Image Credit to The Verge
Brad Bird’s Incredibles 2 makes you wish you had a more forgetful memory. A lack of knowledge of The Incredibles, the animated classic that serves as this film’s predecessor, would be an asset. It might not rescue the movie from being unpleasant, but it would remove how dumbfounded and disappointed you feel watching the original’s director and cast shockingly fail to create anything approaching that picture’s fun, humor, pathos, or spectacle. With most sequels, the worry is that their artists are looking to cash in. Here, you wish that was the case. Chasing profit requires far more vision and passion than this movie contains.
Your head drops and your heart sinks immediately during Incredibles 2’s opening action sequence. The scene picks up from where the original left off, with the Incredible Parr family and their friend Frozone/Lucius Best (Samuel L. Jackson) coming face-to-face with a villain named the Underminer (John Ratzenberger). However, while the sequel continues the same action, it does not maintain The Incredibles’ care and attention to crafting fight scenes. Whereas the first work always clarified the stakes behind every brawl, defined the spatial relations between participants, and provided room to breathe for each event comprising the action, the Underminer sequence is confusing, chaotic, and lifeless. The film supplies no understanding of what threat Underminer poses to citizens (probably because he was a tossed-off joke in the last picture). It mostly uses crosscutting to establish what each Incredibles member is doing, which makes it difficult to figure out where they are in relation to the others. And it gets lost focusing on the action’s mechanics instead of emotional effects; compare how this film treats Elastigirl/Helen Parr (Holly Hunter) getting stuck as a logistical hurdle for Mr. Incredible/Robert Parr (Craig T. Nelson) to overcome while the last one built a long comedic set-piece around the same situation.
This sequence’s carelessness and lack of creativity unfortunately manifests in the story. After the Incredibles’ battle with the Underminer causes massive damage, the government, which made being a superhero illegal in the last film while helping all known heroes transition to “regular” lives, further reinforces the criminality of people with powers and removes all resources designed to help them. Bob and Helen decide, then, that it’s best if their family returned to the way they were living: repressing superpowers instead of fighting crime. However, through Lucius, they are contacted by a rich brother/sister duo-Winston (Bob Odenkirk) and Evelyn Deavor (Cathleen Keener)-who offer a solution to rehabilitate the image of superheroes. The pair suggest letting Helen, less prone to causing wreckage than Lucius or Bob, continue to save the world as Elastigirl while wearing a camera, one that will record her heroism and produce compelling footage to sway public opinion towards supporting those with powers.
You might be baffled by this plot, wondering isn’t it retreading many of the same conflicts the original resolved. And you would be right to, as the first Incredibles did concern itself with superheroes going into hiding, leaving citizens without powers vulnerable while causing those with powers to lead unfulfilling, depressing, angry lives, only for the Incredibles to beat the evil robot attacking a city at the end thus opening the door for the world to accept supers again. You would also be right to feel annoyed once you realize Incredibles 2 has thoughtlessly compromised this resolution, then, to repackage the same exact story. And you would, no, you should be upset when you figure out that actually, the sequel isn’t giving you the same exact thing, it’s giving you the same exact thing without the heart and imagination of its predecessor.
Incredibles 2’s soulessness is first evident in Bob’s character. With Helen off fighting crime, Bob must raise the children on his own. It’s a responsibility he tries hard to do, but he’s not ready for how much energy it requires. The original’s funniest and saddest part was how it examined how depressed and hopeless Bob feels once he’s forced to give up tussling with criminals so that he can sell insurance. The skillfulness with which The Incredibles handled this change made this sequel storyline seem promising despite its derivativeness. Sadly, unlike that first work, which always found a clever, unexpected, and precise way to relay Bob’s inner turmoil through animation, the 2018 movie uses lazy and obvious methods to tell you what he is experiencing, making it harder to feel for him. Gone is the humor and pain at how Bob’s exaggeratedly ginormous body is stuffed and boxed in by the cubicle at the job he feels trapped by; now you are told Bob is tired because he has trouble staying awake and a character asks him when was the last time he slept. Gone is the hilarity and fear of recognizing how much simmering resentment drives Bob by how he accidentally destroys his plate while cutting meat at the family dinner table; now you find out he is jealous of his wife’s success because his face can’t stay still and his voice keeps breaking while congratulating her.
One of the most delightful moments in 2004 picture was when Bob became a superhero again. A breezy, cheery, no dialogue montage filled with great visuals capturing how Bob got in shape, became more productive around the house, and felt alive made you as happy for him as he was at reclaiming old glory. In the new one, Helen’s crime fighting is very successful at saving lives and turning public perception on superheroes. Yet there is no big creative, fun, heartwarming sequence or visual set-piece to convey how she feels about such achievements. Rather, this film has her smile for a few shots and talk in an exclaimed voice for a few seconds. The movie treats her giddiness and satisfaction like an afterthought, so it feels like an afterthought to our emotional experience.
But the worst example of Incredibles 2’s inability to imagine or evoke its characters’ feelings can be seen in its depiction of Rob and Helen’s grown children, Violet (Sarah Vowell) and Dash (Huck Milner). Forget about not using animation cleverly to explore the children’s lives, the work doesn’t even bother to create lives for them beyond giving Violet a boy (the same one from the original) to pine for. The Incredibles showed viewers how sister and brother reigning in their powers caused them to repress personality traits and emotions to the point of unhappiness. Audiences subsequently saw how being free to use their powers made the two feel liberated: more outgoing, kind, and confident. You would assume that Violet and Dash being forced to hide their skills again, then, would have an adverse effect, leading to confusion or reckless rebellion. But the picture doesn’t bother showing you these or any other effects created by their new reality. The work doesn’t reveal their school interactions to see how bottling up their passion impacts them socially. And it doesn’t show them making a choice to give up using powers or drawing on the last film’s experiences to practice and hone these talents. Incredibles 2 is too lazy to figure out the influence of the last movie’s changes, so it doesn’t bother to depict any influence.
With Incredibles 2 punting on creatively communicating its characters’ emotions, there isn’t much for it to succeed at. The best you can hope for is stunning action scenes as consolation. Sadly, they never come. The lack of ambition found in the opening returns in most of the fights/chases. Emotional stakes are ignored or simplistically rendered. Instead of having an action sequence like the masterful forest fight from the original, which didn’t just put the Parrs in danger, but focused on Bob and Helen rebuilding their marriage while capturing how awesome the kids felt finally standing up for themselves, this picture just has combat scenes place the kids in danger, the parents under mind control, or civilians in harm’s way. Worse than the dull handling of the dramatic stakes is the battle scenes’ simplistic craft. The breathtaking camera movement, the perfect compositional framing, and the precise race-against-the-clock editing that characterized even a simple save a cat in the tree while stopping an armed robbery opening from the 2004 work is moot here. Incredibles 2’s action always finds the quickest and easiest method to convey every event: characters work together by moving in the same direction, a hero gets stuck because things fall in front of his path, bad guys are defeated when good guys remove mind controlling goggles from their eyes. These are the most obvious, most basic choices and, when combined with overly simple emotional stakes of the fight scenes, they make it impossible for you to escape into the picture’s action because they convince you the escape won’t be worth it.
Incredibles 2 is one of the most crushing trips to the theater you can make this year. It brings back so much from the original: the same director, largely the same cast, the same characters, and even the same conflict. However, it doesn’t bring back the ambition, imagination, or attention to detail found in the most intimate family conversation or the most spectacular bout of action. The magic is missing from this film; it’s a cinematic crime even the Parrs can’t right.