I always try not to have anything but low expectations when going to see a new film, especially one I’ve been looking forward to. Perhaps that’s why I thought Solo: A Star Wars Story was so enjoyable. But with Incredibles 2 I found it hard not to have high expectations because it was instantly critically acclaimed and everyone I knew who had seen it in the week before I did said it was fantastic. Unfortunately, I can’t agree with the hype. Incredibles 2 just isn’t that great.
For the uninitiated, the film kicks off moments after the end of the original, with the incredible Parr family of heroes (the eponymous Incredibles) taking on the Underminer, who has just reappeared after years hiding under their city. Controversy ensues after the repair bills mount up following the disastrous attempts to stop the Underminer. In an effort to garner more positive publicity for superheroes to make them legal again, the billionaire brother-sister duo of Winston and Evelyn Deavor contract Elastigirl to go out and fight crime with a camera attached to her suit to film her heroic derring-do and broadcast it to the world. But when the evil Screenslaver comes on the scene and begins hypnotising citizens with their own television screens, it will take more than just Elastigirl to save the day! Will Bob Parr, Mr Incredible himself, be able to balance actually paying attention to his children with stepping in to help his wife stop the Screenslaver?
Minor thing first off – the title. The original was called The Incredibles. The sequel does not have “The” in front of the title. I find this hugely irritating.
Good grief this film wants to say a lot of stuff. Director Brad Bird says they had to leave some ideas out due to the truncated production schedule (they lost a year to Toy Story 4) but goodness knows where they might have fitted them in. Unfortunately though, much of it is just a thinly-veiled rehash of the first film. Incredibles 2 tries to say too much and instead says nothing. We can infer what it wants to say about social media, television, and computers because of a voiceover monologue from the Screenslaver during the middle of the film, and we have heard this same rant in the press every week since mobile phones became widespread. We can infer that the film is saying family is important, and having an interest and investment in your children’s development is important, because the original film made the same point so we know it’s what The Incredibles is about. We can infer what it wants to say about marketing being able to sell anything (in this film it’s slightly offbeat superheroes) because we know advertising can be misleading. But when you think back about what the film does to make these points, it’s as though they are afterthoughts. There’s a lot of telling, rather than showing, which is always a flaw in visual media.
Speaking of visual flaws, get a load of the new supporting character designs. There’s just something…not quite right about them. In the original, all the minor characters (as in the general public) looked very similar, and the only people with really different facial and body shapes were the superheroes, and senior citizens. Indeed, one of the interesting things about the villain from The Incredibles, Syndrome, is that except for his huge orange hairdo, he looks very similar to the rest of the minor characters, emphasising his ordinary-but-extraordinariness. However, in Incredibles 2 there is a much wider variety of stylised facial designs for minor characters, but they all have a terrifying glassy-eyedness to their facial expressions which takes you right out of the experience. I’ve never felt like this with a CGI film before and we expect so much better from Pixar. For me it was like looking at a world populated with extra-creepy Thunderbirds puppets.
Fortunately, the world these freaks populate is breathtaking. I was in awe of the visuals. Every inch of the huge cinema screen was filled with colour, explosions, beautiful vistas, marvellous retro-futuristic art direction, and the rest. This is a BIG film. I adore the aesthetic of the Incredibles world and they continued on a wonderful track here. The Parr’s new house is a work of art. The hydrofoil yacht in the final act is a beautiful piece of nautical design work. If I have any complaint it’s that the film does try to ground itself a little more in an alternative 1960s, with excerpts from The Outer Limits and Johnny Quest both shown in the film, and the use of a rotary dial telephone in an otherwise modern hotel room. But more positively, there are wonderful hat-tips to the big film events that have happened since the original film. For example, Helen refers to her new Elastigirl costume as “angsty”, and later during the film’s best sequence has a fight silhouetted against blue neons, just like James Bond in Skyfall.
On a different subject, the music. The original is one of my favourite film soundtracks ever, and arguably one of the finest written for a Pixar film. I would argue it contains some of Michael Giacchino’s best work for anything! Incredibles 2 is also by Giacchino, and it is a logical progression. It’s more mature, and where the original was firmly an homage to the earlier work of John Barry on the first four Bond films, this new soundtrack has expanded its horizons, and now feels more like a mix of Lalo Schifrin (Mission Impossible, Dirty Harry), Quincy Jones, and 1970s James Bond. It’s dirtier, punchier, jazzier, and funkier. But it, like the rest of the film, is also not quite as good as its predecessor. The original is theme-based, and has several discernable actual pieces of music underscoring various sequences. In Incredibles 2 the music is cues-based, so you have shorter pieces punctuating scenes rather than underscoring them. It’s a subtle difference when you watch the film, but when you listen to the soundtrack it is glaring. Even “Incredits 2”, the sequel’s answer to the brilliant credits suite of the original, doesn’t flow as well as it could. It’s so unfair to Giacchino that I feel this way, because it’s brilliant work, but I just don’t love it.
The real issue with Incredibles 2 is that it’s “good”. It’s not “brilliant”. It’s a film full of cool ideas and great moments that fail to coalesce into something greater. This would be okay for a sequel released 2-3 years after the original, but not one released 14 years later after 4 years of hype (they announced Incredibles 2 in 2014). It’s fun, it’s cool, but it doesn’t leave the lasting impression of the original. And maybe it shouldn’t have to, but we’ve come to expect a lot more from Pixar. All the babysitting Edna Modes and “Num Num Cookies” in the world can’t turn an average film into a work of art. Toy Story 2, even after almost 20 years, remains Pixar’s best sequel.