In hindsight, it’s hard not to view Brad Bird’s 2004 animated feature- The Incredibles as a breezy, heartfelt and sobering postmodern bow to the minuscule superhero genre that existed in the early 2000s. Through its family-focused story, the film grappled with the pragmatism about exceptionalism, insofar as when it is right to show off genuine ability in a world that favours mediocrity and shuns excellence. At the same time, the film was an unabashed love letter to a long-gone era of James Bond films that were sly and elaborately designed.
The Incredibles 2 now enters a superhero movie landscape that feels like it’s persistently expanding in its scope. This year alone has seen the sub-genre make cultural strides with Black Panther and tear up its cinematic universe-building rulebook with the death infested, cosmic epic- Avengers: Infinity War. It’s a credit to the fourteen-year follow-up that it manages to retain the spirit of the original picture, while still having enough to say about the genre.
Rather than setting the narrative in the far future, The Incredibles 2 immediately picks up after the events of the first picture. After stopping an attack from the amusingly named villain- The Underminer (John Ratzenberger): the Parr family are called to task for causing damage to a government building.
The inciting event means that the family have to embrace domesticity, due to the slowly eroding public trust of superheroes. To counter, a tech company (DevTech) run by ardent superhero devotee, Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) and his technologically inclined sister- Evelyn (Catherine Keener); seek to restore the reputation of costumed crusaders with a series of publicity stunts involving Elastic Girl (Holly Hunter).
At its best, The Incredibles 2 engages as a mirror image of the 2004 film. Part of its appeal is in seeing the ripple effects of the reversed dynamics. The original had Robert Parr (Craig T Nelson) embracing the Mr Incredible identity for a sense of self-worth. Whereas, Helen Parr was at peace with her civilian identity and role as a mother. The sequel has Helen pragmatically adopting the persona of Elastic Girl for the potential of legalising costumed crime fighting. Consequently, Robert has to hang up his tights and embrace his role as a father.
In its most resonating moments, The Incredibles 2 is a potent reminder of the stresses of parenthood, in which the act of keeping up with the everyday activities is as divine as lifting a heavy truck. Writer/Director Brad Bird injects these sequences with a zippy and energetic pace that results in a charming series of vignettes about a frustrated father. Though, a protracted sequence involving Jack-Jack’s ever-morphing powerset in a showdown with a squirrel wears out its welcome with its inherently one-note premise.
On the other hand, The Incredibles 2 frustrates with its half-baked central antagonist. The character of Screenslaver is a thematically timely character, who directly plunges a knife into the heart of superhero fiction, by equating its existence with the passivity of the technological age. The mid-film monologue in which this point was delivered filled me with an incomparable dizzying surreality. In the immediate aftermath, I felt as though a deleted reel from David Cronenberg’s Videodrome had been accidentally inserted into the film.
Despite this early promise, the character is never quite so engaging again. Crucially, Screenslaver is posited as a dark mirror of Helen. However, in execution, this comes off as an underdeveloped idea that can’t help, but feel superficial in terms of the paralleling. To make matters worse, the reveal of the character’s identity feels like its cinematically evoking the oldest archetype in the book, with the Film Noir shot composition. This is a shame as the design of the Screenslaver was unique because it felt like an interesting riff on the glasses motif from John Carpenter’s 1988 film- They Live.
By comparison, the antagonist of The Incredibles, Syndrome (Jason Lee) was a clear and prophetic mirror for Robert, whose self-gratification of his heroic identity could equally lead to familial resentment, as much as it did to the inventive young kid that adored Mr Incredible. And his design was frightening because it felt like a twelve-year-old’s fantasy of hero worship gone array as the character had framed himself as Mr Incredible’s ultimate nemesis.
The Incredibles 2 never ceases to be charming, engaging, or beautifully animated, particularly with its darker colour palate comprised of green and black. However, it feels less potent then it ought to be. What the original film conveyed in one powerful line, the sequel stumbles in evoking throughout its running time.