After badly damaging their home city in their battle with the Underminer, the Incredibles (and their friend Frozone) are hired by tech moguls Winston and Evelyn Deaver, played by Bob Odenkirk and Catherine Keener, respectively, to rehabilitate the public image of superheroes by wearing body cameras while fighting crime. Being the most tactful fighter of the bunch, Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) is chosen to pilot test the program. In a series of battles, she attempts to thwart the plots of a mysterious new supervillain, known as the Screenslaver, who can control the minds of anyone who watches their broadcasts. The inventive use of superpowers, gorgeous animation, and propulsive energy in their confrontations make for some of some the most spectacular set pieces in recent memory.
Meanwhile, Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) battles a moody teenage daughter, an infant with dozens of uncontrollable superpowers, and algebra. The film covers a lot of ground. The film flirts with some trite clichés about men being incompetent buffoons when it comes to childcare, but wisely focuses most of its humor on the inherent difficulties of child raising, and how superpowers can exacerbate any problems. The storylines involving his elder children, Dash (Huck Milner) and Violet (Sarah Vowell), are unremarkable, but an increasingly exhausted Mr. Incredible trying to handle the baby Jack-Jack’s ever-expanding array of powers provides the funniest moments of the movie, with a lengthy slapstick sequence involving a raccoon being the standout.
The film’s script also briefly addresses a common criticism of Brad Bird’s previous films, particularly The Incredibles and Tomorrowland. They have been criticized for espousing the belief that special people are superior to the masses and deserve special treatment. Without spoiling any plot details, Incredibles 2 provides some nuance to this philosophy through the motivations of the Screenslaver. It doesn’t go so far as to completely refute the notion of exceptionalism, but it’s a more complex presentation of the ideology expressed in Bird’s films.
The animation in Incredibles 2 is simply sublime. The action is frenetic, with inventive and impressive use of superpowers, but never incoherent. The rest of the animation is up to the same quality as the awe-inspiring action sequences. The combination of art deco architecture and sleek technology is even more notable in Incredibles 2 than in The Incredibles. By setting most of the film in a vast cityscape, the retrofuturistic visual style is constantly on display, which enhances the feelings of nostalgia and old-fashioned optimism that permeate Bird’s script. Not to mention the facial animation, which is the most expressive of any Pixar film.
All in all, Incredibles 2 is a great animated children’s film and a great superhero film, but it falls just short of its classic predecessor. Poorly fleshed out villain motivations and the older children’s lackluster storylines prevent it from resonating as well as the original. The film’s shortcomings only highlight how strong the rest of the movie is. Elastigirl’s clashes with Screenslaver is both a dazzling display of superheroics and a charming expression of re-finding one’s professional passion while Mr. Incredible’s attempts to take care of Jack-Jack are constantly laugh inducing. So much of the film is wonderful that the flaws are only minor quibbles.