) do receive some entertaining yet brief jokes that never overstay their welcome, and Helen’s role in the film feels mature and respectful simply because it is allowed to exist without a sociopolitical commentary that would call into question its being “unnatural” or unusual in the first place. It’s worth noting that there’s a very quick aside to Helen’s new costume being designed by a man and not respecting her stylistic preferences while flattering her physique (as, in fairness, her traditional costume also does).
Without giving away too many details, while the film’s villain (one of them) lacks Syndrome’s morbid charisma and maniacal personality, this is made up for with a decent if strangely placed media-obsession message and some well written dialogue. This ties into the superb sound design, with many of Helen’s “espionage” scenes having no more audio than what they need, and one of those is juxtaposed against the villain reciting ideological beliefs in a genuinely menacing tone that wouldn’t be too out of place coming from Batman: Arkham Knight’s Scarecrow and might unnerve especially small children.
Many of Pixar’s efforts and some of Disney’s have also felt like tech demonstrations, ranging from subjects such as hair (Tangled, Brave), to metal and lighting (WALL-E), to ice and snow (guess), but aside from one important character whose body looks a bit too flexible when she turns around, Incredibles 2’s human and environmental animations are as adept in showcasing crowds running from danger as in creating the explosions and building collapses that cause this. The fabric on the characters’ outfits, however, looks amazing not only in its detail but in its movement, never losing form even when stretched to absurd lengths. On that note, Incredibles 2 does a good job of stylistically and tonally resembling the bright and vibrant original. The film excises a few design decisions such as most of the family bickering and some flat-out weird-looking threats (“Mr. Incredible” being captured by inflatable black blobs) that I’m happy to see limited or removed, though some language takes its place, and the violence, while reasonable, remains as “intense-PG” as ever. Overall, Pixar’s latest is a superb follow-up with minor improvements to a film that, while not my favorite cup of tea when I first saw it in theaters, has aged remarkably well.
Oh, and stay through the credits, because Frozone’s musical theme is great.
Image sources, property of Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Pictures
This post was written and published for my movie-review blog, Projected Realities.