Alone, Together

Fourteen years. That is precisely the time it took Pixar to give the world a sequel to their 2004 critically lauded superhero movie: The Incredibles. It is a waiting period that would have been acceptable if during it the company had invested in producing fully original films. However, as that time saw many of the studio’s properties gain extra installments even if their first entries did not exactly call for them, the fact the Parr family was not given a second outing stood as a rift between the animators of Emeryville and their fans. Fortunately, though, with the coming of 2018, the beloved heroes return to the big screen, and despite how the cinematic landscape they encounter this time around is considerably more crowded than the one from the time of their debut, as that interval saw superhero movies go from a sub-genre that appeared only punctually to being the industry’s bread and butter, The Incredibles remain thoroughly original and enjoyable.

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And that is because much of their refreshing and likable nature stems, obviously, from how their existence is intimately related to an absurdly simple question that, somehow, had never been answered before 2004: how would it be like if superheroes had to balance their crime-fighting occupation with the mundane matters of a family life? It is an absolutely straightforward query, and one that writer and director Brad Bird employed to pave the way to grounds on which both glorious action and situational comedy flourished abundantly. And Pixar’s creative department took advantage of that by marrying conversations and conflicts all members of the audience can relate to with the mortal dangers and conspiracy-ridden missions these especially powerful human beings are constantly tasked with.

The fact that the passing of over one decade did nothing to erode the allure and originality of The Incredibles’ concept – a grand statement on its greatness as well as on how nobody dares to emulate it given all results are bound to pale in comparison – is key to understanding most of the qualities and issues that show up in this sequel. The Incredibles 2 is absolutely marvelous; it is impossible to find a funnier and more purely entertaining Pixar movie, and (save for its prequel) nowhere in the studio’s stellar filmography can one locate a flick with as many thrills. With that being said, in a way, The Incredibles 2 suffers slightly from how easy it is for it to achieve high levels of excellence. It may come off as absurd to complain that a movie, albeit fantastic, does not show signs that it had to sweat its heart out to get there, but in the case of The Incredibles 2 – especially given the long wait that preceded it and the well-deserved status of the franchise as one of the art form’s very best – it is sort of natural to expect more than a product that is safe, even if it is a safety that has marvelous outcomes.

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The Incredibles 2 picks up right after its prequel, which means that the Parrs – in their superhero costumes – have just taken care of Syndrome and are seen in the process of bringing down The Underminer, the iconic villain who shows up right as the first movie is coming to an end. Both battles, however, end up causing the same sort of city-wide chaos that had, in the first place, led superheroes to be banned as well as forced into hiding and taking normal jobs. As such, rather than moving out of the conflict between a fearful society and the heroes who just want to fight to protect it, which had greatly powered the original, The Incredibles 2 seems to press the reset button and choose to start from where it all began. Superheroes are still banned, and the Parrs – now without a fixed home, thanks to the destruction of their household by Syndrome – have to learn how to live a normal life.

It is precisely the same premise as that of the prequel; the difference lies in the way out of it. This time around, a businessman with a strong fondness for superheroes tracks many of them down, including the Parrs, and offers a path towards legalization. The plan is to attach cameras to their uniforms and then, through a public campaign, show their perspective of the action, revealing the destruction to be a side-effect of worthy attempts to keep the public safe. Through an analysis of historic data, Helen Parr (Elastigirl) is selected as the most effective hero, therefore the one most likely to succeed. Consequently, as she is assigned to secretly travel on the program’s first mission, she has to deal with the choice between staying with her family, or accepting the task and being away for a while. Given not going means having to adapt to a normal life without action, she opts for the latter and leaves Bob Parr (Mr. Incredible) to look after the kids.

That separation, which happens about thirty minutes into the movie, plays a huge role in defining the structure of The Incredibles 2, because for at least half of its length the film is divided into two distinct pieces: Helen’s frantic solo adventures as Elastigirl and Bob’s hilarious journey as a clumsy stay-at-home dad who has to take care of a teenager (Violet), a child (Dash), and a baby (Jack-Jack), who other than suffering through the common struggles of the phase of life they are each going through (respectively, relationships, math, and the inability to do anything independently) also happen to have superpowers.

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These mostly unrelated threads, which only affect one another occasionally and not very significantly, are massively enjoyable in their own ways. Nevertheless, the geographical gap between them happens to act against The Incredibles’ most remarkable trait, which is showing how the five Parrs, together and living under the same roof, need to find balance between action and normalcy. Such situations, though, are reserved only to a small part of the movie’s first act, before their separation occurs; and given Helen spends most of the running time handling danger on her own, watching the Parrs combine their powers to fight evil together ends up occurring just twice (as Bob and especially the kids are not given anything too special to do until the last act comes around). And, after fourteen years, the amount of family-time found in The Incredibles 2 does not feel satisfying enough.

The Incredibles 2 is, thematically, quite varied. Helen’s independent journey and her decision to put home-related tasks solely on the shoulders of a reluctant Bob, who has trouble accepting his role, carries – blatantly – a strong feminist message, one that Disney – fortunately – is strongly embracing following a past full of defenseless princesses. Moreover, as a media that is way too prone to cheap sensationalism and has a knack for showing just a piece of the story (the one that is most likely to sell) is pointed out as the culprit behind the demise of heroes, the movie also makes an interesting commentary on how it is possible to be blind to reality even in the face of abundant information. Although not exactly original, since such ideas are so prominent in society that many other flicks have tackled these motifs recently, the approach The Incredibles 2 takes to them is nice; and, more importantly, they bear fruit in the form of plot developments that make it stand out from its predecessor in spite of how they share the same basic premise.

Despite those successes, it is disappointing, however, that the Screenslaver – the film’s mysterious villain – does not yield results of the same quality. In his first prominent appearance, he goes on to – by hacking into a television broadcast – deliver a powerful speech about how superheroes are, in a way, a reflection of a paralyzed society that would rather stay at home inside their comfort zones and do nothing than go out into the streets and take control of their lives. Sadly, even if it does have its ramifications, that relatively clever and new line of thought never grows beyond a powerful monologue, making it feel like a bad guy who had a pretty good chance to leave a strong mark goes to waste. Furthermore, that unfulfilled potential ends up hitting the script itself, as its plot twist ends up being a bit too obvious and the events that unfold as the movie gets close to its climax are neither surprising nor refreshing.

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The Incredibles 2 was, in the end, a movie that had a whole lot to live up to. The original is still, justly, regarded as one of Pixar’s finest and, as a consequence, one of the best animation movies that have ever been produced, and the fourteen-year wait fans had to endure to get a sequel only elevated those expectations to an unforeseen degree. It is an absolute victory, then, that The Incredibles 2 feels – overall – not like a disappointment, but like a pleasant return that, despite not hitting the same high notes of its predecessor in terms of plot quality and originality, is a worthy successor to it. Sure, had it chosen to move on from the conflict between superheroes and society around which the first movie was built and had it opted to spend more of its time showing the Parrs act together, rather than separated onto two distinct fronts, it is arguable it could have benefited more effectively from the marvelous premise of the series and also presented a more considerable evolution. But, regardless of those missed opportunities, the movie delivers incredible amounts of humor, action, and conspiracy, all underlined by the lovable characters and family matters that make the franchise so likable and relatable.

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2 thoughts on “Alone, Together

  1. Personally, I think this was Pixar’s best sequel since Toy Story 2. The first one is a perfect movie, so no shame in not being quite as good as the first. I kind of shared your sentiment the first time around, but after seeing it a second time I feel it was much closer to the excellence of the original.

    1. Yeah, I remember how overwhelmingly positive your review was. I will certainly see it for a second time eventually, and I agree that it is Pixar’s best sequel since Toy Story 2.

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