The Incredibles is one of my all time favorite films. An open embrace of Silver Age superheroics perfectly interweaving family drama with worldwide threats. The animation is great with an art style that helps it be enjoyable even lacking today’s finer details. It’s just a great film all around and, to date, the best Fantastic Four film we’ve gotten.
I went into Incredibles 2 with a lot of hope. I really wanted to love this move. And it’s got a lot of the heart of the original. It’s taken advantage of modern animation without losing reliance on it’s retro-futurist aesthetics and identifiable art style. However, the more I think about the film, the more I dislike it.
Incredibles 2 seems less like a thematically united whole and more like a bunch of very interesting ideas strung together with astounding animated sequences between them. Yes, the events follow structurally in a fashion, but rarely do they interpenetrate or move toward some holistic vision. That’s a lot of jargon, yeah, but it’s something the original film achieved and Incredibles 2 didn’t.
Go rewatch the classic. You can discern two major thematic lines in the film. The one is the more simple “Defeat Syndrome’s evil plot” while the deeper one is the re-enlivening of the Parr family. However, Sydrome’s plot only begins (movie-wise) because it taps into the ennui of Bob (Mr. Incredible) – the two struggles become active together. The Act 2 turn to defeating the villain only comes about because Helen is going after her husband, thinking he’s cheating on her, and her children, making a bid to be a part of the exciting world of supers, tags along and get in trouble. The extended family struggle comes to bear in trying to save Bob. The Act 3 finale is really all about the family embracing their potential together and bringing that to bear in stopping the villain.
At every step, the movie’s inner life of family struggle is in dialogue with the outer drama of beating up the bad guys. It allows what should be just spectacle to become about big ideas and grasp one’s heartstrings and intellect with pretty profound themes of family and its hardships. It gives guys like me matter to reflect on. It’s also what makes for a really great superhero film (and something Marvel has tapped into over and over in unique ways).
Incredibles 2 wants to do this, but it’s trying to do too many things and never ties them together beyond structural chronological order. The whole movie begins with discussion about the legality of heroes with high-minded talk about doing the right thing versus following the law. Helen and Bob switch parental roles and the movie tries to explore that. The villain talks a big game about being enslaved to our screens and fantasies. Helen and her new employers go back and forth on issues of image and creativity. New heroes are introduced which gesture toward diversity and inclusivity debates. The villain pivots towards the end and is motivated by hatred of supers. Along the way, Dash and Violet go through all the troubles of modern children, like changing math and crushes.
All of this is fine, on it’s own, but it seems more a smorgasbord of ideas and themes and never really works to reinforce one another. This also makes it so none of the themes or ideas of the film have any real closure beyond a rubber stamp. The villain is defeated and supers are made legal because that’s the ending this sort of movie has. However, both are really just pro-forma. The heroes were stronger and thus were rewarded with being made legal. Never is there any attempt to actually address the themes or ideas.
Look, the movie has fantastic spectacle. The Jack-Jack v Raccoon sequence is just awesome. And Elastigirl’s fight with Screenslaver is terrifying and gripping. And the final fight sequences are a feast to watch. But it never goes beyond being a delight to the senses. All the parts in between, the parts which give spectacle and violence an actual human value? Those are just weak and the move is lesser for it.