INCREDIBLES 2 – an Alternative Lens review

Starring: Holly Hunter (The Big Sick), Craig T. Nelson (Poltergeist), Sarah Vowell (A.C.O.D.), Huck Milner, Bob Odenkirk (Better Caul Saul), Catherine Keener (Being John Malkovich), Samuel L. Jackson (The Avengers)

Writer/Director: Brad Bird (Ratatouille)

Runtime: 1 hour 58 minutes (+ 8 min short Bao)

Release Date: 15 June (US), 13 July (UK)

Of all the films in Pixar’s catalogue, The Incredibles was the one that screamed the most sequel potential from the moment the original finished. It established an imaginative world with a fresh take on the superhero genre through the lens of a family drama, telling a story that was arguably even more entertaining for the adults than the kids. It showed that Pixar could do more than just cuddly creatures and step into more nuanced territory with its storytelling and characters, and yet plans for a sequel were always nixed due to Brad Bird not wanting to disappoint with a lacklustre follow-up. And so 14 years later, with Pixar mining their IPs for sequels more than ever and Bird in need of a pick-me-up after the financial failure of Tomorrowland, we finally return to the world of supers in Incredibles 2. Has Bird finally managed to crack that sequel idea that’ll live up to the original, or is this just more brand management from the House of Mouse?

Picking up right where the first film left off, Incredibles 2 does a fantastic job of bringing the audience right back into the world as we knew it and effectively reminding them of its core themes. However, once the main plot rears its head, it doesn’t do a huge amount to innovate on a narrative level. The film’s story is far too reminiscent of the first instalment, once again having our hero be brought into a scheme that allows them to relive their superhero glory days that turns out to be a massive scheme by a hidden evil who feels wronged by supers in the past by manipulating the public’s perception of heroes. All of the individual details are fresh, but all in all it’s basically the same plan and, considering in film time the Parrs literally just got done dealing with Syndrome mere months ago, it feels odd that they’d fall for this ploy again so soon. It’s a shame, because everything built around the story is executed excellently. The pacing is sharp, the humour lands, the action sequences are frequent and exploding with imagination, and there is strong development in regards to its themes of family. Surprisingly, it’s all of the political and civil rights discussion the film has in regards to superhero rights that fascinates most, and it’s a shame the film doesn’t expand on this further instead. Instead, it feels sidelined to accommodate for the more pedestrian main plot, which already feels watered down compared to the first.

Whilst the story of Incredibles 2 doesn’t move things forward quite enough, on a character front it adds ample amounts of development in satisfying ways. The decision to focus the film more on Helen not only shakes things up but alleviates fatigue; Bob already had his character arc in the first film, and spotlighting him again would threaten to degrade his development. The dynamic of giving Helen the platform to be the premiere superhero whilst Bob is forced to deal with his inadequacies at home works as a great balance, and thankfully doesn’t go down obvious routes. Violet and Dash’s arcs feel less focused, with Violet pulling a full 360 by reverting to her emo self from the first and then coming back again in time for the third act, whilst Dash…struggles with homework? Yeah, Dash feels like the only character who really suffers from having his development completed in the first film and therefore has nowhere to go here. All of the stuff with Jack Jack is where most of the film’s comedy comes in and, even though its mostly just the short Jack Jack Attack expanded, it’s still an imaginative delight to see how insane they can go with his seemingly-limitless power set. Thankfully, their family dynamic as a whole feels stronger than ever, and to see more of them fighting in tandem here is one place where this film does succeed over the original.

Frozone and Edna Mode also return, but they ultimately feel like throwaways; Frozone basically comes in and out when the plot needs him for exposition or his powers, whilst Edna just repeats her schtick from last time whilst providing a mostly-innocuous plot item. In terms of new faces, Winston & Evelyn Deavor are fine enough but feel a little stock as the eccentric philanthropist and his put-upon sister really running the show respectively. There’s a lot of hinted-at depth concerning how Winston uses his childhood obsession with superheroes as something of a coping mechanism, or the burgeoning connection Helen has with Evelyn as powerful women often overshadowed by their male counterparts, but by the third act things are moving so fast that nothing ever really comes of these ideas. The new generation of superheroes introduced feel really undercooked, with Voyd being the only one with any vague sense of character whilst the others are just visual gags, and our villain Screenslaver lacks the unique personality and personal connection to the hero that made Syndrome such a fascinating and memorable foe.

On a technical level, Incredibles 2 certainly surpasses the first film, and not just because of the technological advancements in computer animation. The action sequences are the real showstopper here, pushing the versatility of our heroes’ powers to the limits and captured with whipsmart camera movement, editing and fluidity of animation. From the opening Underminer sequence to the climax that spans land, air and sea, the film certainly empties the bowl on action scene ideas to deliver a visual spectacle that never ceases to entertain; my only worry is that they’ve kind of expended so many ideas here that I worry how they’d do a third if they wanted to. Michael Giacchino got his big break in film composing scoring the first Incredibles, and here he brings his unique blend of 60s jazz and John Barry music to fashion a soundtrack that perfectly compliments his prior work.

Incredibles 2 feels more like an expansion pack to the first film than a full-fledged sequel: it adds some entertainment value and some great new ideas, but it’s still working from the same assets for the most part. For over a decade of waiting, it’s slightly underwhelming to see what Brad Bird and Pixar have come up with, especially since the world they created is screaming out with so many more possibilities for more nuanced tales. That said, there’s more than enough here to entertain as a summer blockbuster for the whole family. The Parrs themselves are better than ever, and the action sequences and animation are some of the best work I’ve seen from both Bird and Pixar in general. I’m thankful it’s more of a good movie formed from lacklustre ideas rather than a bad one failing despite good intentions, and I know that it could never meet expectations after that much build-up, but I can still hear the screams of a better movie hiding inside this one that I would much rather see. I’m glad Pixar has pledged they are going to work on more original ideas after this and next year’s Toy Story 4, but even after this I’d still be interested in an Incredibles 3 so long as it takes the story in a bolder direction.

FINAL VERDICT: 8/10

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Author: Jennifer Heaton

Aspiring screenwriter, film critic, pop culture fanatic and perpetual dreamer.

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