Brad Bird's 2018 sequel offers more of the same superhero fun as the original, but brings along some of its more pernicious politics.
I admit, I enjoyed the first Incredibles movie. Who couldn’t? It had great action, heart, and humor, with all the emotional resonance Pixar has become famous for. But I couldn’t wholeheartedly embrace it the way so many others have. I was always a little leery of its message, which seemed to be in favor of uplifting those deemed naturally superior while denigrating those who got to the top through hard work and ingenuity.
So I had more reason than most to be hesitant about a sequel. While Incredibles 2 mostly does live up to the spirit and standards set by the original, it does fall a bit short, mostly due to a lack of commitment and the complete inability to surprise.
Incredibles 2 picks up right where its predecessor left off, with the family battling the underground villain The Underminer. They manage to contain the worst of the damage, but The Underminer escapes, and people seem ungrateful to the family for their efforts. The police not only arrest them, they say their involvement cost the city more, and that the systems put in place would’ve taken care of the problem. As a result, the Parrs must leave their home, go into hiding in a crummy hotel, and the superhero program is dismantled.
But things start looking up when Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) decides it’s time for superheroes to return. He’s the CEO of a telecommunications company, and he knows that supers are going to need far better PR if they’re ever going to legal again. So he and his tech genius sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener) decide to show the public a different story. And since Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) has a high success rate with minimal damage, they decide to recruit her rather than her husband Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) to be the face of their campaign. And she of course encounters a new villain, the Screen Slaver, who is able to make anyone doing their bidding by hypnotizing them via screens, and is dead set against superheroes returning.
The adventure is problematic from the start, even if it comes with that Pixar mix of action and heart, along Jack-Jack’s (Eli Fucile) hugely entertaining, newly emerging abilities. The movie brings up so many questions, such as when it’s acceptable to obey a law that seems unjust, what breaking that law could lead to, and the ethics of Helen’s job itself, which as Violet (Sarah Vowell) points out, does pay her to break the law. There’s something to be said about how people are starting to live vicariously through the experiences they see on their screens, but this message is conveyed through a villainous mouthpiece and juxtaposed with Helen’s covert efforts to bring him down. It’s an excellent way to bring up a point while simultaneously disregarding it.
It’s also pretty easy to tell from the start just who the villain is. True, this wasn’t too surprising in the first film, but it did manage to be less obvious. It also ties into politics which are about as problematic as the first movie. It is governmental forces, such as the police and politicians who demand that the Parrs do nothing, uphold the infrastructure, and depict supers in a negative light. It is the free market forces, the CEOs, who come to their rescue and seem more in touch with how popular the Incredibles really are among the people. Nothing is mentioned about how the company who recruited them could abuse its power as well. Instead, all blame is laid at the feet of one person in yet another example of how the franchise seems to ironically disrespect innovation.
The women also don’t come off so well, which is surprising considering Elastigirl is out doing all the work. But she is the one who advocates obeying the law to prevent chaos. Violet also spends most of the movie crying over a boy and being an angsty buzzkill in general. She is the one who has to learn to be responsible, not her brother Dash (Huck Milner), who always gets to be cool and fun.
The biggest issue is probably the nostalgia Incredibles 2 has for its 60s setting. It’s no accident that the cartoon Jonny Quest has a brief cameo – the movie desperately wants this time period back, with its era of peace, prosperity, and promises of a better future without examining its very real problems. But various media (The Venture Bros being a great example) have already taken these concepts and showed the fallout. To really succeed, Incredibles 2 could have been a fun throwback rather than trying to show the origins of our present era, where screens are a constant, and addictive, presence. If you don’t think too much about what Incredibles 2 is really advocating, it’s a very enjoyable film. The filmmakers do make it easy, but such misdirection shouldn’t be necessary.
Incredibles 2 swings into theaters June 15th.