Fourteen years is a long time by any yardstick, but in the fast-moving world of cinema, it’s an aeon. The superhero zeitgeist catalysed by Marvel’s Iron Man still hadn’t happened when Pixar made The Incredibles in 2004. Its work-a-day-family take on Fantastic Four felt fresh and funny back then, as it still does now; but can a sequel capture the same freshness after more than a decade of Marvel and DC movies have mined the genre?
Returning director Brad Bird certainly tries his damnedest. When its action sequences let fly, Incredibles 2 shows glimmers of its old magic: the animation is vibrant and elastic, the (virtual) camera angles inventive, the advances in CGI meaning buildings crash down and magnetic trains veer out of control more vividly than ever. It’s when Bird’s sequel settles back to earth that the movie begins to feel a little more rote.
Picking up immediately after the original movie, Incredibles 2 reintroduces the superhero family in the midst of a pitched battle with bank-robbing supervillain, the Underminer. Still bulging around the shoulders (and slightly less around the midriff) there’s the well-meaning yet clumsy father, Mr Incredible (voiced by Craig T Nelson), athletic, astute mother Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), teenage daughter Violet (Sarah Vowell) and younger son, Dash (Huck Milner). Then there’s baby Jack-Jack, a gaseous bundle of joy (and mischief) who’s now just coming into his own as a superhero.
When the Parr’s daring bid to save the city from disaster goes awry, however, their whole super-powered group is once again vilified by a concerned US government. Briefly slumming it in a motel, the Parrs are forced to consider taking on – the horror – ordinary full-time work again, at least until a smooth-talking industrialist, Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk, on a full Better Call Saul charm offensive) comes up with a plan: launch a pro-superhero PR campaign, with Elastigirl as its public face.
Elastigirl, more calculating and less likely to cause damage to government property, quickly becomes a celebrity, while Mr Incredible winds up with the job of stay-at-home parent. All of this might be enough for one movie, but then a mysterious villain – nicknamed the ScreenSlaver – begins a hypnotic terror campaign across the city.
Since its founding in the 1980s, Pixar has repeatedly blazed a trail in terms of computer animation and storytelling, and The Incredibles broke new ground with its action set-pieces and detailed human characters. With Incredibles 2, however, we’re firmly in sequel territory: it’s more of the same, despite some decent comedy moments and Brad Bird’s typically assured action set-pieces.
The world-building in Incredibles 2 is, as ever, charming: the 60s spy movie feel is underlined by the retro-future styling and the hypnosis subplot, which harks back to a bygone decade’s fear of subliminal messages and mind control. One scene even appears to pay homage to The Ipcress File. Once again, though, the bitter warnings uttered by the villain – stuff about the masses sitting on the couch passively while superheroes do all the hard work – are soon dropped in favour of another action scene.
Come to think of it, one of the most fascinating notions floated in Incredibles 2 isn’t pursued, either. One reason why Elastigirl is chosen over Mr Incredible is because she’s less of an insurance liability than her spouse; we can imagine a quite wonderful string of scenes where one tries to go about their superhero business while retaining their no-claims bonus.
None of this is to say that Incredibles 2 isn’t a fun, solidly entertaining way to spend a couple of hours; there’s just little of the sense that the movie’s pushing Pixar’s creative abilities to the limits like the first movie did. It’s pleasing to see Elastigirl step out of her husband’s shadow and get some high-wire missions of her own; it’s a little disappointing to see side characters like Samuel L Jackson’s Frozone and friendly government agent Rick Dicker (Jonathan Banks) float in and out of the story without getting to add much.
As a summer superhero blockbuster, then, Incredibles 2 gets the job done, even if it never quite soars to the heights of its predecessor.
Incredibles 2 is out in UK cinemas on the 13th July.