The Incredibles came out on November 5, 2004 — I was six. Since that date I have started and finished elementary, middle and high school and gone away to college.
Last Thursday, though, I, in a theater full of adults, was six again with just one big, red letter “i.” I was Ego finally tasting Ratatouille’s titular dish. Every layer of maturity I thought would float me above the draw of a 14-year-old animated movie’s sequel was shattered the instant that iconic “da da DA da daaaah” filled the theater.
I was nostalgically excited when Star Wars came back, but that excitement’s become the cause of fatigue. The excitement I felt as the work day came to a close knowing I was on my way to the theater, however, is the result of that same sequel fatigue. 14 years for a sequel is unheard of, especially today!
Brad Bird’s newest piece made me realize how truly fatigued I am, not just with Star Wars, but with continuous cinematic universes in general. That crawling Marvel logo hasn’t sparked my interest since, what, the first Avengers?
While Incredibles 2 does fall victim to a couple of the superhero genre’s most common pitfalls — some forced beats and a “mind control” type plot not dissimilar to Valentine’s anger-inducing SIM cards from Kingsman—it also offers some pretty cutting commentary on today’s superhero fad. And, yes, I know this movie’s criticism of its own genre could seem hypocritical, but in its defense, superhero movies, or at least superhero movies as they exist now, didn’t exist when The Incredibles first came out. It’s certainly no coincidence the sequel is dropping at the height of the genre’s prominence.
Incredibles 2 posits that a good and just world maintained by superheroes is oxymoronic; our heroes must break the law to uphold it, and at times they must neglect people to save them. The very thought that we need heroes to uphold order, and this idea’s prevalence in the psyche of the 21st century moviegoer, is an indictment of the everyman’s laziness and inherently flawed nature.
Serious stuff. This movie’s messages, like its audience, are grown-up now. Down to its very animation style, which is somehow both instantly recognizable and stunning in its newfound modernity, almost every facet of this movie has changed just enough to fit in with present day cinema while still remaining true enough to the original to sweep the nostalgic 20-year-olds off their feet.
Incredibles 2 is at its most engaging in the heat of the action, with our super-family duking it out with the baddies. It’s fast, funny, immensely technically impressive and even sprinkles in some Avengers-esque quips in to nicely break up the action.
Although it picks up right where the first movie left off (“Behold the Underminer!”), the new film’s characters have developed quite a bit. The kids learned to confidently harness their powers and fight as a unit on Syndrome’s island and we get to see them doing just that. It’s just awesome! Sure, you can pick out similarities to the Fantastic Four if you want to, but those comics have yet to receive a compelling cinematic adaptation, much less one on this film’s level.
The new Incredibles really excels, though, because of its litany of deep, engaging themes. It’s easy to read this film as preaching some of the very same ideology its main villain presents: people prefer ease to quality, we’re all slaves to our screens and everything we consume is so neatly and tightly digestible that we’ve lost sight of the things that are truly important.
If you boil everything else away — the 14 year delay, the analysis of our current cinematic superhero saturation and the remarks on society itself — this movie is a love letter to parents. In a fictional world overflowing with superheroes, the true Herculean feats are performed by Mr. Incredible when he’s being Bob Parr, stay-at-home father of three.
If I walked out of the theater amazed by one thing, it was that I’d seen Mr. Incredible’s exasperated expression on my dad’s face. It’s what Bird referred to as the mundane in the fantastic. Yes, the Parrs all have superpowers, but they deal with the same problems every other family does. If anything, their having powers serves to exaggerate these issues, throwing them into stark light for the audience’s examination.
Way back when in 2004, I wasn’t yet trying to vivisect movies like this, but the original Incredibles felt more fun than this one. I remember feeling electric from start to finish, and the sequel just didn’t feel like that non-stop thrill-ride I loved so much. At the end of the day, it just wasn’t what I was expecting, but how could it have been been? Almost five thousand days separate this premiere from its predecessor’s. I, the movies and the world have changed a lot in that time.
I referenced a scene from Ratatouille earlier, one that to me seems quintessentially Pixar. In an instant, Ego’s pure, unbridled joy became mine without inhibition. That single moment of euphoria is itself reason enough for me to re-watch the movie. Frankly, Incredibles 2 has got the patently charming shine we’ve come to expect from Pixar, but it lacked that singular crux that’ll stick with me over time.
Don’t get me wrong, Incredibles 2 is a fine movie and certainly one worth seeing if you liked the original, but Pixar’s best stuff is the standard against which all others are measured and in this case that makes a perfectly good film feel underwhelming.
The Incredibles was, well, incredible. It was unabashedly fun and, thinking back, it was probably one of the films I enjoyed most as a kid. My dad was the strong Mr. Incredible; my mom the ever-stretching do-it-all Elastigirl. My sister and I were the kids, each with our own distinct powers and problems.
Incredibles 2 is… different, but so is my family now. While I was slightly disappointed it wasn’t the romp I remembered, I’ve been lost in its complexity for close to 3 days. It’s a good movie that achieves great thematic significance by its very existence. So, yeah, it’s incredible too, just in its own way.
Nick Smith is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]