Do you hear that sound? That self-satisfied grumble, that nasally whine echoing through the internet? That’s the sound of critics everywhere complaining about superhero fatigue.
Superhero fatigue, much like Star Wars fatigue, is made up. It resurfaces every time a new superhero movie comes out (so, once a month, give or take), and it’s such a lazy critique of a genre that requires a certain amount of inventiveness in every film to stay fresh that it makes my eyes roll into the back of my head every time I hear it. Superhero fatigue isn’t real because, time and time again, audiences prove that people love superheroes.
Honestly, my first thought upon leaving the theater after Incredibles 2 is that Disney should make it a policy to wait a decade-and-a-half between sequels. While that’s certainly not a practical (or a profitable) policy, in this case it ensured a higher-quality film than we might have gotten otherwise. Incredibles 2 is better in almost every way than its 2004 predecessor, from animation to storytelling, from character motivation to comedy. I’m trying not to go there, but yeah: This movie is incredible.
Part of the magic is that when Incredibles 2 starts, it feels like no time has passed at all. By starting immediately where The Incredibles ended, director and writer Brad Bird subtly re-introduces the Parr family — super-strong dad Bob / Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), infinitely flexible mom Helen / Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), shy but volatile teen Violet (Sarah Vowell), speedy son Dash (Huck Milner), overwhelmingly adorable baby Jack-Jack, and honorary cool uncle Lucius / Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) — through action instead of exposition.
The story grows naturally from there, as bad publicity attracts idealistic millionaire Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) and his methodical sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener) to start a pilot program with Elastigirl to rehabilitate the image of supers in the eyes of civilians and politicians alike, ultimately legalizing them again. Myriad obstacles threaten to derail this optimistic agenda, from Bob struggling to balance his wounded masculinity and reluctant support for his working wife with new duties as a stay-at-home dad (and a literal exploding baby, no less) to a new supervillain called the Screenslaver targeting Helen’s every move.
It’s difficult to talk more about the Screenslaver without getting into spoiler territory, but I find this villain a much more compelling one than The Incredibles’ spurned fanboy Syndrome. The franchise’s first villain was maybe a little ahead of his time in this, the age of militant white male “fans,” but the Screenslaver feels very of-the-now, as Edna Mode would say. Screenslaver makes valid points about consumption and screen culture that feel a little weird coming from our Disney overlords, but behind the mask is an interesting commentary on loss and blame and upon whom we rely to protect us when we or our loved ones are in danger.
The answers aren’t easy, which is something Americans are learning the hard way each and every day in 2018. The Incredibles franchise never goes too dark, but one of the admirable things it does in both movies is make the faceless goons or brainwashed adults very real threats, particularly to the younger Parrs. Experience has made me an inherently distrustful person, and because of that, I believe firmly that children should be equipped with the right tools to protect themselves from those who don’t have their best interests at heart. It’s a small thing, but putting Violet, Dash and Jack-Jack in real danger from evil men in uniforms and adults they thought they could trust could go a long way in teaching kids what to look out for in their own lives.
On a lighter note, Incredibles 2 is by far one of the funniest films I’ve seen in recent memory, thanks to Jack-Jack, the best baby of all time. I’ve long held the belief that “Jack-Jack Attack,” the Looney Tunes-esque animated short that accompanies The Incredibles on DVD, is actually better than the original movie, and Incredibles 2 takes full advantage of super-baby comedy in ways that are both totally ridiculous and probably all too familiar to parents of unpredictable infants. Safe to say that, even after Guardians of the Galaxy, you’ll never look at a raccoon the same way again.
From a technical perspective, the first installment of this franchise hasn’t aged super-well. I’m usually the first person to complain about Disney giving up on 2D animation and giving the same impossibly pointy face to all of their CGI women, but Pixar proves with Incredibles 2 that there are some things you can only pull off in this medium. Elastigirl’s “elasticycle” chase to stop a runaway maglev train is truly a breathtaking sequence, possibly even among the best of its kind and certainly an all-timer for superhero movies in general. The animation is smoother than ever, and Bird’s world is totally immersive. The difference between the animation quality in both movies is an unfortunate consequence of waiting so long to make a sequel. But in the end, who really cares? They’re both great movies, and looking back, it’s sort of miraculous The Incredibles looked as good as it did in 2004.
I was half as old as I am now when The Incredibles came out; back then, there was nothing like that movie, and I’d be hard-pressed to say that there is even now. The Incredibles has always been special, if a bit under-appreciated for reasons I can’t even begin to fathom. Incredibles 2 is a top-notch reminder that the only limits to be found in superhero movies come from the team behind them. An imaginative and thoughtful team can build a movie that is as deep as it is fun while blatant cash-grabs will always be drab and boring. And as long as we have more of the former, we’ll never get tired of them, will we?