A whiz-bang romp with a 1960s aesthetic and clever dialogue, Pixar’s 2004 blockbuster ‘The Incredibles’ was as fun as it was thrilling, a beautifully elegant family comedy wrapped in spandex superhero suits. After taking a trip to live action with a bombastic ‘Mission: Impossible’ sequel and the well-meaning if aimless ‘Tomorrowland’, writer/director Brad Bird returns with ‘Incredibles 2’, picking up a storyline teased by the final moments of the original film.
The key voice actors are back: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, Samuel L. Jackson, and Bird himself. The film deftly keeps up the general look of the original while still incorporating advances in computer generated imagery. Newcomers like Bob Odenkirk, Catherine Keener and Isabella Rossellini help raise the stakes, presenting a story that looks head-on at the gender politics of both raising a family and living up to the travails of the superhero life.
Set a few months after the events of the previous movie, the Parr family is seen at the outset battling not only the Underminer villain but suffering through typical family quibbles. After the dust settles, the government chooses to shutter the “super relocation” project, making it so that each hero must live full-time as their secret identity and eschew all acts of overt heroism. A tech titan reaches out to the Parrs to generate publicity in order to sway public opinion, choosing Helen/Elastigirl (the less destructive one!) as the star of the show, resulting in a different set of challenges for Bob while home raising his precocious children.
The sequel is certainly ambitious, and its storyline is refreshingly adult in its construction. It delves into real moments of character development while still being accessible to young audiences. Still, like most comic book tales, the origin story is usually the most fun part, and where to go afterwards can prove challenging and at times anticlimactic. Without the novelty inherent in the first chapter, some of the jokes wear even more thinly, especially the underwritten Frozone character.
Overall, ‘Incredibles 2’ proves to be a credible follow-up, offering an assemblage of avenging superheroes who manage to entertain and exhilarate if never quite surprise. If the point of such a sequel is to build on what came before, to give audiences what they expect and prod gently into new directions, then Bird’s film meets its mark. It’s perhaps churlish to want more from the movie, and frankly it’s indicative of the entirety of Pixar’s post-‘Inside Out’ output, where it feels like Disney Animation has taken up the mantle of the truly exciting, engrossing animated fare.
‘Incredibles 2’ is fine if not spectacular, and given what came before that’s inevitably slightly disappointing. The hope was that Brad Bird would be able to capture some of the old magic that fueled the early years at Pixar. Indeed, there’s still a spark to Bird’s style, with some segments showcasing his mastery of movement and character. At other moments it feels more mundane, which is a shame. With many more changes taking place at the studio, including the imminent departure of Chief Creative Officer John Lasseter, the future for Pixar may lay in looking forward to new stories rather than revisiting old ones as has become its stock-in-trade lately.