Fourteen years is not only a long time to wait to make a sequel, but also a path fraught with landmines. Not only is the ever-growing possibility for disparity from one movie to the other ever increasing, but the extended delay essentially equates to 14 years of growing hype. In short, the audience for Brad Bird's The Incredibles has exponentially grown in the last decade and a half, and at the same time technology has massively evolved, while actors and filmmakers have aged and changed.
Because of all this, it's been hard to get an exact read on Brad Bird's Incredibles 2. Trailers have certainly painted it as a fun time, with almost the entire original cast returning, but simultaneously it's been hard to ignore the looming question regarding whether or not the right time for the project might have passed. Now it can be said that this is not a concern worth having. Rather than being a disappointment, it is instead a shining example of how to do a follow-up properly -- wonderfully advancing the fantastic established characters and world, playing with smart, modern themes, and featuring beautiful, engaging and fascinatingly-consistent animation.
As if to confidently demonstrate that not a beat has been missed, the film picks up right where the first one left off: showcasing the epic showdown between the Parr family -- Bob Parr a.k.a. Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), Helen Parr a.k.a. Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), Violet (Sarah Vowell), Dash (Huck Milner) and Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile) -- and the mole-like, drill-riding The Underminer (John Ratzenberger). With the help of Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) they are able to ultimately avoid disaster, but once again superheroes are put in the spotlight for the massive amount of collateral damage their battles cause -- the reason supers were outlawed in the first place.
With the assistance of government agent Rick Dicker (Jonathan Banks), the Parr family prepares to uproot their lives once again, but those plans are deferred with the arrival of brother/sister duo Winston and Evelyn Deavor (Bob Odenkirk and Catherine Keener). They are the founders of a powerful telecommunications company, and they have a mission in mind to get the laws changed, specifically by highlighting the heroics of supers instead of the damage they leave in their wake. Recognizing Mr. Incredibles' unfortunate specialty in the latter category, the decision is made to make Elastigirl the face of the campaign, and she throws herself back into the world of crime-fighting -- quickly discovering a new supervillain who goes by the name Screenslaver.
Because Helen is out of the house, Bob is left with the responsibility of being a single parent -- and it doesn't take long for him to become overwhelmed. He's not only trying to handle Violet's problematic relationship with the boy she likes, and the new mathematical methods being taught to Dash in school, but also the fact that Jack-Jack has powers. And not only does Jack-Jack have powers, but he seems to have basically every power possible, with no physical ability to control any of them.
Incredibles 2 is notably coming out at a very different time in Hollywood than its predecessor, with superhero stories being some of the most prevalent on the big screen, but it does nothing to stop the film from telling a wholly original story that feels just as fresh as the first one. We haven't seen a family of characters like the Parrs in any of the blockbuster Marvel and DC adaptations, and seemingly recognizing that, it perfectly leans into that unique aspect. It's not only about exploring the relatable, real-world rigors of being working and overwhelmed parents, as well as the mentality of angst-y teens, but also just having a story like Jack-Jack's -- which really can't be properly done in a live-action comic book movie. It is successfully done here, though, and there are going to be many out there ready to declare the baby as their new favorite Disney character.
There are certain shortcomings story-wise, specifically in that there is a predictability to elements of the narrative, but the script written by Brad Bird is impressively taut, and exuberantly executed with some eye-opening and thrilling action. The opening battle against The Underminer is one of the best action set pieces we've seen so far this summer, but the movie also delivers in a major way with Elastigirl's heroics. Thanks to the poor Fantastic Four films that we've gotten in the past, we haven't really seen stretch powers used to their full capability on the big screen before, but Elastigirl's moves are clever, creative, and often badass. Only making it better is when she collaborates with heroes with other interesting abilities -- such as the portal-creating hero Voyd (Sophia Bush) -- which winds up making for some amazing thrills (all underlined by a brilliant and vivacious score from Michael Giacchino).
As it comes together, it's a fascinating extension of the original Incredibles -- but looking through that lens reveals another impressive aspect to be found in the general aesthetic. Obviously computer-generated animation has come a very long way in the last 14 years (you can definitely see the original's age now), but Incredibles 2 doesn't stress it. Rather than giving characters the intense texture and detail that can be accomplished with modern technology, there is a fantastic consistency to be found in the hard lines and more pronounced features (such as the lines beneath the eyes of both Bob and Violet). It's certainly more advanced and smooth, but fans will inevitably love watching the two movies back-to-back -- and probably won't even notice that Dash is being played by a new actor.
In retrospect, doubting Incredibles 2 was immensely foolish. Brad Bird is one of the best filmmakers working in the industry today, and prior to this latest effort made what can unequivocally be called two of Pixar's best movies. Now that statement can be updated to say that he's made three of Pixar's best, because it's really that good. We certainly had to wait a crazy long time for its arrival, but patience has proven to be absolutely worth it.