CW: This review tries hard to avoid spoilers, but proceed at your own risk.
Incredibles 2, the long awaited sequel to the 2004 Pixar classic, delivers. The film is charming, smart, and has an ageless humour that is actually funny and caters for all demographics: both children and nostalgic adults alike.
It’s satisfying. Like turning a page to a new chapter, the opening picks up exactly where the story left off and answers the questions left on our lips when villain, the Underminer, literally digs his way into the original film’s cliffhanger.
As with its predecessor, Incredibles 2 grapples with society’s conflicted relationship with ‘Supers’, and addresses the power of manipulating perception to either make or break an image in the public eye. The main throughline of the film is an attempt to rebrand these superheroes to their rightful and valiant role as protectors, not nuisances. It is a mammoth task fit only for the finest—sibling telecommunication tycoons, and new characters, Winston and Evelyn Deavor.
Incredibles 2 sees Bob, Helen, Violet, Dash and Jack-Jack battle their new cyber nemesis, The Screenslaver. The action film that it is, the angles and visuals of fight scenes, accompanied by an iconic soundtrack, displays impressive animation and masterful building of suspense. There are no warnings made by the filmmakers, but those with photosensitivity should be aware of rapid flashing of bright light during one of the main action sequences.
However, the beginning of the film, up until the Parr family’s enemy is revealed, feels a bit flat. Where The Incredibles had a simple, followable plot sequence, Incredibles 2 rides the wave of nostalgia slowly, to the point where nothing interesting happens and the events that do take place lack a vital seamlessness to supplement relevant areas of plot later on. But then, it picks up the pace too fast and becomes a clusterfuck of crammed and rushed moments to save the day before the two hours of the film’s length runs out.
Unlike the first film, this time it’s Mrs Incredible who is thrust into the limelight. Like most female supporting characters, Helen is always subsidiary to her husband, and left to pick up the pieces when his reckless pride gets the best of him and plants his entire family into the hands of danger. Mr Incredible’s hubris once again pops up in Incredibles 2 when he struggles to see his wife succeed in the public arena as a crime-fighting superstar, while he’s left to do the domestic tasks at home. Sure, the flip on familial structures and gender roles is a progressive statement, but until he finally redeems himself, Mr Incredible’s whole ‘I’m the manly man, I should be working’ insecurity act is quite the snoozefest.
The film’s unnecessary, yet perhaps most emotionally gratifying area revisited is Violet’s awkward and downright relatable teen-angst over local heartthrob, Tony Rydinger. As all The Incredibles fans will remember, he finally notices the unforgettable heroine at the end of the first film, but in Incredibles 2, navigating their relationship has its own ups and downs. Yet in developing Vi’s character, and necessarily focusing on Jack-Jack’s newfound powers, the film does what all families do and leaves the middle child in the shadows. Dash feels like he’s there because he has to be, without serving any true purpose; he only sometimes helps out in times of need, even then at a periphery level, and spends most of his screen time meddling with other people’s stuff or struggling with maths homework.
Knowing full well that the original audience for The Incredibles has grown up, the second film matures with them. There’s an implicit sexual tension between Mrs Incredible and Evelyn Deavor that leaves you wondering if Pixar will play that card, while a placed emphasis on Helen’s physique in some of the shots regrettably satiates the recent ‘Mrs Incredible THICC’ phenomenon. Then there’s the oddest, most uncomfortable gag in the film, when Mr Incredible, who, in a worn out state, tells Tony Rydringer that his fourteen-year-old daughter “doesn’t always drip like that”.
The film also gets tangled in time with continuity parallels. While allegedly still in the early 1960s, the focus on ubiquitous technology and pervasive screens transcends the McLuhan ‘medium is the message’ era to feel targeted at ‘kids these days and their damn touchscreens’. Just as other superhero franchise, X-Men, made a political statement about racism, Incredibles 2 dips its foot into America’s Trump-era, alas in a cringey way that doesn’t sit well where placed in the film. Snarky gabs are aimed at politicians who would rather punitively intervene instead of letting good people do justice, and powerful figures who only get a “slap on the wrist” when in the wrong.
Nevertheless, it’s rare to see a sequel this good. Second installments often struggle to find a balance between remaining relevant to its antecedent, while establishing an independent, equally engaging new story. The bar was set high, but Incredibles 2 hits the mark. Now, when will they make a second Ratatouille?