Cinema Dispatch: Incredibles 2

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Incredibles 2 and all the images you see in this review are owned by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Directed by Brad Bird

So it’s time to once again return the Pixar well, isn’t it?  After the underwhelming sequel to Finding Nemo which was then followed by the much more interesting and engaging Coco, you’d think that Pixar would have leaned into new properties they can exploit down the road rather than relying so heavily on sequelizing their back catalog, but this one is a little bit different than say Monsters University or yet another Toy Story movie.  People have been clamoring for a new Incredibles movie since the first one came out which is particularly exasperating considering it’s been well over a decade since then, but Brad Bird finally came back to the company that made him and is finally giving us the movie we’ve all been anxiously anticipating for all that time!  Was it actually worth the wait, or should Pixar left well enough alone?  Let’s find out!!

The movie picks up right after the events of the first film with the Parr family fighting the sinister UNDERMINER (John Ratzenberger) and in doing so reaffirming their strong familial bond!  Actually, they barely manage to stop anything and the city is pretty ticked off that they got involved in the first place; particularly since the dude was just robbing a bank and the money in there is insured anyway.  Heck, they could probably just trace the bills that were in there and arrest the UNDERMINER when he actually tries to spend it, unless of course he’ll convert it into bitcoins or something ridiculous like that.  Anyway, the Parr family is let out of custody, but are forced to lay low once again to avoid raising the ire of the authorities who are still enforcing a strict NO SUPER HERO policy despite seemingly unprepared for dudes with giant drill vehicles tearing up the city.  Things look particularly grim right now as Agent Dicker (Jonathan Banks) is retiring and can’t keep covering their butts on this, but a ray of hope comes through as Lucious Best AKA Frozone (Samuel L Jackson) arrives to give the parents Robert and Helen (Craig T Nelson and Holly Hunter) some news of an eccentric business man ready to offer them a deal.  The man’s name is Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) and he wants to bring Super Heroes back into public favor, so with the help of his sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener), they plan on using one of them to solve a few low level crimes on camera so that people can actually see a Super Hero in action instead of just witnessing the aftermath of their fights.  The duo feels that Helen AKA Elastagirl is gonna be the best choice which incenses Robert AKA Mr. Incredible, but he capitulates and stays home to watch the kids Dash, Violet, and Jack-Jack (Huck Milner, Sarah Vowell, and Eli Fucile) until they can get Super Heroes legalized once again!  THEN he’ll be able to don the spandex once again and fight criminals instead of helping with math homework or reading bedtime stories!  It’s not as easy as it sounds though for either Robert OR Helen as the former has to deal with the evolving and terrifying powers of their youngest child Jack-Jack while the latter all of a sudden finds herself an arch nemesis called The Screenslaver (Bill Wise) that’s ready to stop her crime fighting ways before she even has a chance to really make a difference.  Will Robert manage to be a good dad while dealing with all these Mr. Mom shenanigans?  What can Helen do to stop this latest threat, and is there more to the story that she’ll need to uncover?  Wait, didn’t we already go through most of this the last time around!?

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“Can we have just ONE meal without property damage!?  IS THAT TOO MUCH TO ASK!?”

Yeah, this is almost note for note exactly what we should have expected.  It’s always tempting to go back to the well to see what else can be done with the material and to be fair there are A LOT of them that may not be THE BEST THING EVER but I still gobble up with glee for the nostalgia and for some interesting deviations from the original work (*cough* Dragon Ball Super *cough* The Hobbit *cough*).  Unfortunately this movie can’t even be put in THAT category as this feels unquestionably unnecessary from top to bottom and doesn’t bring anything new to the table or even manage to screw up in unexpected ways.  Now it’s not without ANY redeeming qualities, and it’s probably worth pointing out that my opinion of the original film has somewhat cooled in recent years, but when all Is said and done the only thing going through my head was WHAT WAS THE POINT?  Why is Brad Bird and Pixar making not just a direct sequel this long after the first film (it literally picks up at the exact minute the last one ended), but one that feels so tepid?  Why does this feel old and outdated both in terms of being a superhero movie as well as a family comedy despite going into production just within the last few years?  Most importantly, why is this called The Incredibles when only ONE of them has the name!?  Their last name is PARR; not INCREDIBLE!! Sorry… I’ve been holding onto that one for fourteen years.  Hey, if nothing else this movie at least gave me a chance to finally say that!

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“So is that gonna be our superhero team name?”     “I don’t see why not.”     “No, of course.  It’s not like you couldn’t POSSIBLY go by Mr. Elastigirl.”     “You say something honey?”     “Oh no, it’s nothing.”

What’s so disappointing about this is just how much they’re repeating from the first film.  The status quo is set back to zero from the outset and our character are basically repeating the same arcs again!  Remember the program that Agent Dicker brought up at the end of the last film?  Gone.  How about Robert learning to get over himself and see that he shouldn’t hold onto past accomplishments when the best parts of his life are standing right before him?  I guess it didn’t stick because all he does is bellyache about having to take care of his kids which is really just an end-run to him getting to play dress up again.  Heck, I know there was a time jump between the death of Syndrome (spoiler alert!) and the final scene in the movie, but at no point do they mention him, Mirage, or the giant company he ran that built weapons of mass destruction while also murdering a swath of super heroes!  There were things that we took for granted at the end of the previous film as part of the happy ending.  Violet became more outgoing, Dash seemed to be finding outlets for his pent up energy (the track club by the way isn’t mentioned AT ALL in this), and superheroes seemed to have made a comeback; all of which are completely upended in this one within the first ten minutes.  I get that there’s a way to tell a story about how HAPPILY EVER AFTER isn’t quite HAPPILY EVER AFTER, but what that translates to here is that we have to watch in painstaking detail what should have just been assumed by the events of the last one, and we’re gonna have to wait until Incredibles 3 before we can get a sequel that ACTUALLY feels like one.  It’s like an entire movie of continuity maintenance to reintroduce us to these characters which isn’t really necessary considering there’s only ONE other film in the series that’s still very easy to find.

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“STAY SHARP, ROBERT!  It’s time for my cameo!”     “Whatever…”

Okay, so we’ve clearly established that this is taking two steps backwards right from the outset, but how does the movie manage to build off of that rather shaky foundation?  Does it manage to tell an interesting story despite repeating a lot of what we already saw in the first film?  Eh… It’s not TERRIBLE, but it’s just as bland and uninspired as the idea to fill half this movie with repeats and callbacks to the first film, though admittedly I did REALLY like the scenes of Elastigirl just doing superhero stuff which I found to be the highlight of the movie.  They go a long way to showing just how versatile a move set she has (much more than any of the Fantastic Four movies have managed so far), and there’s some genuinely interesting spy material here that gets to some pretty shady places; especially when we infiltrate THE VILLAIN’S lair and find it to be unsettlingly realistic to what a shut-in with too much time and a big ol’ ax to grind would craft.  However, these are also the scenes where there were some flashing lights that have reportedly triggered seizures in some viewers.  I’m not prone to those, but I did find it REALLY annoying at parts and I had to cover my eyes just to keep from getting a headache.  The problem with those scenes though (besides the flashing lights) is that they really only work in isolation as the bigger plot involved is utterly predictable and yet makes absolutely no sense.  When the bad guy is TRULY REVEALED rather late in the story, you can see it coming because it’s such hack writing, but then the justification for it within the story itself just doesn’t really add up.  The amount of effort they went through for this scheme doesn’t seem to have been all that necessary, and there’s at least one MASSIVE plot hole that’s ALSO the “key” to solving the mystery which means you can’t really ignore it even if you wanted to.  At least Bob Odenkirk is good!  He’s always great at playing a charmingly sleazy guy even if it is significantly toned down here, and there are a few other side characters throughout like a new hero named Voyd who has portal powers to shake things up, but really there’s nothing here that you can’t see coming a mile away which is that much more deflating considering the studio behind it.

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I mean who DOESN’T want an animated Saul Goodman spinoff!?

Maybe I’m just feeling extra salty about this because Pixar just hasn’t been at the top of their game lately; particularly with their older properties that they’re churning out sequels for left and right.  To me, it comes across as a mix of exhaustion and arrogance from the big wigs at the company; too burned out to find the inspiration to make great movies, but not ready to give up the reigns just yet.  It’s no surprise that their best movie in years, Coco, was a massive deviation from everything else they’ve done before (co-directed by Pixar mainstay Lee Unkrich, but also giving Adrian Molina a shot in the chair), while this blank check they gave to Brad Bird turns out to be underwhelming.  They guy is NOT a hack as I have downright loved a lot of his work (including his stint on The Simpsons), but the movie is what it is; a guy who had a serious flop coming back to lick his wounds by making a sequel to his best received movie.  There’s no doubt that this could have been a lot worse, and it’s clear that some SERIOUS craftsmanship went into the aesthetic, the animation, and the densely constructed set pieces, but there’s just no heart to this because it’s a carbon copy; a lesser clone of something great that in its own right has some good qualities but will never be able to escape the shadow of its predecessor, and as long as Pixar is gonna keep churning out sequels instead of hiring new talent with fresh ideas from underrepresented backgrounds, Pixar will never get out of its own shadow either.

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“Okay, instead of talking CARS… how about… singing… pencil sharpeners… ZZZ…”

I don’t hate this movie, I just find it frustratingly pointless when we should be expecting SO much more from the studio that brought us Toy Story, Monsters Inc, WALL-E, and the original Incredibles.  You’ll have fun if you go to see this, especially if you love the first film just as much now as you did the first time you saw it, but where the first one felt groundbreaking this one feels like fluff.  I guess it’s worth checking out in the theater as I’ve certainly recommended seeing worse movies, but you’re probably better off re-watching Coco, Moana, or Wreck-It-Ralph again as all of those are much better movies.  Then again, maybe I’m just a bitter old man shouting at the clouds about how movies were better in my day, which I maintain is TRUE (Space Jam is a CLASSIC and I will FIGHT YOU OVER IT!), but no less annoying to hear over and over again.

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