Fourteen years is a long time between installments within a film franchise and, for most, it would be too much to overcome. Audiences have relatively short memories and many once-bankable intellectual properties have been met with apathy and disinterest after waiting too long to return to theaters. Scream, Terminator, and Alien all struggled and ultimately failed to match their previous levels of success once they returned following a long hiatus. Predator will try again, later this year. But Pixar seems immune to such maladies and Incredibles 2 is poised to make big money at the North American box office, this weekend. The biggest difference between a Pixar film and those others is that people generally re-watch Pixar films fairly regularly, preventing them from ever feeling stale. Toy Story (find that #ThrowbackThursday here) feels just as relevant now as it did in 1995 and The Incredibles property is no different.
Released in 2004, The Incredibles was an instant smash hit, serving as Pixar’s version of Marvel’s Fantastic Four (if you doubt that influence, despite three of the four Incredibles sharing power sets with three of the Fantastic Four, then why don’t you do a search and compare the Incredibles’ villain, the Underminer, with the FF’s first villain, the Mole Man? I’ll be here when you’re done.). The familial theme resonated and audiences have been crying for a sequel ever since. For me, I enjoyed that first film but never counted it among my Pixar favorites. I think the humor fell a little too flat for me when compared to Pixar’s other efforts. With Incredibles 2, that all changes.
The new film manages to include everything that audiences loved about the original while putting a spin on things and updating it for 2018. The film picks up at the conclusion of The Incredibles and we get to see the battle with the Underminer that was teased right before that movie’s closing credits rolled. From there, the narrative picks up by addressing some of the unresolved plot threads from that first film (did you even realize that there were unresolved threads? There were! More than one!). These are addressed by simultaneously paying homage to many famous comic book stories that have come before and by adapting them to this cast of characters and a more progressive audience that has (theoretically) grown and matured since 2004.
I caught an IMAX double-feature, last night, and, even after revisiting the first film, I felt as if Incredibles 2 does a much better job of making me feel connected to the characters. I always felt as if there was an intangible that was missing from The Incredibles, as enjoyable as it was, that is clearly present in this new chapter. Writer-director Brad Bird dives deep into each character and fully explores their motivations for wanting to jump into the world of crime-fighting. He does this by presenting them with challenges that exist outside of the realm of supervillains they can punch (though we get those, too, of course). Here, our heroes must deal with the fallout of the unintended consequences of their heroic efforts, public perception, and the difficulties involved in bridging the gap between their personal and “professional” (so to speak) lives.
Following recent trends in Hollywood and society, in general, the spotlight shifts from Mr. Incredible to his wife, Elastigirl. The fun is in seeing Mr. Incredible try to be supportive of his wife’s new-found popularity, on the outside, while, on the inside, reacting like many of the manbabies out in the real world will react. Women are finally taking their rightful place as equals and I was glad to see it in this film, especially. Elastigirl reminds me (by design, I’m sure) of the Fantastic Four’s Sue Richards and Sue is my favorite member of the FF. So, I enjoyed getting to know Helen more in this film and understanding just how she could have risen to prominence as a solo hero before she ever met her husband-to-be.
Mr. Incredible/Bob spends much of his time being a different kind of hero: a father. Don’t misinterpret that to mean that he doesn’t see action; he does. But he spends more time with the kids than we saw in the first film and it’s a wake-up call for him. Common Core math is much more of a challenge for many people than Syndrome could ever be. Dash and Violet – just like most normal kids – struggle with finding their roles within the family as well as within society. Are they expected to be kids or are they expected to be superheroes? But it’s Jack-Jack that will steal the show for most. His emerging powers are a constant source of humor and entertainment and I expect to see LOTS of Jack-Jack merchandise hitting store shelves once the movie is out for a while and most people have seen it.
The action in the film gets a massive upgrade in terms of scale, innovation, and excitement. When the characters are talking, interacting, and being themselves, the film is fun and endearing. When the action kicks in, the film is just freakin’ cool. The Underminer battle delivers and the excitement doesn’t drop off in the subsequent action set pieces. I won’t spoil anything, but there’s a specific one-on-one fight about halfway through the movie that is completely unlike anything that’s ever been done before. The film is high-quality for all the reasons a film can be, but it’s those action scenes that will be bringing people back for repeat viewings.
If there’s one strike against the film, it’s that it doesn’t really cover any new ground for the superhero genre. But, honestly, at this point, it’s kind of hard to find new ground to cover. But what Bird does is take the story of the Parr family into organic directions and make it new for them, and that’s far more important. Different people will handle the same challenges in different ways. So, how do these people manage these challenges? Comic fans can look for traces of very well-known stories by such talents as John Byrne and Mark Millar. Non-comic book fans don’t need to be aware of those. No matter the viewer, Incredibles 2 offers up a heartfelt, funny, charming, and sensational action-adventure that surpasses the original in every way and made me feel all of the things I wanted the first film to make me feel, instead of just some of them. And parents: go ahead and start buying Jack-Jack toys for your kids’ holiday and birthday presents before everyone else catches on and they’re all gone. You can thank me for that heads-up by . . .
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