It seems ironic, considering the degree to which even the most lacklustre films get spun into franchises these days, that one of the few sequels audiences have begged for took fourteen years to materialise. It wasn’t just that the enormous commercial and critical success of Brad Bird’s ‘The Incredibles’ (2004) called for another instalment; it was the very apparent potential for further adventures with the superhero Parr family. The wait has been excruciating and the anticipation has been ridiculous, but is ‘Incredibles 2’ be worth the wait?
Picking up directly after the first film, ‘Incredibles 2’ finds the Parr family in deeper trouble with the authorities after their attempt to stop the Underminer goes pear-shaped. Their fortunes could change though thanks to billionaire siblings Winston (Bob Odenkirk) and Evelyn Deavor (Catherine Keener), who have a plan to change public opinion about superheroes. Suddenly, Helen Parr (Holly Hunter) is thrust into the spotlight as the active and public face of the reform, back in the ring as Elastigirl, while Bob (Craig T. Nelson) becomes a stay-at-home dad, looking after increasingly independent teen Violet (Sarah Vowell), precocious Dash (Huck Milner) and toddler Jack-Jack, who unexpectedly starts to show off powers of his own.
To get my bias out of the way, I think ‘The Incredibles’ is a masterpiece. It’s one of the crown jewels of Pixar’s filmography, Bird’s best work and probably the best superhero film ever made. I’m saying this so you know that I don’t make this statement lightly - that ‘Incredibles 2’ is most certainly worth the wait, In fact, it’s goddamn sublime. Blasting off from the moment it begins with visual magic, thrilling action and even richer character work, it delivers in almost every capacity, putting to shame not just most sequels of recent times, but recent blockbusters. Bird’s decision to pick up straight from the end of the first film is a smart one, allowing him to deal directly with the repercussions of where we left off (like Jack-Jack’s powers and Violet’s high-school crush), and build on the already firmly established family dynamic. As much as the action in ‘Incredibles 2’ takes everything up a notch, the emphasis on the family becomes even more so the heart of this film, with as much time spent on the relationships between parents and children, husbands and wives, and siblings as spent on breathless set pieces. In fact, the human moments are easily the most memorable ones thanks to their comedy, sincerity and honesty.
The shift in dynamics also gives greater scope to build on what we already know of these characters. With Helen at the centre, we’re finally given the chance to see what a formidable force Elastigirl is - strength, intelligence and high ambition sharpened to precision. By comparison to the blunt male force of her husband or other male supers, Elastigirl feels like the ultimate superhero, one where the cost of success doesn’t outweigh the success itself. We’re also given a chance to see Bob out of his element and learning new things about himself as a dad, but rather than playing the comedy of an incompetent parent out of his depth, the film actually allows him to find his feet with the kids and their routine until Jack-Jack’s powers throw that into chaos. We also see Violet begin her transition from a kid to a responsible adult, having to make difficult decisions for herself and her brothers when her parents become incapable of making them for her.
What’s most relieving about ‘Incredibles 2’ is how carefully Bird and his team have considered what made the first film work so well, and recaptured that same spirit without it feeling reused or tired. There’s the same wonderfully wicked sense of anarchy, especially the phenomenal second act where Jack-Jack’s powers take centerstage of the narrative, resulting in stand-offs with both iconic fashion designer Edna Mode (voiced again by Bird) and a very unfortunate raccoon. The film moves at breakneck speed when it needs to, propelled by an even more daring and sophisticated design and flat-out breathtaking animation. The universe itself is opened up further, with a greater understanding of the geography and many new supers, none of whom feel extraneous. As the new villain emerges, they do so organically, in tandem with the family dynamics and the building relationship between the Parrs and the Deavors, before merging with their story at the perfect moment.
What’s most relieving about ‘Incredibles 2’ is how carefully Bird and his team have considered what made the first film work so well, and recaptured that same spirit without it feeling reused or tired.
You can also tell how much the returning voice cast relish coming back. Hunter and Nelson instantly recapture their delicious banter, Hunter in particular sinking her teeth into Helen’s new sense of ambition. Vowell also really hits her stride as Violet in this film, and Milner doesn’t miss a step taking over voice duties as Dash. Odenkirk, Keener and returning Samuel L. Jackson are all fabulous, but the film really is at its best with the core four, and it’s as if the past fourteen years had never happened at all. They're just one of cinema's most memorable families.
Special note must also be made to another important return - composer Michael Giacchino. His score for ‘The Incredibles’ is also a masterpiece, his first major film work and arguably still his greatest work. His musical sound is as much a part of the Incredibles as Bird, Hunter, Nelson and Vowell, and his score for ‘Incredibles 2’ is another John Barry-infused jazz spectacular, furiously paced and endlessly inventive. It continues to build Giacchino’s reputation as one of the finest film composers of his generation.
It fills me with so much joy to be able to lay praise on ‘Incredibles 2’. It does everything a great sequel should - honour the tone and integrity of the original while spinning something fresh and distinct of its own. It’s also a welcome return to animation for Brad Bird, continuing an unbroken four-film streak of instant classics. ‘Incredibles 2’ is a rip-roaring action film, full of heart and electricity, boisterous and bombastic in all the right ways, and delivering in spades after so many years of anticipation. Just like its predecessor, it’s pretty damn incredible.