Incredibles 2 might very well be the best superhero movie of the year despite a handful of quibbles. But it is somewhat difficult to put into words exactly why it works so well.
On the one hand, it is a beautiful marvel of animation and a great example of what computer animation in particular can do. Its world is so well-realized with a mid-1950s modernist aesthetic and its dedication to making even the most distant objects seems real. The action is crisp and thrilling, right from the Parr family’s attempt to stop the Underminder (John Ratzenberg) to the final frames. Nothing feels careless or extraneous in the direction of the film even if some of its plot feels a little under-thought.
Picking up moments after the conclusion of The Incredibles, Bob (Craig T. Nelson) Helen (Holly Hunter), Violet (Sarah Vowell) and Dash (Huck Milner replacing the first film’s Spencer Fox) find their new enthusiasm for superheroics curbed in the aftermath of the Underminder’s attack. In the fallout, the government program helping Supers lead “normal” lives is discontinued. Without a home to go back to or help from the government, the Parrs consider a job offer from communications magnate Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk). He wants Helen to become Elastigirl again and help raise the profile of Supers in a nearby city. Bob agrees to watch the kids as it means he will eventually get to be Mr. Incredible full time once more.
Thus the stage is set for the rest film, which switches between Helen’s wonderful superhero story to a less-focused series of vignettes with Bob at home. For the most part, it works as Helen’s fight against a new villain known as the Screen Slaver is filled with big action set pieces and an initially interesting mystery. Bob’s story, meanwhile, contains a lot of the film’s great humor as he deals with Violet’s emotions in the wake of getting stood up by Tony Rydinger (Michael Bird), helping Dash with his homework and discovering Jack-Jack has powers. The last of these developments quickly becomes the most interesting as Jack-Jack’s character starts getting defined. Granted, he’s still an infant and behaves as such, but his myriad powers quickly become an emotional shorthand as the jokes build up to a great punchline mid-way through the film.
But in the midst of this, Bob’s conflict in the film — adjusting to being the stay-at-home parent — never quite feels as lived-in as it should be. Nor does his resentment at being sidelined. The film just about gets away with letting these ideas go as it becomes interwoven with some emotional growth for Violet, but the thread disappears by the time Helen’s plot finally comes back home.
And just like the underbaked feeling around Bob’s story, the mystery behind the Screen Slaver will be fairly obvious to most grown-up viewers. Once Helen knows the truth, the Screen Slaver’s motivations will not feel as developed as Syndrome’s in the first film. Which is curious as it asks a very compelling question about superheroes and vigilantism.
These are, of course, issues which will only trouble adults with too much time to consider story. As a whole, Incredibles 2 is a well-crafted, uproariously funny and emotionally engaging film. That one would want to see Bob, Helen, Violet, Dash and the all the new characters developed even further is a testament to the quality director Brad Bird and his army of technicians strove for in the fourteen years between the two films. It is also a testament to the voice cast, who imbue these characters with such engaging and relatable personalities. While we might hold off in proclaiming it the best superhero movie of the year, it sets an incredibly high bar. Pun eventually intended.
Oh, but one word of warning: the Screen Slaver’s hypnosis technology uses an uncomfortable strobing light effect which could potentially trigger seizures. One scene in particular, in which Helen enters a seemingly innocent Faraday Cage, features an extended use of this lighting effect.
Incredibles 2 is in theaters now.