Film critic Scott Wilson reviews the latest from animation powerhouse Pixar which sees superheroes fight for their right to fight for what’s right
Incredibles 2 – ★★★☆☆
Pixar sequels tend to get a free pass because of their long gestation period. Instead of rushing them into production, they arrive once they’re supposedly ready. Brad Bird, director of both The Incredibles and Incredibles 2, said he would only make a sequel if he knew it would be better than the original. It’s an admirable stance in an industry keen to churn out more and more content from a single hot brand, but it’s also a hell of a bar to clear, The Incredibles being one of Pixar’s most beloved entries.
The film arrives fourteen years after the original, but picks up moments after The Incredibles ends. Supers are outlawed, but Winston Deavor, the owner of a telecommunications company, is determined to change public perception and have them welcomed back into society as the heroes they are. Along with his sister Evelyn, they work with Elastigirl to win hearts and minds, while Mr Incredible stays at home with the kids, much to his chagrin.
A lot has been made of this main hero gender-swapping. The breadwinner is the mother while the caregiver is the father, reversing mainstream cinema’s typical reliance on outdated representations of the nuclear family.
Despite their best efforts to save the city, they are blamed, creating a sort of in-world instance of fake news.
It would have worked better had less been made of it: Mr Incredible is petulant, jealous of his wife’s limelight and seemingly never having done anything for the kids up until this point. We laugh at his attempts to be a father, dozing off while reading to Jack-Jack and trying to set things right with a boy Violet likes, but what we’re laughing at is still an outdated trope rooted in sexist family roles. We’re expected to find it hilarious a dad doesn’t know how to be a parent because up until now the mum has done all the caregiving. A genderswap approach isn’t inherently progressive.
The film does repeatedly pat itself on the back for this. One background advert suggests a cooking product is so easy ‘even he could do it!’ It’s as if Incredibles 2 thinks it’s smarter than it actually is. Playful subversions of gender roles is one thing, but to suggest there’s anything monumental going on here is to give it too much credit.
It’s a shame Mr Incredible’s scenes aren’t less disingenuous, because they do provide most of the characterisation while Elastigirl is off driving the plot. An extended battle between a newly superpowered Jack-Jack and a raccoon is arguably the best part of the film (challenged only by the appearance of one Edna Mode), while the awkward parent-daughter conversation about boys is as cringeworthy as it ought to be. As with most, if not all, Pixar films, it’s the characters that live on upon recollection more than the plot, so the family hanging out together at home is more memorable than Elastigirl’s crimefighting.
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Appealing to both the people and politicians, Elastigirl’s one-woman mission recalls Captain America: Civil War. When delegates from the world over begin to notice the good-will brought about by Elastigirl’s services to the city, it’s not unlike government intervention after the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron. Opening the world up by holding superheroes accountable for all of the collateral damage they incur therefore isn’t new, but perhaps it is playing into current real-life discussions of military intervention and its harms. A blind-devotion to superheroes who level cities and injure countless civilians isn’t incomparable to boots on the ground in the Middle East to promote stability while destroying families and neighbourhoods.
It’s Winston Deavor’s focus on perception that places Incredibles 2 in the here and now. After a messy opening sequence, he frames the heroes how they see themselves versus how the news portrays them. Despite their best efforts to save the city, they are blamed, creating a sort of in-world instance of fake news. He wants to reclaim the family’s narrative, not by changing much of their behaviour, but by controlling what the world sees (and thinks) of them. It acknowledges how our opinions come less from facts and more from how an event is packaged for us.
But, like the gender-swap, it never quite commits to this more interesting angle. It’s undoubtedly there, but as the film goes on, it becomes what you think it’s going to be. As it rushes towards a climax, suddenly any and all profundity is cast off for rapidly increasing stakes and an all-too-welcome reconvening of the family. It’s good fun, but it’s not a modern classic, and the top tier of Pixar remains unchallenged.
As with all Disney-Pixar releases, before the main feature is a short. Many of these have gone on to become iconic in their own right. Incredibles 2 comes accompanied by Bao, about a mother experiencing empty nest syndrome, who projects feelings for her absent son on to a dumpling that comes to life.
It continues these shorts’ odes to silent cinema, while being on the more bizarre end of the spectrum. I’ve seen it twice now, and both times audiences were completely caught off-guard by a moment of both hilarity and tragedy. A laugh quickly turns to a gasp of realisation, and it’s one of 2018’s best cinematic moments. By packing so much into just eight minutes, Bao outshines its cinematic partner and has been what I keep thinking back to when I think of Incredibles 2.
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