It’s been 14 years since the first Incredibles graced our screens Apparently, since then, very little has changed for this “super” family. Brad Bird‘s Incredibles 2, while a solid follow up, lacks a clear vision of where to take the story next.
The film opens where we last left off, with the “Underminer” raising hell from a giant drill bit. The family of supers, Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), Dash (Huck Milner), and Violet (Sarah Vowell) spring into action, with each caring for Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile) on a rotational basis. The entirety of the opening sequence, especially as Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) joins, gives long patient fans the kind of action they imagined would happen when the previous film ended.
However, little has changed in their world since we last saw them. And what could with a film set directly after the events of the first? Supers are still illegal and the family is still breaking the law when they fight crime. Brad Bird nearly solves this puzzle by inserting Winston (Bob Odenkirk) and Evelyn Deaver (Catherine Keener), a pair of siblings whose goal is to make supers legal again, into the fray. Winston is the superfan salesman, memorizing Mr. Incredibles, Elastigirl, and Frozone’s theme songs, while Evelyn is the level-headed inventor to her brother’s manic buoyancy.
The two patrons give the family an opulent home, away from the motel they were living in, and a plan to rebrand the supers using Elastigirl. Bird’s decision to use a female lead to head a superhero film, not only is a powerful symbol in what’s mostly a male-dominated field, but also another side to a character that wasn’t sufficiently explored prior. And though, Bird is smart to make Mr. Incredible jealous of his wife’s newfound fame, he doesn’t completely carry this through. The throwaway of that storyline deprives us of a far more complicated and rich dynamic. Instead, Mr. Incredible quickly falls into a domestic role as a stay-at-home father. A nice touch throughout the film is the lighting and color of Mr. Incredible’s face. Initially, it’s pale and dour, but as he becomes more comfortable in his stay-at-home role, it becomes brighter and brighter.
The film oscillates between Elastigirl tracking down a villain named the Screenslaver and Mr. Incredible’s domestic life. The Screenslaver feels like another missed opportunity, as we receive the typical “modern-day screen culture is bad” speech. The words lack bite. Instead, the speech is thrown in as a companion to Elastigirl leaping from building-to-building. It’s not even mixed (sound wise) to the foreground. The result is a garbled and flimsy mess at a tired cultural statement.
Even so, the comedy throughout is mostly on point. There are a few occasions when some jabs are thrown at DC Comics, and much like Deadpool 2, Incredibles 2 pokes fun at comic book cliches as the Deavers recruit other supers. Most of these supers have all-too obvious monikers and some lousy uber specific powers, from Voyd (Sophia Bush), to Krushauer (Phil Lamarr), to Helectrix (Phil Lamarr), to Reflux (Paul Eiding). Reflux’s power is essentially really bad acid-reflux, who knew?
But ultimately, Incredibles 2‘s biggest weakness is the period its set in. Toy Story 3 is an amazing sequel because it sets us in Andy’s future. It asks the question we’ve all asked, “What happens when Andy grows up?” Now imagine if Toy Story 3 had begun after the conclusion of 2, you’d probably get more of the same. So while we see Jack-Jack find his 17 powers, Violet wilt around her crush (Tony Rydinger), and Dash struggle with math, there’s little that tells us much else about the children. And maybe that wouldn’t be a weakness, if there weren’t so many instances of forgotten conflict. Instead, Bird paints himself into a corner. He’s only able to tell one story, a mostly safe one, by not setting this film a few years down the line. And while we get a solid film, we miss out on a great one.