14 years is a long time to wait for a sequel, especially for such a beloved movie as The Incredibles, but when you think about it, the pressure to deliver a worthy sequel isn’t of the same variety as the normal two-year gap between franchise installments where everything is still pretty fresh in the old Gulliver. Only a few 18 year-olds would remember seeing this in the cinema if they ever saw it at all, and for those that did, the passing of time likely watered down the enthusiasm. I speak mostly of the feelings I had when I first heard of the sequel: about time, and it better be good. I enjoyed the first movie a lot, but it didn’t achieve greatness for me – this one didn’t either.
One thing that’s annoyed me about The Incredibles is how it’s often described as the best Fantastic Four movie. To me this is a bullshit statement – as someone who is a lifelong fan of the FF comic book, particularly the Stan Lee and Jack Kirby years, and the John Byrne run of the 80s, this is a comment that strikes me as ignorant as any of the three cinematic duds dropped upon an unsuspecting public – okay, four if you count the little-seen Roger Corman effort. The Fantastic Four has never been a “sitcom” book, and really not even a “family” book either – most of the stories only pay lip service to this dynamic. By and large, the FF is a superhero team book, and that’s that. It’s why none of the movies have been good adaptations, and why The Incredibles doesn’t succeed as an affectionate homage. Rant over, back to business.
Like I said, I enjoyed the first movie but didn’t love it. I’m not an animation guy – most of the time I have zero interest in watching animated features, and when I do, even the best of them don’t instill in me the same kind of pleasure others get from them. I’ve liked the Toy Story movies, and The Iron Giant, and probably some others that don’t immediately come to mind – I much prefer live action. That explains my lack of unrestrained enthusiasm upon hearing of a sequel in the works, and probably the reaction I had on finally seeing it. I knew going in that this one wouldn’t blow me away, but I expected to like it.
The story itself doesn’t exactly scream upgrade here, which I found a bit disappointing. Not that every sequel needs to bigger, which is something I think the Marvel Studios movies seem obsessed with, but I expected more, and not just after a gap of 14 years. After an incident which brings about the banning of superheroes (which is a little too much like Captain America: Civil War’s inciting event), Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl are forced to swear off heroics and keep a tight lid on the powers of their children Violet, Dash,and Jack-Jack. While Mr. Incredible is tortured by this immediately, it takes a little while longer for Elastigirl to admit she misses the adventure too. However, an offer by Winston Deavour to help bring superheroes back out of the shadows that’s extended only to Elastigirl makes Mr. Incredible feel overlooked and frustrated, especially when it becomes clear that accepting the offer has given Elastigirl the chance to be a hero again. It’s at this point in the movie that I felt my interest waning. As I said, the sequel does not take the bigger is better approach, so the story is fairly low-key in comparison to its predecessor, but I expected more. By splitting Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl into two storylines, the movie feels unbalanced to me. Elastigirl’s solo story is more interesting, but not compelling enough, especially in comparison to the direction Brad Bird chose for Mr. Incredible: fish-out-of-water house husband. I mostly sat through this storyline with some annoyance. Not only is the “incompetent Dad” storyline long in the tooth, it’s also borderline insulting these days, in much the same way that TV ads featuring the childlike, simple-minded husband trope. We’re two decades into the 21st century, and we’re still seeing this? It was done a lot better by Michael Keaton in Mr. Mom, but c’mon, that movie is practically prehistoric. Of course, both subplots have familiar arcs of their own:; Elastigirl finds a moderately interesting mystery to solve, and Mr. Incredible rises up to the challenge of fatherhood and finally gets the hang of it. I feel what could have given both stories more interest for the adults in the audience would be to show the effects of other people appreciating them for who they are – like a female neighbour for Mr. Incredible, and a not-exactly innocent motive behind Deavour’s offer to Elastigirl, which would have introduced some more meaningful tension between the superspouses and an end to their arc that would have strengthened their own marriage. After all, these movies ain’t just for the kids, right? But in the end, you simply get a teaming up to fight the Big Boss at the end, in a climactic battle that didn’t really do a lot for me. By the time the story is resolved, I came away thinking the movie was cute, but I’d seen too much of it too many times before – and sure, that’s an effect of the sheer glut of superhero movies in the 14 years between Incredibles 1 and 2, but also by uninspired and way too familiar plot points.
The animation was top notch, though. Pixar triumphs in this field, even when rival studios rise to meet the challenge. I really liked all the characters, from design to voice acting, and I greatly appreciate the fact that superheroes can have a life outside of the mask. It’s the one element that has been utterly lost in the comics and movies, probably forever, and one reason why there likely will never be a truly great live-action superhero movie. And speaking of action, Bird has produced another animated feature that’s really well paced – even the mostly dull Mr. Mom scenes aren’t allowed to last too long, and are enlivened by the manifestation of Jack-Jack’s uncontrollable abilities. Bird is smart enough to make sure that action doesn’t overwhelm the storyline and squeezes in some good small character moments. Even though they’re not brilliant, they’re welcome, and truly give the sense that while The Incredibles are superheroes, they’re also a close, loving family – these were the moments in the movie that I liked for reasons touched upon in this very paragraph. Marvel and DC could learn a lot by looking at these two movies, although I’m sure they won’t. When everything is bigger, bigger, BIGGER in successive entries within a franchise, it’s story and character that get lost. While I liked Avengers: Infinity War, I didn’t love it due to this lack of depth.
I’d definitely be up for a third Incredibles movie, but I might be drawing my last breath on the day of its release.
© Andrew Hope, 2019
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