The Incredibles 2 is just plain ok

“The Incredibles 2.” What do I have to say about this? Finally, after an unnecessary but genius “Toy Story” sequel, multiple mediocre “Cars” sequels – even a sequel to “Monsters Inc.,” does Brad Bird’s “The Incredibles” get a second installment.

I was unaware that many people were asking for this.

Don’t get me wrong, a second “Incredibles” could have been fun, groundbreaking in fact. Bird is a fantastic writer-director, and given that he had 13 years to come up with a sequel, this film was always destined to be good, even incredible. However, while the first one ends on an obligatory sequel bait scene, that seemed to be making fun of sequel bait scenes (the scene’s villain, the Underminer, would look at home right next to “Deadpool 2”’s original X-Force squad of rejects), the film wraps up in a way that doesn’t leave very much room for Pixar to explore the character they set up, unless they aged them considerably.

“The Incredibles 2” picks up moments away from where the first film left off, in a move that I interpret as something Disney and Pixar did for the sake of brand security rather than desire to make a breakout film. As a result, much of “The Incredibles 2” feel like the first film on repeat.

The excuse for this film existing is that despite the heroic deeds of the first film, superheroes, nicknamed “supers,” are still illegal, and the film continues the throwaway Underminer heist established at the end of the first film to illustrate this, as while the Incredibles and Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) manage to stop the villain from destroying the city, they arguably cause a lot of property damage, while the mole-like villain gets away. This leads to the termination of the protection program the Parr family was under, which directly undermines (no pun intended) all the god will they built up during the first film.

Pretty anticlimactic, especially if you decide to watch these two films back-to-back.

Image result for the incredibles 2
Is this still from “Incredibles” 1 or 2? Does it matter? 

However, this also draws the attention of a wealthy businessman, Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk), who seeks to change the public perception of supers for the better, and using that good will to convince politicians to make them legal once again.

That in of itself, battling unjust laws, is a powerful plot thread that Bird could have capitalized on, and indeed for the few moments where his characters are allowed to reflect on the internal struggle of following the law versus doing what’s right, it is, but it’s almost as if due to studio pressures, Bird was ushered to shift the focus on larger than life personalities, flashy chase sequences, and yes, the inescapable, ridiculously bloated third act that has claimed the lives of many superhero movies since “Incredibles” 1 came out.

There are several ways in which “The Incredibles 2” could have risen from being a run-of-the-mill popcorn flick to one of Pixar’s best. I will itemize them for you below:

  1. Develop the characters further. Our cast of Mr. Incredible (Craig Nelson), Elastagirl (Holly Hunter), and their daughter Violet (Sarah Vowell), son Dash (Huckleberry Milner) and son Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile) are all more or less the same people from start to finish. They all have clearly defined characters, and while they all learn new things, they aren’t brought to new or interesting places that force their characters to rethink the way they act or perceive the world. Mr. Incredible and Elastagirl have the closest thing to an arc we see through a simple role reversal in the regards that instead of Mr. Incredible being the one who has to leave the family and go on some eccentric adventure, while Elastagirl stays home with the kids, Elastagirl is in the spotlight, and Mr. Incredible has to learn how to become a stay-at-home dad. But that role reversal isn’t enough, as both characters more or less relearn the morals of the first film about not trusting demagogues and being true to family.

    Image result for the incredibles 2
    Instead of having Mr. Incredible go on an adventure far from home only to stumble upon a liar revealed plot thread, Elastigirl goes on adventure far from home only to stumble upon a liar revealed plot thread. 
  2. Make a convincing villain. With the recent releases of “Thor: Ragnarok” and “The Avengers: Infinity War,” audiences have gotten used to having villains that are written almost as well as the protagonists, specifically in superhero films. This was a direct result of fatigue from what has been called the Marvel formula to writing villains: Give them a mildly interesting cool look (but not as cool as the main character), make them angsty, give them a vague motivation, and throw in an army of disposable minions if you want. While Marvel didn’t invent this way of writing supervillains, even they have abandoned this formula because it simply doesn’t work, and it’s a hole the villain of “The Incredibles 2” falls into. While she has an interesting, invented ability, to mind control anyone who looks at a screen (thus her mantra, “Screenslaver”), her motivation of wanting to get rid of supers because they failed her once in the past is beyond flimsy, and pales in comparison to even “The Incredibles” 1 badie, who was a little more than a manchild acting on feelings of rejection inflicted on him during childhood.

    Image result for the incredibles 2 screenslaver
    “The Incredibles 2” villain can control anyone who looks at a screen. Get it, because millenials are on always online all the time? Do you get it? The villain’s name is “Screenslaver” because we’re in a form of digital slavery to our technology. Did you get it? Screen-slaver. It’s clever cultural commentary! 
  3. Bring us to a cool location. The first “Incredibles” brought us to an exotic island controlled by a mad genius who acted more like a Bond villain than your average child’s supervillain. Say what you like about Syndrome from the first “Incredibles,” but he was an interesting character with plenty of toys to keep our heroes at bay, and despite his arguable immaturity, he was cunning and had clear motivations. All of this made his lair all the more interesting, because it was a place completely of his own design – his island was arguably a character in of itself. “The Incredibles 2” takes us to a city, a skyscraper, a boat, and an expensive house, and while exciting action sequences do happen here, I can’t help but think it was a waste, especially considering with animation, you can literally go anywhere. Imagine an “Incredibles” movie in China, in Africa, in Japan. An interesting change of scenery alone could have made an “Incredibles” sequel worth watching, but they chose to stick to the familiar, tried-and-true.

    Image result for the incredibles island
    Syndrome’s island from the first film. 
  4. Change up the cast. There are several ways in which they could have done this: Change up the family dynamic.

    What if Mr. Incredible and Elastagirl went through a divorce? What is their illegal status meant that their children had to be placed in protective custody? In a time where America has come under the world spotlight for separating children from their parents at the border, such commentary would be both timely and needed.

    They could have also aged the Incredibles. Part of my frustration with this film is that the children characters had little to no chance of developing their characters because of the age they were at. Children can go through incredible live-altering circumstances and still remain more of less intact as they don’t always realize the full consequences of their actions or the ramifications of their circumstances. And thus, I feel like all the child characters are more or less the same characters we got in 2005, even at the conclusion of this film. It would have been so much more interesting to see a grown up Violet and Dash dealing with the aftershocks of the first movie, trying to start lives of their own, while their abilities hold them back from being normal. How would Jack-Jack grow up, especially considering how versatile and indestructible he is? And this would also give Pixar a chance to introduce a potential new generation of supers for kids in 2018.

    They also could have killed off a main character in-between films, and you know that Pixar usually isn’t afraid to go there. However, such a move would be a risk, even for this studio, and it seems obvious that Disney was more interesting in keeping “The Incredibles” as a strong brand than rocking the boat.

    Similarly, they could also have added to the cast, which seems to be the popular choice for these type of films. What happened to Mr. Incredible and Elastagirl’s parents? Are there other supers in the Parr family tree?

  5. Make the villain the main character, ala Thanos. The heroes could still win, and we would still get plenty of them on screen, but writing the villain in this way would allow us all to sympathize with them. Besides, the Incredibles were already written effectively before, and it seemed like Bird and Disney were perfectly happy with putting those characters on repeat, so why waste extra screen time on something you’ve done well before?

And I bet you all can add to this list in the comments below.

Point being, from every angle you look at it, “The Incredibles 2”is simply ok. Despite the fact that Elastagirl is the main character, the film doesn’t show us anything we haven’t seen before, but done better. The cinematography is industry standard, and it really seems like in the ever-growing world of computer animation, Pixar has lost their visual edge. I think the fact that this film mimics the style of the 2005 film does not compliment it, especially when watched in theaters in 2018, but it doesn’t take away from it, either.

The sound design isn’t really noticeable, which in most circumstances is a good thing. Great sound design can elevate an animated feature, allowing its actions to seemingly leap of the screen, but bad sound design can completely break the illusion you’re trying to convey. OK sound design neither detracts nor adds an extra layer to the flick, and that’s where “The Incredibles 2”’s sound design seems to sit.

The script feels a bit rushed and ordered on demand, though its characters are all written in a way that they work, but at this point, we all expect a bit more from Pixar.

To me, Pixar has gotten complacent in the last 10 years, having a breakout film every now and again, but mostly resigned to bringing to life scripts like “The Good Dinosaur” that feel like they were festering in a drawer for years or pumping out unneeded sequels to their recognizable IPs. Their films feel less magical and more made on an assembly line, and they face strong competition from Disney’s other computer animation studio, that has given us breakout hits like “Moana,” “Frozen,” and “Wreck-It Ralph.”

I love Pixar, and while “Inside Out,” and “Coco” prove that they still have at least a few gems left, I can’t help but wonder if the studio is fated for the same sad ending as Disney’s once world-renown hand drawn animation department. I can’t help but wonder if Brad Bird and John Lasseter will find themselves in a similar situation to Don Bluth. It begs the question: How long can you be the best at your craft, and how long can you continue to one-up yourself before you have nothing left to give?

With that being said, “The Incredibles 2” is far from a fall from grace – Pixar already had that moment with its “Cars” sequels – but it isn’t anything special, either.

The Incredibles 2 gets a 5/10

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