The state of superhero films today can only be described as ubiquitous. In 2018, there’s a new superhero movie every month. Sometimes two. And with Marvel films like Black Panther and Infinity Wars doing absolute gangbusters at the box office, there is no sign of slowing for the super-charged genre. But before Iron Man ever suited up or Batman began again, Brad Bird and Pixar offered a family-friendly spin on the Golden Age of superheroes with 2004’s widely adored The Incredibles. Its sequel, Incredibles 2, may pick up right where its predecessor left off but its commentary about popular culture is as timely as can be.
Just as the original Incredibles took a shot at nerd culture and the toxicity of fanboyism, The Incredibles 2 takes aim at escapist fantasies like superhero movies and society’s dependence upon devices. In a world of increasing global anxiety, populaces flee to cineplexes packed full of black and white heroism and villainy but the script from Bird dismantles easy notions of what makes a hero.
Take Mr. Incredible, or Bob (voiced with the everyman bravado of Craig T. Nelson), whose heroics come in the form of taking up the mantle of House Husband. With wife Helen (Holly Hunter), aka Elastigirl, thrust back into the spotlight in an endeavor to bring superheroes back into the public’s good graces, Bob is left to tidy, help son Dash (Huck Milner) with math homework, and trying – and failing- to not ruin his daughter Violet’s (Sarah Vowell) first date. Coming to the realization that the infant Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile) is himself incredibly super-powered may thrill Bob at first but only leads to eventual fits of exhaustion.
This subversion of expectation – with the burly man tending house while the lady saves the day – sets the scene for the Parr’s second super outing which sees media mogul Winston Deaver (an enthusiastic Bob Odenkirk) and his techno-savvy sister Evelyn (the crooning Catherine Keener) join efforts to re-legitimize superheroes.
Incredibles 2 zips along with a gleeful sense of purpose, earning tactful laughs, offering stunning set pieces, and bathing in a zealous knack for familial camaraderie. Playful but poignant, Bird and company have approached this sequel with a lot to say, with masked antagonist Screenslaver erupting as a pertinent villain who plays on society’s desperate attachment to anything screen-related. There’s a message woven into this animated sequel that demands a degree of reflection, one that supersedes the surface attack of “tech is bad, mmkay?”
With an expanded cast of characters, the superhero movie has a lot of colored individuals to play with and offers just about every character their moment to shine. The Incredibles 2 can play it safe at times, hanging in Pixar’s comfort zone and playing into some of their most familiar tropes (at this point, it’s just a matter of when, not if, the “hidden villain” is going to come into play) but the whole is such an invigorating spectacle fastened in timely commentary that it’s hard to begrudge its shortcomings. A Pixar sequel hasn’t been this good since Toy Story 3.
CONCLUSION: ‘Incredibles 2’ offers so much to love – a charming voice cast, dazzling and inventive set pieces, a keen sense of wit, and charitable cultural commentary – that it’s relative familiarity is essentially a non-issue. After a long stay on the sidelines, Pixar has returned to form.