I saw The Incredibles in theaters when I was four years old. Now, fourteen years later, I sat in an IMAX theater to watch the sequel I had been waiting for, quite literally, all my life. It is my pleasure to declare, that it was well worth the wait.
Before we talk about The Incredibles 2, let’s go back in time a little bit. There is not a doubt in my mind that the original Incredibles is one of the most, if not the premiere, formative films in my life. I have seen it more times than one can possibly count. From a very young age, I became obsessed with the production of the film. I watched all of the featurettes on the DVD, and have probably seen the movie more times with director’s commentary than I have without. It genuinely kickstarted my obsession with movies in general, helped to show me that films truly are art, and those that are thoughtfully made are better than those that aren’t. But perhaps the most important development the film had on my taste in regards to this piece today, is it solidified Brad Bird as my favorite director. Brad Bird, the modern auteur, has an oeuvre of some of the finest films of the past twenty years. Starting with the Iron Giant, moving onto the Incredibles and Ratatouille, (without forgetting his legendary tenure on The Simpsons), there is no finer director of animation than Mr. Bird. His live action work is comparably impressive, from the unbelievably good Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol to the controversial but undeniably ambitious Tomorrowland. Each of his films instills in me the same feeling: modern movies can still be amazing. And thankfully, The Incredibles 2 is no different.
Fourteen years might seem like a long time to wait for a sequel, but in many ways, it’s to this film’s benefit that it’s taken its time to come out. Animation has progressed light years since 2004, and as Bird’s directing style has grown up, he is finally able to achieve the scope he dreamed of in his earlier days at Pixar. There is a purely cinematic quality to Bird’s films, something that is missing from nearly all other animated movies. Even with The Incredibles and Ratatouille, Bird has always been adamant that the camera in the computer-generated space should behave exactly like the camera in the real world. His films are full of techniques like rack focuses and simulated lenses and his ever-favorite vertigo shot that are not necessary in the world of animation, but help to give the movies more weight as well as purely making them dramatically better to look at. In my opinion, this is the biggest strength of the sequel. It just looks SO GOOD. And with so much development in animation since its predecessor, comparing the two films is like comparing a high-resolution photograph to a cave painting. Each shot is meticulously crafted, creating a purely ebullient viewing experience. The lighting supervisor knocked it out of the park, crafting a look that feels warm and inviting and resemblant of the original film, but still distinctly matured. Truthfully, looking at a frame of this film is like a Christmas present for your retinas; a gift in every shot.
One of my favorite aspects of this new film is its dedication to the family. These characters are without a doubt some of my favorites of all time and they are developed and embraced in such a beautiful way that is truly an improvement over the first film. Where the first movie was primarily Bob’s story, this picture puts Elastigirl front and center, a decision I can get behind, as she is my favorite character. But that isn’t to say the rest of the family is shortchanged, quite the contrary. The storyline amongst Bob and the kids is probably the strongest in the movie, providing developments for each member as well as being the heart and soul of the narrative. The idea of Mr. Incredible learning to be a superhero of the household is a simple one but just works so well and warms the spirit to see. There were multiple moments watching the movie that I found myself moved to tears. Not to say that the movie is nearly as emotionally beguiling as much of Pixar’s lineup-which is a nicer way of saying manipulative-but rather the opposite. Incredibles 2 has just as much emotion as it needs, knowing when to play the saccharine notes and when to let you lean back and have fun. No, it’s purely the love I have for the Parrs that caused me to be so moved. I just love this family so much.
But, as perfect as the parenting storyline is, the film’s A Story about Elastigirl going after the villainous Screenslaver, is considerably messier. I have no real problem with how telegraphed it all is, seeing how the Syndrome reveal in the first movie isn’t exactly a revelation. No, I just feel that Bird’s proclivity for layering his movies with a metanarrative about filmmaking muddles up the story, inflicting a tendency to try and decipher what he’s trying to say, rather than focusing on the story being presented to you. The Screenslaver’s attack on media is confusing when the movie is simultaneously arguing that nostalgia for entertainment should be celebrated by society. Then when you throw in a thread that “that which is right but illegal should be implemented in the name of change,” it all gets a little perplexing. It’d be one thing if the Elastigirl vs. Screenslaver storyline was momentous enough to be amazing with or without its opaque ideologies, but I just can’t help but feel like it’s just not as meaty as the film’s other plotlines.
All of that being said, this film is undeniably riveting. There is not a doubt in my mind that Brad Bird has a greater eye for action than any other director working on the modern stage. Mission Impossible 4 is unquestionably in the top five most dynamic action films of the decade, and that was limited by the constraints of live action. Put all the elements into the hands of an animator and their computer, and suddenly any barrier to your imagination is completely erased. And just, wow, the results of this formula are just exhilarating to behold. While Elastigirl is given some breathtaking set pieces all to herself, that isn’t to say that the rest of the characters don’t have plenty of screen time to shine. This movie steps up the action from the original tenfold, with each of our superheroes, including Jack-Jack, just command the screen. What makes this even more impressive is that you can look at this film and definitively say it is more engaging and creative than any other made in the past ten years of superhero flicks. Since one can argue that modern comic book movies are essentially animated anyway, all of them could stand to take a leaf out of Brad Bird’s book here. It’s just that exciting.
Of course, there are other elements of these films that make them so special. For one thing, the voice acting is just phenomenal. Holly Hunter’s wonderfully unique voice molds so beautifully with the animated world and her unbelievable acting abilities make her the perfect choice to headline this movie. Craig T. Nelson and Samuel L. Jackson also give fantastic performances, and considering how well they slip back into the roles, it is clear they love these characters as much as we do. Sarah Vowell voices Violet, and despite being fourteen years older than she was the last time, she still knocks it out of the park. Understandably Spencer Fox was too old to accurately voice Dash anymore, but the new kid, Huckleberry Milner, still does an admirable job. The new additions to the cast, Catherine Keener, and Bob Odenkirk fit in spectacularly, and of course, Brad Bird as Edna Mode continues to be one of the most immediately entertaining characters of the twenty-first century. The film’s sets and digital production design are simply stunning, as the film is allowed more space to play with its quasi-retro setting. Clearly, the design team had a field day developing all of the mid-century buildings and products while finding ways to adapt in the necessary futuristic technologies. But without a doubt, the greatest joy of experiencing these two movies is Michael Giacchino’s score. It is so great to hear Giacchino return to the Incredibles again. His jazzy and triumphant work on the first movie is to this day my favorite in all of cinema. What makes it most amazing is that was Giacchino’s first film score. After composing the music for a huge margin of the past fourteen year’s most successful movies, it is nothing short of elating to witness him going back to the property that gave him his career.
Is Incredibles 2 as good as the first film? No. But that is about the most impossible expectation one could have. In my mind, The Incredibles is a perfect film. It is everything a movie should be; it’s engaging from start to finish, imaginative, and embraces the art of cinema in every way. Of course, I am biased. But the sequel does offer many improvements. I just feel that if the script could step out of its own way, it might be more purely enjoyable. But really, this movie is a fantastic experience. It’s kinetic, expressive, and masterfully crafted. And who knows? Hopefully, this movie will inspire a whole new generation of movie fans for years to come.
All images are from Incredibles 2, a Pixar film