A sequel to a 2004 Pixar classic released 14 years after the original should, logically speaking, feel dull or outdated. Incredibles 2 escapes that fate the hard way. Instead of peddling gimmicks or time shifting or offering a winking self-own, the movie brings the fun and trusts that the fun will be enough to keep the audience at attention. It does. The Pixariest of Pixar movies, Incredibles 2 sells the audience — kids, adults, the elderly, dogs — on feeling good. Plotwise, it’s a movie about parenthood and family, but this is fundamentally a film about propulsion. Like a Hot Wheels car, a roller coaster, or a toddler, it’s fun because it moves.
I wasn’t prepared to like Incredibles 2. As the father of a one-year-old, I was concerned that a cutesy movie about a dad who has a baby would annoy me by glossing the hard stuff or, if we’re to be honest, by depicting it accurately so I had to watch it before going home to the same sling and arrows. But Incredibles 2 gets into the hard stuff in a way that feels kind and doesn’t dwell. It’s easy enough to read cultural import into a Pixar film after the fact –seriously, read the next paragraph — but when I was watching the movie, I was really just watching it, rapt. Five minutes in Mr. Incredible says “We meet again Underminer!” right before he’s sucked into a vacuum tube. I didn’t think much about my mood after that (and when I finally did it had changed).
People like to say that Pixar movies are good because they are Pixar movies. And, the one common element a good Pixar movie has (okay, maybe not Cars) is that it will contain complex grown-up themes right alongside the kid stuff. A good chunk of Incredibles 2 is about Mr. Incredible figuring out how to be okay with his new identity as a stay-at-home dad while his wife brings home the superbacon (yes, it’s very similar to the 1983 Michael Keaton vehicle Mr. Mom). Emasculation as a theme is slightly unusual, but the stranger thing here is that Mr. Incredible and Mrs. Incredible are both credible characters in the movie. The vast majority of very popular animated films (including much of the Pixar slate) don’t depict a family with two parents.
Kids might actually learn something about mommy and daddy’s relationship from this film. Though that’s not, perhaps, the best way to get them pumped for it.
Though Incredibles 2 repackages some of its narrative beats from the first movie, this recycling is easy to overlook because of its heart and the fact that parents and children spend quality time together. Not to mention every single scene with baby Jack Jack is fantastic. Does he have every superhero power ever? Does he shoot lasers out of his eyes? Does he still seem kind of like your baby? Yes to all of the above.
But, again, all the family stuff is secondary to the joy of the film. And that’s because it looks and feels great. Once again, the score from Michael Giacchino sounds like it could be straight from a Sean Connery Bond movie. Which works well with the great action sequences. In fact, Incredibles 2 has some of the best chase sequences in any superhero movie in recent memory. Remember that motorcycle chase in The Dark Knight Rises? Elastigirl has a scene that rivals it. Plus, there’s one fight sequence that changes the entire look of the movie for a moment, briefly transporting the audience to the pages of ‘40s era comic book mashed-up in the sly style of a Lichtenstein painting.
In one scene late in the movie, Elastigirl gives her opinions about how to manage your life and expectations as both “cynic” and a “believer.” On the one hand, she views the world practically and cautiously, but on the other hand, she’s a gutsy risk-taker. Obviously, this split perfectly describes the movie itself. In some moments, Incredibles 2 is a risk-taking, self-aware, and a totally enthralling piece of pop art. But, sometimes the whole thing feels like a nostalgia trip that mostly recycles plot points from the first movie. It would be easy to fixate on the flaws, but when you’re having as much fun as you are in a movie like this it’s much better, to just be a believer.
Incredibles 2 is out in wide release from Disney/Pixar on June 15.