Pixar's Incredibles 2 finds itself caught in original's shadow


It’s tough to live in someone else’s shadow because assumptions and expectations form as a result of who was first.

The longer a sequel is expected, the more dangerous it is that the film will not live up to its predecessor, or that the earlier work will become so great in the flawed and mythologizing memories of its viewers that it would be impossible to match.

After 14 years, Incredibles 2 — a follow-up to the widely acclaimed The Incredibles, — fails to live up to the quality of the original. It's a fine film, but it has nowhere near the complexity and depth of its predecessor.

Picking up where the previous film left off, Incredibles 2 — directed just like the original by Brad Bird — begins with the super-powered Parr family attempting to stop the Underminer, a mole-like villain drilling up from below the ground.

After the fight comes the reminder that "supers," as they are called, are not legally allowed to save the day, with the police showing up to apprehend them. An enterprising businessman, Winston Deavor, approaches the Parr family with an offer to try to help them legalize supers.

While The Incredibles had the patriarch, Bob, jumping into super-activities under the guise of Mr. Incredible, Incredibles 2 places his wife, Helen, in the hero role as Elastigirl. Yet Bob is still the focus of this film as well. Plenty of Helen’s heroics are shown, including a thrilling helicopter chase scene, but the story tilts more heavily toward the story of Bob taking care of his children — the angsty Violet, the competitive Dash and the newly powered baby Jack-Jack.

A film should stand and be judged on its own merits, but the shadow of The Incredibles keeps incessantly urging otherwise. Incredibles 2 is a fine film — enjoyable, lighthearted, beautiful and excitingly scored — but the problem is that it can’t seem to do what The Incredibles did.

The first film was excellent for the way it weaved a story of mid-life crisis and mediocrity within a suburban setting with a genre-savvy superhero world and a wonderful 1960s aesthetic. It had memorable moments and iconic lines, fleshed-out characters and an excellent script.

While Incredibles 2 touches on a potential theme of gender role reversal in the same 1960s setting — in the previous film, Helen memorably said, “Leave the saving the world to the men? I don’t think so.” — the film can’t commit to a message. Evelyn Deavor, Winston’s sister and partner, brings up the idea of female bonding, and the idea returns with the introduction of Voyd, a super resembling Kristen Stewart who connects to Helen as her idol. However, the film never sticks with a statement or theme of any sort; it dabbles, but can’t commit.

It must be said, however, that Incredibles 2 is an absolutely gorgeous movie. The animation quality capable by Pixar has progressed significantly in the past 14 years, to the point where a couple of moments from the first film had to be redone in preparation for this one. There is a smoothness to the characters and a sense of angles that creates beings that aren’t exactly human. The warm colors delight the eye and comfort the viewer. A particularly notable visual moment is a fight in near-dark, as bodies weave among slits of light. It’s nice to watch a movie that looks nice.

It is admirable that this movie does not attempt to pretend that every problem was solved in the previous entry.

The early reminder that supers are still illegal is telling, as are the social issues that Violet still experiences, despite a confidence boost as a result of the previous film. Jack-Jack was revealed to have powers, but his parents do not discover it until this film.

Dash is the one who gets the short end of the stick in terms of plot, but his presence in the film is enjoyable enough as a joking character and a teasing younger brother. And when it comes to the heroics, his super-speed does just fine.

Of all the characters, Jack-Jack is the one who gets the chance to shine, showing off his numerous abilities — the media website CNET counted 17 — and feuding briefly with a raccoon.

It’s enjoyable and then corny, but the baby’s abilities are overall fun to watch, and Bob’s struggles with raising Jack-Jack and the kids on his own while his wife fights crime are part of a strong arc.

If the movie were more clever or the themes more meaningful or The Incredibles less existent, Incredibles 2 might have come out a bit better off. But after 14 years, Bird could have worked a little harder to get out of the original’s shadow.