Genre films sometimes produces mindless, trope-filled drivel, and other times use the genre template to engage with something meaningful. Incredibles 2 is the latter.
Like its predecessor, Incredibles 2 is a thematic exploration of the superhero genre. This film embraces that legacy more directly, using a more standard and predictable plot, but with a few twists. Helen gets the majority of the action focus, getting thrown back into the spotlight while Bob learns to manage the kids as a full-time dad. More than social criticism, this is a tool for exploring Bob and Helen’s marriage, as they each learn what it’s like to be in the other’s shoes, and the emotional difficulties that come as a result. More than anything, the teamwork of the family unit is a core principle – even the children prove themselves essential.
Bird applies that emotional core to a setting that balances legacy and theme. The Incredibles has always been something a post-Watchmen story. While the nuclear war aspect is not in play in The Incredibles, it directly engages that anti-superhero bias, and chooses other themes to play off that are also mature. The first film shows Bob struggling with a midlife crisis, self-destructive pride, and even hints at a kind of infidelity. This sequel also contains mature themes, more directly confronting the cynicism that defined Alan Moore’s signature work. This tricky balance between mature themes and making a family film occasionally works to the film’s disadvantage. It has its share of intense moments, and the language is not always family-friendly – the film includes a couple of mild profanities, plus a couple misuses of God’s name.
With that said, the film is a family film in just about every sense of the word. Just as Ant-Man is a heist film and Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a spy thriller, both The Incredibles and Incredibles 2 are family dramas, with the latter portraying family identity in the midst of a changing social climate. But good superhero films must also have the excitement factor. There, too, Brad Bird delivers. One particular chase scene (which contains a potentially seizure-inducing moment for those with epilepsy) is so kinetic and cinematic, it could be in a Nolan Batman film. The action setpieces are diverse, from a claustrophobic apartment complex to a speeding train. If there is a weakness here – and the film has few – it’s in the implausibility of the third act, which clashes some with the grounded tone of the first two.
Ultimately, the film is a great example of what Pixar does at its best – applying mature themes to the canvas of family-friendly film. The film has a lot to say, mostly about the complex nature of family dynamics and identity, although it gets occasionally sidetracked into other ideas. This, too, is one of the film’s weaknesses – it touches on so many interesting ideas that it spreads itself too thin. But the ideas it does touch on are socially relevant and thought-provoking, a testament to the intention and passion behind the work.
The family themes could not come at a more appropriate time, culturally speaking. Even Christian homes often struggle to stay together, and the family dynamics of Incredibles 2 are very positive, both in parenting and in marriage. There’s plenty here for the kids as well (although intense moments and a few mild profanities should be not be overlooked). In all, while the film could be more child-friendly in terms of language, its mature themes and family values bring a robust cinematic experience to a cluttered blockbuster season.