Incredibles 2 movie review: Pixar’s earnest antidote to Avengers Infinity War’s doom
Director - Brad Bird
Cast - Craig T Nelson, Helen Hunt, Sarah Vowell, Huck Milner, Samuel L Jackson, Bob Odenkirk, Catherine Keener
Rating - 3.5/5
The most irritating thing about Scooby Doo - and it happened in every episode - was when Fred, shamelessly desperate for some alone time with Daphne, would say the words, “Let’s split up, gang.”
As a child, no cartoon on TV was as thrilling as Scooby Doo, and no cast of characters as fun to be around as Shaggy, Scooby, Velma, Daphne and that party pooper Fred - so separating the team felt almost cruel. Without exception, every ghost, ghoul and masked madman they encountered was because they weren’t together. So it made no sense that they kept doing it. In every. Single. Episode.
It was with mild trauma then with which I reacted to the moment when Incredibles 2, Pixar’s 14 years in the making superhero sequel, decided to split up Mr Incredible and Elastigirl for most of the film’s duration, and in a neat subversion of movie tropes, gave Elastigirl all the action and relegated Mr Incredible to a life of domesticity.
Of course, it makes narrative sense to divide characters into different groups - it’s always easier to write two scenes for two characters each instead of writing one for four. The greatest example of this screenwriting hack came not two months ago, when Marvel somehow found an effective way to give two dozen characters their due respect in Avengers: Infinity War.
Fortunately for Incredibles 2, it isn’t burdened with an overflowing line-up of characters to serve. The four it has a duty to honour, however, it does with the tremendous confidence and care typical of Pixar’s films.
It picks up a few months after the events of the first film, as the Parr family - Bob, Helen, Violet, Dash and Jack-Jack - continues to fight crime, disguised as their superhero alter-egos. The film opens with one of its many stunningly staged action set pieces, which ends with the Incredibles failing to stop an attempted bank robbery. With little to show for all the damage their actions have done, the Incredibles are left with no choice but to accept the government’s ban on all ‘supers’. But just when things seem to be at their lowest, a saviour - or two - arrives.
Winston and Evelyn Deavor are the rich children of a famous tycoon who was one of the biggest supporters of superheroes before he died. This fandom, this blind trust in ‘supers’ has seemingly transferred onto Winston and Evelyn, who inform the Incredibles that all they need is a PR makeover to turn their fortunes around. All we see about them, they say, is what the news shows us - which is the mass destruction and rampant chaos they leave in their wake. The public doesn’t see the risk the superheroes take every time they fight a lunatic villain. If they were to revamp their image, the Deavors assure them, the public will learn to love superheroes again, just like their father did.
That, in a nutshell, is the film’s premise, which to me sounds an awful lot like the plot of the 2008 Will Smith superhero movie Hancock, of all things, and validates my long-held belief that Hancock is an underrated classic.
The thing about Pixar movies - more specifically their increasingly frequent sequels - is that each film feels almost independent of the series’ larger arc. These movies are self-contained experiences, with their own three acts and their own individual identities. I suspect this need arises from the fact that it takes really long to make an animated film - especially at Pixar, a studio whose terrific track record and attention to detail speaks for itself. There is also a very real chance of the film’s original audience having grown up in the five or so years it takes to make a sequel. In essence, Pixar has to attract a new audience for every film. Of course, the interim years also make it possible for new generations to discover these characters - and it’s equally possible that teenagers who watched the first Incredibles movie in 2004 have their own kids now.
Nothing you will see in Incredibles 2 carries the same - or even a fraction of - the emotional depth of something like, say, a Toy Story 3. But such is the high bar that Pixar have set for themselves. Anything that seems less than exceptional seems like a disappointment. But as the studio enters a phase that seemed impossible even five years ago - a phase in which they’re churning out more sequels than originals - it’s concerning.
Kids of a certain age will not mind the serviceable story of Incredibles 2. The film is vibrant to look at (it retains that suave ‘60s style), the characters are just as warm as ever (Edna Mode, who I’ve always felt was a fairly accurate combination of Anna Wintour and Karan Johar, continues to steal scenes), and director Brad Bird’s natural talent for staging large-scale action is often on display (he really was the perfect choice to make a Mission: Impossible film, wasn’t he?). But in an age when we’ve honestly consumed an unhealthy amount of superhero films - most of them dark and brooding - all this might feel a little too simplistic for the grown-ups.
There’s a lesson in there about apathy and idealism, valuable because it comes at a time when doing nothing doesn’t seem like a valid option anymore - the Incredibles are, and don’t you forget it, people who do good simply because it is the right thing to do. They’re driven by nothing other than the desire to serve, to protect, to empower. And we need earnestness like this now, more than ever before.
Watch the Incredibles 2 review here