REVIEW: The Pretty Good 'Incredibles 2'
As Incredibles 2 hurls its way to a potential billion-dollar gross behind a record-setting first day and a strong opening weekend of $182 million, dare I say it’s… not that incredible? Brad Bird’s sequel to his smash hit 14 years ago has now managed to capture two generations of fans, and while the new adventures contain excitement and humour, it falls a little short of the things that made the first one so memorable.
Picking up the story only minutes after the conclusion of the first film, Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) and his superhero friends have come under fire once again from the public; not only did they fail to prevent a bank robbery by the villain Underminer, their battle has caused tons of collateral damage to the city (again). The Incredibles – Bob and Helen Parr, and their three kids, Violet, Dash and Jack-Jack – are forced into permanent retirement by their handler, Rick Dicker, who informs them that a government-sanctioned superhero identity protection and relocation program will be shut down.
But, like in the first film, the demand for superheroes never really wanes. DEVTECH, a telecommunications company led by Winston (Bob Odenkirk) and Evelyn Deavor (Catherine Keener), believe that the only thing stopping the superheroes from making a comeback is a good PR campaign. (Like Hancock). They decide to make Mrs. Incredible (Holly Hunter), who returns to her former alter ego, Elastigirl, the focus of their campaign. This happens much to Mr. Incredible's dismay, who is clearly uncomfortable being Mr. Elastigirl and struggles to be a stay-at-home dad. Meanwhile, the Screenslaver, who has the ability to hypnotize and control the minds of his subjects, emerges as the new villain. Screenslaver, by the way, is like the Riddler to Syndrome's Joker – a bit of a copycat, but definitely less exciting, less funny, and far more forgettable.
It then becomes a little, well, paint-by-numbers. Bob and Helen must figure out their husband-wife problems, Violet (Sarah Vowell) has to figure out being a teenager, Dash (Huck Milner) has to figure out math homework and Jack-Jack does cute baby things. There are strong elements of a sitcom and if the Parrs had a TV show I'd definitely watch it, but none of the story threads really stood out.
It doesn't sound fresh, and I don’t think it’s just because it's a sequel. If the most memorable part of Incredibles 2 is Jack-Jack's fight against a raccoon, there's something wrong. The first film asked really good real-world micro questions in the superhero genre: What if I don't want to be saved? What if my superhero husband is having an affair? It forced the extraordinary to be ordinary, which is the exact opposite of the basis of superhero origin stories.
The sequel largely abandons that line of questioning. There's a libertarian slant that doesn’t seem to be present in the first film, even though the events of Incredibles 2 almost immediately follow it. A world of superheroes in which they're given free reign to serve society as they see fit seems to have fewer social and legal constraints that force them to struggle.
In the first film, Mr. Incredible has to deal with the aftermath of a lawsuit, resist the urge to punch his boss in the face and deal with a mentally unhinged fanboy. In the sequel, his biggest struggle is being a dad. Mr. Incredible struggling to raise three kids? I'll play along, but it's not exactly ground-breaking.
As for Elastigirl... I struggle to find her character arc. She's a fully-formed superhero who's smart and very self-aware and very much in control of her own powers, and she's obviously the pivotal character who cracks the mystery.
There is a feminist angle in Incredibles 2 and it's a relief to see Elastigirl be the focus; Violet, Voyd and the always-enjoyable Edna Mode are also fantastic. But I'm tired of swapping genders as a film trope. How many times have we seen this lately? The problem with a gender swap is that it forces women to fill the shoes that men have already filled rather than presenting new challenges and obstacles and uncharted territories for women to conquer. I would rather watch Wonder Woman or Bridesmaids or Sicario or Annihilation hundred times than Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters or Ocean's 8.
I don't think it's unfair to say that the gender-swap pandering that goes on now actually hurts feminism because some of these films don't end up being any good, and a film that's not good gets forgotten and therefore fails to make any sort of impact.
Ultimately, I have to give two thumbs up to Bird, who is one of my favourite directors and someone who can really craft some interesting and funny characters and infuse creativity into action sequences to make them feel exciting and fresh. Even if it's the second time the superheroes have had to stop a runaway train, the visuals were excellent and it was thrilling. It's a joy to watch, but ultimately Incredibles 2 leaves a little something on the table.
Incredibles 2 gets three and a half stars out of four.