Even among Pixar‘s de facto top tier does The Incredibles cast an unrivaled shadow. Toy Story 2 came along swiftly enough to shoulder its groundbreaking predecessor’s legacy before the passage of time had rendered it insurmountable; the otherwise beloved Finding Nemo‘s younger-veering bent has, justly or not, stunted the film’s esteem beneath an unspoken glass ceiling; and while the Wall-E contingent may be the vocal kind of minority, its cohorts are more or less exclusive to a particular corner of the movie geek world.
But The Incredibles found immediate footing as both a crowd-pleaser and a bold deviation from what the world thought Pixar pictures could be. No matter which of the studio’s films you hold first allegiance to, you’re almost certain to recognize The Incredibles as exceptional. (And this is coming from a Ratatouille person.) Naturally, a reputation of this caliber doesn’t necessarily do any favors to a given film’s inevitable sequel. And though expecting an eons-awaited follow-up feature to come up shy of its forebear is a time-honored method for actually enjoying it, this mentality can only forgive so many of Incredibles 2‘s shortcomings.
Guilty of more than repetition or exhausted novelty, the second chapter in fact lacks some of what made the original so exceptional 14 years back. While much of this magic was found outside the bounds of the Parr household, taking form in a cultural backdrop and a villain that nearly perfectly complemented one another and the personal stories of the family at the film’s center, Incredibles 2 treats us to nothing quite so coherent.
This time around, Helen/Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) is committed to the front lines with a little help from a superhero-loving entrepreneur (Bob Odenkirk) and his ingenious sister (Catherine Keener), and charged with a literally faceless villain known as the Screenslaver. Embedded in convoluted machinations, arbitrary platitudes about the state of humanity at large, and a backstory that feels like it was wedged in in reshoots, Incredibles 2’s big bad not only pales in comparison to the rich and dynamic Buddy/Syndrome, but practically sinks the film from meaning much of anything on the whole.
Meanwhile, a curious shift from the first movie’s larger-than-life superhero spectacle to a down-and-dirtier brand of action movie violence risks expensing a helping of whimsy, and may even prove a bit too grim for some discerning parents (the same collective might likewise be put off by a small handful of soft swears).
But Incredibles 2 is hardly all slip-ups, and in fact even comes close to outdoing its preceding entry in one major area. Building on the groundwork of Brad Bird’s inceptive feature, Incredibles 2 treats us to a better look at how the members of the Parr family feel about and relate to one another. As Bob/Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) and Helen are kept separate for much of this go-’round, we instead see the big man devote his focus to the kids, and in the process get a taste of what role each Parr minor plays in the context of the family unit.
More fun still is a closer look at the relationship between siblings Violet (Sarah Vowell) and Dash (Huck Milner, filling in for The Incredibles‘ Spencer Fox—you’ll hardly notice!), an affectionate enmity that yields some of the movie’s heartiest chuckles. Granted, those are nothing compared to the belly laughs incurred by one Edna Mode (Brad Bird), whose integration into the story may want for reason, but sure doesn’t want for charm.
As delightful as the Parr family foibles tend to be, the real star of the show is the out-and-about Elastigirl, who shows off a treasure trove of new means of manipulating her flexible frame across a series of day-saving set pieces. Paired this time around with tech whiz Evelyn Deavor (Keener) and a league of up-and-coming superheroes like the portal-tossing Voyd (Sophia Bush), Elastigirl slips with magnetic finesse back into power mode, and is a joy to watch all the while.
To be sure, Incredibles 2 reminds its viewers Helen Parr is cool, brilliant, unflappable—not just super, but exceptional. As such, it’s a shame the story surrounding her is anything but. With a story, a conflict, and characters so decidedly realized and meticulously interwoven, The Incredibles truly did set the bar at breaking the mold. To say Incredibles 2 falls short is not to say it isn’t good—it is. But exceptional? That’s another story. And quite frankly, it should be this one.
Rating: 3 out of 5 burritos
M. Arbeiter is the East Coast Editor of Nerdist. Find them on Twitter @micarbeiter.
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