I probably don’t need to tell anyone that the world has changed a great deal in the last 14 years — but someone might need to point that out to writer/director Brad Bird. Don’t get me wrong, Incredibles 2 is undeniably competent, visually mindboggling and narratively cohesive. But I found myself persistently asking, throughout the course of two-plus hours in the theater, why this? Why now?
The answers may be both nuanced and elusive, and if Incredibles 2 left me inexplicably cold, I appear to be in the dissenting minority. The movie already boasts the highest box-office gross for any animated feature opening weekend, and it will undoubtedly take home countless technical accolades come awards season. But picking up the story of a family of superheroes exactly where it left off 14 years ago begs the question, not only of its necessity or timeliness, but of the film’s intended audience. Considering the fact that kids who would have been old enough to remember seeing this movie’s 2004 predecessor in theaters would now be heading off to college, exactly who is Incredibles 2 supposed to draw?
The answer to that one may not be so elusive — apparently, everybody. And there’s nothing wrong with that, nor is it entirely unexpected. Disney/Pixar has created a clockwork mechanism that cranks out middle-of-the-road pabulum with alarming alacrity. These films are consistently proficient, never lacking in style or substance and always family-friendly. Incredibles 2 is no exception, and it goes many of its forebears one better by focusing on female empowerment, if you’ll excuse a light superhero pun.
This time around Mr. Incredible (voiced again by Craig T. Nelson) and Elastigirl (Holly Hunter, also reprising) are in hot water over some egregious first-act property destruction, and the government agency that employed them has been disbanded as a result. In steps tech mogul Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) with a claim to rebrand and religitamize superheroes, but there’s a catch — he wants Elastigirl, not Mr. Incredible, to be the face of the movement. This leads to a plot that plays something like Mr. Mom meets Captain America: Civil War, but the result isn’t nearly as dissonant as that description might suggest.
The narrative gives Hunter’s Elastigirl plenty of space to shine and Nelson’s Mr. Incredible some convincingly fraught domestic disturbances, but between the overstuffed action set pieces, the emotional core seems vaguely hollow. The antagonist’s villainous scheme, hypnotizing heroes by way of TV screens, offers some superficial social commentary that doesn’t come to much and is painfully predictable. Whereas the first Incredibles film was distinguished by the originality of its quasi-futuristic midcentury-modern setting and its then-unique take on humanized superheroism, the plethora of comic book blockbusters in the ensuing decade-and-a-half have rendered Incredibles 2 something of an exercise in redundancy.
Still, the lengthy lapse between films has allowed for technological advancements that make Incredibles 2 one of the most visually stunning animated features ever to have been produced. There’s no doubt that it’s a great thing to look at, and my deeper qualms with its questionable necessity take nothing away from its remarkable technical achievements. It’s not dull, it’s not boring, and it’s not entirely pointless. There are far worse movies in theaters right now, but there’s nothing particularly incredible about that. Rated PG for action sequences and some brief mild language.
Now Playing at AMC Classic River Hills 10, Carolina Cinemark, Grail Moviehouse, Regal Biltmore Grande, Epic of Hendersonville, Co-Ed of Brevard.