Film Review – Incredibles 2
It’s hard to come to grips with the fact that it took fourteen years for Disney/Pixar Animation Studios to release a sequel to the critical and box office hit The Incredibles (2004). But here we are with Incredibles 2 (2018) helmed once again by writer/director Brad Bird. A lot of time has passed, and the advancement of computer-generated imagery has steadily increased during that span. Revisiting the original right before my screening of the sequel, it’s evident how much better the rendering of characters and environments have gotten. But what gives this particular property such a lasting appeal is the distinct effort Bird and his team put on an emotional and storytelling level. This may not have the revelatory feel of the first, but the enjoyment of living in this world has not dissipated.
What makes the Incredibles one of the best superhero franchises is how the production treats the story in a believable fashion. Where other superhero films jump head first into the action and mayhem, Bird understands that every choice made has a consequence. Every piece of destruction has ramifications in terms of cost, paperwork, and manpower to rebuild. That was the prevailing theme of the first film, and it is pops up once again here. We pick up immediately after the events of the original. The Parr family, consisting of Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), Violet (Sarah Vowell), Dash (Huck Milner), and baby Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile) are scrutinized by the public for their heroic acts. It makes sense: it’s great that these super-powered beings saved lives, but it left their city in complete shambles. Superhero activities are still illegal, and the thus the family – along with other “Supers” like Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) – must hide in secrecy once more.
That is, until they meet the brother/sister duo of Winston (Bob Odenkirk) and Evelyn (Catherine Keener) Deaver. The Deaver siblings are owners of a mega corporation, and firmly believe that the laws should be changed to allow Supers to use their abilities for the greater good. They propose an initiative in which Elastigirl will spearhead, showing the world that Supers can save lives without the extreme consequences of public damage. And so, Elastigirl suits up to tackle evil while Mr. Incredible stays home to take care of the kids.
If this sounds familiar, it’s because it closely resembles the plot of the first film, only this time it’s Elastigirl who goes out to fight crime instead of Mr. Incredible. But that doesn’t mean that the rest of the family plays second fiddle. There’s just as much focus on home life as there is in the adventure. Each character feels dynamic. As Elastigirl gets to do the superhero stuff, Mr. Incredible must navigate the rough waters of math homework, high school crushes, and baby nurturing. One of the funnier bits involves Mr. Incredible having to deal with Jack-Jack’s blossoming powers, which include but are not limited to: flying, teleportation, transforming into a demon monster, and spontaneously combusting into flames. That’s a lot to take in for a parent. Sometimes the paths of mother and father cross with hilarious exchanges, as Mr. Incredible has to call Elastigirl for some help, even though she’s in the middle of a battle with some dangerous villain.
Brad Bird has always had a keen eye when it comes to staging action. Whether it’s a giant robot fighting an army in The Iron Giant (1999) or a rat making its way around a kitchen in Ratatouille (2007), he has a distinct way of moving the camera in and out of areas while still maintaining coherency. Incredibles 2 is stuffed with some fantastic action set pieces. The advancement of technology has allowed Bird and his team to play with the way these scenes are realized, especially when it comes to lighting. Far more than they did the first time, lighting (particularly the contrast between light sources and shadows) plays a large part in bringing the action sequences to life. The first set piece, in which we see the family burrow underground to fight a bad guy, uses minimal lighting techniques to show of contours and movement, and the result feels as though we really are underground even though this is an animated movie. Another sequence, in which Elastigirl chases a runaway train, is lit as though it were shot during the Golden Hour, just as the sun is setting, with the sky a deep red. Action scenes don’t always consider visual aesthetics – the fact that Bird and his team took the time to fill in these details leaves us with a theatrical experience that is both exciting and beautiful to look at.
The only real downside of Incredibles 2 is that the story felt a bit too safe. It follows the previous storyline a little too closely, dealing with ideas that were already explored. The main antagonist this time around is not as memorable as Syndrome (Jason Lee) was in The Incredibles, and their hidden identity can be deduced by the simple process of elimination. But even so, Incredibles 2 has such a lively spirit that it was a joy reuniting with these characters. It’s nice to see that the fourteen year wait was worth it.