Fourteen years is a long time between movies. So long, in fact, that it’s more than enough time create a follow-up feature that could potentially reach the exuberant heights of the original. Such time is a luxury most Hollywood sequels are rarely afforded. In the case of Disney-Pixar’s “Incredibles 2,” those fourteen years of waiting will undoubtedly feed into the enjoyment of seeing America’s favorite super-family back in action. To that end, the film is just as fun as you might expect, but as a sequel, it nearly falls flat.
I realize I sound old and sentimental when I say “The Incredibles” is a perfect film, though I invite everyone to give it a re-watch and tell me I’m wrong. As with the best Pixar creations, the beloved original is an immaculate beauty of retro-futuristic flourishes, pitch-perfect character dynamics, and simplistic storytelling buoyed by animation that flows like the clearest river you’ve ever seen. I suppose I should not have expected “Incredibles 2” to even come remotely close to such quality, but considering that Brad Bird came back to continue his vision, I ought to believe this could’ve turned out way better.
Picking up right where the first film left off, the Incredibles face off with the Underminer (John Ratzenberger). Their quarrel reduces some city landmarks to rubble, which provokes the government and the media to blame the Incredibles for escalating the situation. Faced with the dilemma of wanting to continue saving people and protecting their children from government intervention, Bob/Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) and Helen/Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) accept an offer from telecommunications tycoon Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) to help bring supers back into a favorable spotlight. Helen is soon chosen to be the face of Winston’s cause, leaving Bob to watch the kids, Violet (Sarah Vowell), Dash (Huck Milner, replacing Spencer), and baby Jack-Jack. As Helen pursues the mysterious Screenslaver, Bob struggles to keep the house in order, but the real chaos ensues once he discovers Jack-Jack has a litany of uncontrollable superpowers.
Right off the bat, “Incredibles 2” becomes one of Pixar’s best-looking efforts. Bird hasn’t lost a sliver of the talent he puts into realizing the sleek aesthetic of this world and its people. Notice how the lines and shadows on faces are more cleverly defined than in the usual Disney joint. And marvel (pun intended) at how these faces pop as they zoom through every explosion, hallway, and cityscape that Bird dishes up with terrific aplomb. What’s more is that the film’s action adopts a grittier attitude; the first couple sequences recall “Man of Steel” in terms of close-quarter danger, but Bird retains his fluid sense of movement and rhythm throughout. It’s straight out of a comic-lover’s wet dream.
Though it is nicely staged, “Incredibles 2” can’t seem to find a real emotional tug. The family is almost consistently thwarted with danger, but personal struggle is hardly a concern. When it is, however, it is always played for laughs. Bob’s constant back-and-forth with the adorably troublesome Jack-Jack - who, unsurprisingly, steals the entire movie - is ridiculously funny, but without said emotional pull within or on either side of it, the whole thing feels gimmicky. (There’s an incredibly sly reference to “Spirited Away” that I hope animation fans catch.) Even Violet’s adolescent depression over finding out that would-be boyfriend Tony has totally forgotten who she is feels disingenuous - it turns out, as the opening scene shows, Rick Dicker (Jonathan Banks, replacing the late Bud Luckey) has wiped his memory after running into her during the Underminer battle.
I can’t really chide the film for being funny at all, but its insistence on pleasing viewers in the moment while sacrificing meaningful character development and world-building makes it difficult to defend all the buffoonery. What’s sadder is that the humor comes at the expense of exploring some thoughtful ideas that Bird introduces early on. Winston’s resolve to change the world’s perspective on supers by way of positive media coverage and the effect it has is forgotten about halfway through.
There’s also the obscure motive of the Screenslaver, which begins to play as a dark commentary on society’s cozy relationship with watching the world through screens. A haunting monologue delivered by the menace as Elastigirl swings her way to his lair holds promise for a fascinating revelation that never really arrives. These ideas ultimately buckle underneath the desire to tickle funny-bones and pander to those who’ve anxiously waited to see it. At the end of the day, “Incredibles 2” is business as usual for Disney; sporadically funny, but severely lacking in sincerity and depth.