From the kitschy ‘60s-esque world-building, right down to each family member’s power set – strength for the dad, flexibility for the mum, invisibility for the awkward teenage girl – The Incredibles was a film firmly committed to the ideal of the nuclear family. The long-awaited sequel, arriving 14 years after the original, doesn’t take its time in subverting these traditions, switching the stereotypical gender roles and letting Helen Parr/Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) go on a world-saving mission while Bob Parr/Mr Incredible (Craig T Nelson) stays home to watch the kids. It’s a move that puts Helen front and centre, a positive step forward, but also means Incredibles 2 leans more heavily toward the superheroics side of its story than the family side, creating a hugely entertaining but less textured film.
Additional action feels natural in the context of the story, but is also clearly where Pixar and writer/director Brad Bird have let themselves be driven by the new cinematic world Incredibles 2 finds itself. No longer a novelty, superhero films are now the driving force of the worldwide box office, and in a saturated market, every series has to consistently up its stakes, and Incredibles 2 finds new villain Screenslaver threatening the entire, increasingly accepted, super population of the world.
Picking up from the moment the original ended (with the long-promised fight against the Underminer), superheroes are still illegal, but a campaign by telecom billionaire siblings the Deavors (Bob Odenkirk and Catherine Keener) promises to change that. With Elastigirl – the least destructive super – at the helm, their quest gains traction, but attracts villainous attention as well. Bird has really raised the action game this time out – the powers are used more imaginatively and the animation is slicker while maintaining the satisfying cartoony spring and simplicity of the original. A fight in the Screenslaver’s lair is wonderfully comic book-y; crisp, coherent, and colourful.
Back on the home front, Bob is trying his best as a single parent, dealing with Violet’s (Sarah Vowell) confused emotions and boy troubles, Dash’s (Huck Milner) homework, and the burgeoning superpowers of baby Jack Jack. This altered family dynamic is always funny and sweet, Bob’s exponentially increasing exhaustion conveyed through both superb animation and excellent voice work from Nelson. The voice acting remains of a very high standard across the board, as one expects from a Pixar cast, and Incredibles 2 marks the best Samuel L Jackson performance since The Hateful Eight.
Returning as ice-cool hero Frozone, Jackson has a lot of fun with relatively limited screen time, clearly excited to be reprising a hugely beloved character. Talking of fan favourites, the Bird-voiced Edna Mode also returns, still effortlessly funny and perfectly visually designed. Frozone and Edna’s appearances do pretty much only amount to cameos though, and the new characters taking their place are hardly as memorable. Stealing the whole film is Jack Jack. With at least 17 different powers and almost no control over any of them, he’s an adorable slapstick delight – possibly the most powerful being in the world, but more concerned with cookies than heroics.
In granting ultimate power to a character who has no cares about how to use it, Jack Jack is the best subversion of modern superhero movie tropes in Incredibles 2, which otherwise can embrace them a little too readily. Compared with the original, perhaps my favourite Pixar film, there’s too much plot and action and not enough suburbia and grounded, everyday problems. There are plenty of brilliant little moments and set pieces, yes, but nothing as immediately iconic and profoundly memorable as Bob throwing his awful boss through the walls of his insurance firm or the flawless ‘yeah, I’ve got time’ opening sequence of the original.
That’s not to say that Incredibles 2 isn’t great, and it’s certainly Pixar’s best non-Toy Story sequel. As a 2 hour blast of family-friendly fun, there’s nothing else releasing this summer on its level, and its all ages appeal is refreshing in a market in which interconnected comic book movies have become entirely too complicated for kids. 14 years of expectation is too much for any film, really, but if you can accept that it won’t recapture the magic of the first, you’re guaranteed a good time with Incredibles 2.