Pixar has had an uneven history with its sequels. Although some become as beloved as other Pixar movies (Toy Story 2 and 3), others are forgettable (Cars 2 and 3) or they’re merely satisfactory (Finding Dory and Monsters University). Thankfully, Brad Bird’s Incredibles 2 rises above the forgettable and the mediocre to be one of Pixar’s finest sequels. While it never quite reaches the heights of the 2004 original, there’s plenty to love in the new installment as Bird breaks his story in half—one following Elastigirl/Helen Parr (Holly Hunter) as she attempts to restore the good name of the Supers, and Mr. Incredible/Bob Parr (Craig T. Nelson) stays home and tries to raise the kids. Both stories are endearing, and yet it’s Bob’s story that packs more of a wallop.
Picking up right where the first movie ended, an attempt to stop the Underminer (John Ratzenberger) goes awry, which lands the Supers in even more trouble. However, charismatic telecommunication billionaires Winston (Bob Odenkirk) and sister Evelyn Deavor (Catherine Keener) want to help the Supers. They think Elastigirl, with her smart saving (as opposed to Mr. Incredible’s more destructive ways) is their best play to get Supers legalized again. This leaves Bob back at home with the hyperactive Dash (Huck Milner), angry Violet (Sarah Vowell), and the delightful, scene-stealing Jack-Jack, whose many, many powers are starting to surface.
Although it splits the narrative and the themes can be a bit scattershot (sometimes it’s about the power of screens over us, other times it’s about what it means to sacrifice for your family), the narrative and characters remain as winning as ever. It’s great to see Elastigirl in the spotlight, and the action scenes built around her are as dynamic as ever. If a studio ever makes a truly great Fantastic Four movie, they’re going to have a high bar to clear on making Mr. Fantastic’s stretching power match Elastigirl’s. The creativity on display, especially with her Elasticycle, is a blast to watch, and I don’t think anyone would have been disappointed if the movie was just her saving the day.
And yet the richer story is Mr. Incredible at home with the kids because it’s just more relatable. Even if you don’t have kids, in the same way that Tully shows how draining and worthwhile it can be, Incredibles 2 has Mr. Incredible being worn away not by supervillains or a death ray, but by lack of sleep. It shows the difficulty in trying to keep your kids happy or help them with their math homework or having a rambunctious (to say the least) baby and once you think it’s all sorted, you have to do it all again tomorrow.
By weaving these two stories together, Incredibles 2 remains fresh and fun, but also distinct from its predecessor. While the first movie was about learning the importance of family over pride or career, Incredibles 2 digs down deeper and shows the nitty gritty of what a family will do to succeed. The supervillain’s plot is almost a distraction away from what we really care about, which is just watching Elastigirl kick butt and Mr. Incredible hate math. But all of the charm and style from the first movie remains intact.
Sequels, especially sequels that came out over a decade since the original, are a tricky prospect. The original casts a longer and longer shadow as its popularity grows, and it becomes difficult for a sequel to make a splash on its own terms while retaining what people liked about the first movie. While it never quite reaches the delirious highs of The Incredibles, Incredibles 2 is a worthwhile sequel that never loses sight of why we fell in love with these superheroes in the first place.