Brad Bird's sequel to his superhero-family Pixar classic doesn't build on the first film so much as dutifully replay it. It's fun, but far from incredible.
We’ve been swimming in movie sequels for close to 40 years now. Yet for all the deluge of cinematic déjà vu, all the middling rehashes and (yes) the fun, rousing, and genuinely imaginative second, third, or fourth chapters, there is one category of Hollywood sequel that remains so elite — and so rare — that we hardly even think about it. And that’s the sequel to an unabashedly great movie.
I don’t mean great in the fanboy sense of “Did you see [fill in the title of the last Marvel film] ? It was great!” I’m not even talking about beloved popcorn touchstones like “Die Hard” or “Scream” or “The Bourne Identity.” I’m talking about movies of singular and awesome artistry, like “The Godfather” or “Star Wars” or “Night of the Living Dead” or “Toy Story.” When a sequel gets made to one of those, it’s axiomatic that you want — and almost expect — it to be a great movie, too. For if that isn’t the standard, then what is?
The movies listed above all got the sequels they deserved (“The Godfather Part II,” “The Empire Strikes Back,” “Dawn of the Dead,” “Toy Story 2”). In the case of each follow-up, the original film’s vision was sustained, enhanced, even enlarged. And I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that many viewers will be hanging that same desire for greatness on “Incredibles 2.”
That’s because “The Incredibles,” which came out 14 years ago, was an extraordinary movie — an instant Pixar classic, bedazzling and humane, a virtuoso act of computer-animated showmanship that spoke about things like work, family, ego, and the passion of ambition in ways that few Hollywood movies have before or since. Written and directed by Brad Bird, it was a superhero comedy of daffy corkscrew wit; the most poetically extravagant action caper since the James Bond ’60s; a portrait of middle-class American domestic life that took in its joys and its perils; and the most exquisitely designed animated feature since “Yellow Submarine.”
That’s a lot to live up to, and I wish I could say that “Incredibles 2,” which Bird also wrote and directed, is the great sequel “The Incredibles” deserves. It is not. It’s got a touch of the first film’s let’s-try-it-on spirit, and it’s a perfectly snappy and chucklesome and heartfelt entertainment, with little retro felicities you latch onto, yet something is missing: the thrill of discovery — the crucial sensation that the movie is taking us someplace we haven’t been.
“Incredibles 2” offers a puckishly high-spirited but slightly strenuous replay of the original film’s tale of a superhero family working to prove its relevance. Once again, the family’s members are on the cusp between humdrum domesticity and saving-the-world bravura. Yet what was organic, and even obsessive, in the first outing comes off as pat and elaborate formula here. The new movie, energized as it is, too often feels like warmed-over sloppy seconds, with a what-do-we-do-now?riff that turns into an overly on-the-nose plot.