The first Incredibles is a top-five Pixar movie and arguably one of the best superhero movies ever made. The latter point didn’t mean much in 2004, but after a decade of Marvel releases and The Dark Knight , The Incredibles still holds its own.
It goes without saying that mastermind Brad Bird’s sequel had a lot to live up to—and the 14-year wait only upped the hype.
So how does Incredibles 2 stack up?
Though the story itself is a bit predictable, Bird’s characters do more than enough to keep us invested and entertained.
The film opens where the original ended, with the Parr clan off to do battle with the nefarious Underminer. After failing to stop the bad guy and causing no small amount of property damage, the superfamily finds itself in hot water with the law. They manage to get off without too much issue, but their old pal Rick Dicker (Jonathan Banks) informs the Parrs that the Super Relocation Program is coming to an end, and drops them off at a motel. Dejected, Bob (Craig T. Nelson) and Helen (Holly Hunter) wonder what’s next. Then Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) shows up.
The iceman cometh to discuss a proposal from telecom big shot Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk). You’d think given the family’s recent run-in with Syndrome that Bob and Helen would be wary of taking jobs from wealthy benefactors they don’t know, but nope. Deavor and his sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener) pitch a way to get public opinion back on the Supers’ side. Helen leaps at the opportunity, leaving Bob to do a Mr. Mom routine with the kids.
Things predictably go haywire at home, as Bob finds Violet’s boy problems as confusing as Dash’s math homework. And the revelation of Jack-Jack’s various powers only pushes the Parr patriarch closer to his wits’ end. Meanwhile Helen finds herself beleaguered by a new supervillain called Screenslaver, a hypnotic baddie who derides peoples’s fascination with technology while using it to control their minds.
It doesn’t take a super-sleuth to figure out the mystery behind Screenslaver’s mask, which wouldn’t be so disappointing in any other kids’ movie, but feels like a letdown from Bird and Pixar. With plot something of a formality here, the movie leans on stunning animation, top-notch fight scenes (the standout being Jack-Jack’s battle with a raccoon), and complex thematic underpinnings to keep this thing afloat. And that’s where Incredibles 2 gets complicated.
Bird has been accused of employing Ayn Randian subtext in the past, a criticism at which the writer-director perhaps rightfully laughs. If there’s a tone of Objectivism and/or Libertarianism, it’s a trait found across the superhero genre, and it would be unfair to point a finger at Bird with Batman lurking in the shadows. That said, Bird does touch on some topics that are a bit troubling through the prism of current events.
Trumpists and Libertarians will delight in a story where the media is used for mind control and the government is a meddling force that stops exceptional individuals from achieving their true potential. Others may not find Incredibles 2 to be quite the escapist popcorn flick they were hoping for.
It’s hard to say whether this is short-sighted or a stroke of genius. Screenslaver’s criticisms of the culture at large and knocks on the government do resonate, which makes for some decent character development and shades-of-gray nuance. But is it really the message we need right now?
Director: Brad Bird
Starring: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell
Theater: Area theaters, now open