Incredibles 2 is enjoyable, but a little too familiar

Near the end of Ratatouille, Pixar’s 2007 masterpiece, the restaurant critic Anton Ego delivers his all-powerful review of the title meal, prepared by a rat. “In many ways, the work of a critic is easy,” he narrates. “We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment...But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new.”

Ego might as well have been elucidating the magic of Pixar itself. With the release of Ratatouille, Pixar kicked off a three-year stretch of original films that also included Wall-E and Up. It solidified the studio as the gold standard for animation, not only for their visual acuity but for creating stories that were wholly unprecedented.

That sense of newness is what made The Incredibles so great 14 years ago. It went toe-to-toe with “real” films in terms of action sequences, it was littered with iconic voice performances, and it found time for a gripping emotional through-line between all the action. All together, it was a sort of animated film we hadn’t seen before.

Now, after a long hiatus, the much anticipated sequel is here. Incredibles 2 picks up the day the last one left off: with the Incredibles foiling the Underminer’s bank robbery attempt. They succeed in heroic fashion, but not without getting in the way of the police and causing catastrophic damage to city buildings. The police have no patience for supers, and the public has turned on them; supers are outlawed, and the Incredibles are out of options.

Out of options, that is, for a few hours. That very same night, Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) tells Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) and Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) that he had been contacted by a mysterious businessman who wants to bring supers back into the limelight. The backer turns out to be a pair of billionaire siblings, Winston and Evelyn Deavor (Bob Odenkirk and Catherine Keener), who want to use the technology of their corporation, DevTech, to show the public just how helpful superheroes are. The Deavors have one condition, though: they want Elastigirl to be the face of the operation, leaving Mr. Incredible with stay-at-home dad duties.

Incredibles 2 possesses much of what made The Incredibles so entertaining. The action scenes possess more clarity and suspense than most Marvel movies (the animation is much improved from the original), giving the film a sense of real stakes. The voice performances are, again, stellar; Holly Hunter’s performance as Elastigirl gives her character a richness that many voice actors fail to create. And the film is full of very funny moments: Jack-Jack’s (Eli Fucile) bout with a raccoon, and Mr. Incredible's bout with fatherhood, are standout scenes.

And yet Incredibles 2 doesn't have anything new, nothing that Anton Ego would venture to defend. Issues of parenting and gender roles play a factor, but they are nothing groundbreaking, and kind of get lost in the shuffle of the action. The story itself is fairly standard, and easy to anticipate. The Deavors are, from the beginning, clearly not revealing everything about themselves, and the time it takes to get to that reveal is exhausting.

What is missing most from Incredibles 2, though, is the emotional core that is present at the heart of The Incredibles. In the original we get this, crucially, on two fronts. The family is navigating how to exist as the mild-mannered Parrs and the Incredibles, to love each and to work together to save the world. But there’s also an emotional through-line in the stellar performance of the villain, Syndrome (Jason Lee). Syndrome has a personal motivation to go after Mr. Incredible, and the fact that it’s personal makes it more meaningful. When Syndrome says that Mr. Incredible taught him that you can’t trust your heroes, there is genuine heartache, and it makes the story more compelling.

In Incredibles 2, the villains are much, much less interesting. There’s a brief backstory provided for the central motivation, but it’s kind of lame, and not directly related to the Incredibles themselves. Moreover, the film has so much plot to get through that there isn’t much time for truly emotional moments among the members of the Parr family. At the end, the potential for another sequel is teased; I’m not even sure if I’d want one. (Side note: we don’t really get a good justification for why we should have superheroes. Like, we like the Incredibles. But it sure seems like the existence of superheroes is causing a lot of the problems in the first place.)

I was kind of hoping, in fact, that Incredibles 2 would go in that direction. In a time of superhero oversaturation, it would have been interesting to see a film explore why we need these heroes at all. It could have been a new direction, something Anton Ego would have admired. Since that three-year stretch of originals that began with Ratatouille, we’ve had six Pixar sequels and just four originals. My favorite recent Pixar films have been the originals (Coco & Inside Out), because they were like nothing I had seen before at the movies, animated or otherwise.

This is not to say that I don’t like Incredibles 2; I really do! It’s a fun movie. It is to say, though, that my expectations are tempered for Pixar’s next film, Toy Story 4. New installments to these franchises I love are nice, but I’d rather have something that gives me the feeling of unprecedented joy that The Incredibles delivered 14 years ago. Incredibles 2 is good. But it doesn’t quite live up to the family name.

Incredibles 2: 3 stars