Review: Incredibles 2

22 August 2018

The original Incredibles film – fourteen years old at this point – was released at a time of peak relevancy for Pixar. Finding Nemo and Toy Story 2 were just behind them – arguably no one else in the West was making the same level of argument for the animated film as they were. They even set aside the commercial disappointment of The Iron Giant to hire Brad Bird – a statement of intent in a lot of ways. They wanted to be as much a part of a creative industry as they were part of a commercial one. They were good. They earned the reputation they now hold among adults by producing great work.

And Pixar is still great in a lot of ways. All of their movies are consistently well-paced, enjoyable, wide-appealing. Everything they make rings with the same bouncy, emotion-tapping energy. No one can question their quality and popularity – what in my eyes is the problem, in the creative sense, is their relevancy. Today only wistful adults and Mark Kermode hold Pixar at the same standard most people did in 2004. Kids hold Illumination Studios and the Despicable Me franchise in greater esteem. Pixar’s problem is twofold, really, and it has a lot to do with Disney, as well as their own legacy. I can’t help but feel cynical thinking about Incredibles 2, and why it has come around now, instead of a decade ago. It is not as if Brad Bird hasn’t spent the last ten years expressing reluctance about a possible sequel to The Incredibles, and it’s not as if Bird’s passion project – 2015’s Tomorrowland – wasn’t a major commercial failure for Disney. I cannot lie and claim that the money issue hasn’t bled into whatever opinions I have about Incredibles 2. It’s always difficult talking about creativity when it's this commercialised.

Incredibles 2 opens big, with the Parr family in hot pursuit of the Underminer, the villain who interrupted Dash’s sports day at the end of the last film. What becomes immediately obvious is how pretty the film is. The original The Incredibles benefitted from stellar art direction and Michael Giacchino’s punchy score, but Incredibles 2 is more vibrant, more flashy, more exuberant. Brad Bird’s world – a Watchmen for kids inflected with delightful 50s pastiche – has reaped many visual rewards from the fourteen year interim, much more so in fact than other Pixar sequels like 2016’s Finding Dory.

Visually and performance-wise, Incredibles 2 is stellar. It’s unfortunate then that I never really gave into it in the way I wanted. Watching it is like being presented a slightly dry birthday cake. The candles just don’t burn as bright as before. Half of me says this has more to do with heightened expectations and growing up than it does legitimate criticism, the result of me seeing Pixar less like a magic factory and more like a cartoon company started by Steve Jobs and a ‘cuddle’ enthusiast. My hopes for Incredibles 2 in the years prior to its announcement were something similar to the sequels to Toy Story, that characters would age and situations change along with their audience.

The fact that didn’t happen is fine, but I can’t find a way to dissuade my disappointment in that what is in some ways a retread of the first Incredibles. The film flirts with some vaguely progressive gender-swapping, tasking Mr Incredible with looking after the kids while Elastigirl fights crime for a pro-superhero business magnate, but the film never rounds these flirtations off, instead it enda with a familiar spiel about the joys of family and working as a team. It’s just all so familiar, leading one to ask whether the choice to keep the Parr family at the same age was deliberate or a ploy by Disney to sell more Jack-Jack bobble-heads and scented candles. The film also lacks any kind of real overarching theme or character growth – what is done in the film’s opening minutes is undone by its end, and characters like Dash and Frozone have surprisingly little to do other than imitate the people they were in the first film, leaving Incredibles 2 feeling not bad, and not even mediocre, but inconsequential, and definitely unnecessary. I left Incredibles 2 feeling more jaded and cynical than I had been walking in.

But there’s no justification in that. Writing this I am not doing any legitimate criticism. My hopes for this review circle more around you thinking that I’m a smart and perceptive person than they do me giving you a recommendation to a film you have likely already seen. Really, the only thing I can say is that by registering my slight disappointment in The Incredibles 2 I am being completely open and honest. But that’s not the whole truth. In all honesty, my disappointment is retroactive. For the whole of its runtime, Incredibles 2 was beautifully animated, solidly written and enjoyably paced. Not a Toy Story 3 or a Blade Runner 2049, it sits closer to something like Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again in the pantheon of late-term sequels – an upbeat, airy piece of fun that might-as-well-not-exist-but-we-are-honestly-all-so-glad-that-it-does. In the end, criticism is not about being critical – its about trying to communicate love of the medium, looking at what works – what helps – and what doesn’t. The deal is, Incredibles 2 works, and my shakiness in saying that has more to do with my pride than it does Pixar or Disney or Brad Bird. There’s a dumb sadness in the fact that I’d write a self-consuming, faux-intellectual article about a family film rather than admit that Bird and his team is more creative than I am.