Incredibles 2 is not so much animated as “re-animated,” an undead feminist sequel sapped of all the insight, humanity, and moral seriousness that gave life to the original.
The original Incredibles is a movie about a midlife crisis. Mr. Incredible has traded his bachelor glory days of risk and adventure for a desk job, stay-at-home wife, and three kids in the suburbs. He used to boast, “I work alone.” Now that freedom and independence are gone. Meanwhile, Mr. Incredible’s two pubescent children grapple with their own new “powers.” The next generation is maturing, Mr. Incredible is moving into the next phase of his life, and our hero is desperate to recapture his youth. So he starts lying to his wife Elastigirl in order to stay out late with his friend from the old days. He buys a new sports car. He goes on clandestine rendezvous with a younger woman. When Incredible’s reckless behavior finally, inevitably lands him in hot water, his suspicious wife flies off to find him, unwittingly bringing the kids along for the ride.
Mr. Incredible’s nemesis Syndrome—or is it “Sin”-drome?—is a mere mortal whose pride led him to mimic superhero powers through technology in his desperate quest to become, like them, a god. Syndrome is the embodiment of Mr. Incredible’s real enemy: his own selfish pride. As a child, Syndrome styled himself “Incrediboy,” Mr. Incredible’s biggest fan. Over the years, that unreformed selfishness festered into the villainy that threatens to destroy Mr. Incredible and his family.
Only his family’s love can save Incredible from self-destruction. As the kids determine to help their parents, daughter Violet encourages her younger brother. “Mom and Dad’s lives could be in danger,” she warns. “Or worse: their marriage!” The Incredibles’ marriage constitutes their children’s entire world. The family’s love finally makes Mr. Incredible understand he’s been looking at life backwards. “I was so caught up in the past,” he tells them. “You are my greatest adventure. And I almost missed it.” Together, looking toward the future, the Incredibles attack Syndrome’s robot monster as a family, specifically through the actions that define family life: arguing over how to work a remote control; playing catch. When the Incredibles defeat the robot monster together, two elderly gentlemen look on approvingly. “That’s the way to do it. That’s old school,” concludes the one. “No school like the old school,” observes the other.
Chronologically, the 14 years between films pass in the blink of an eye, as Incredibles 2 picks up precisely where the original leaves off. Ideologically, the two films couldn’t be further apart. Incredibles 2 trades eternal truths for fashionable cliché, betraying the central thesis of the original along the way. In this movie, Elastigirl is no longer the loving, suburban wife and mother who gladly traded independent adventure for the joys of family life. Never mind everything you watched poignantly unfold in the first movie. Now Elastigirl wants to fight bad guys on her own again. So she ditches her husband and children for the “superhero’s playground” of the city. That leaves Mr. Incredible to stay home with the kids, a task he hilariously bungles because wives are just so much more competent than their idiot husbands.
The Incredibles’ nemesis is no longer the original sin crouching in the corner of each human heart but rather . . . technology. Or something. Specifically, technology developed by a brilliant scientist lady and her idiot billionaire brother. By the fifth extended watch-the-baby-be-cute sequence, one gives up all hope that the plot will ever thicken up. In the end, the kids come to help, and Mr. Incredible does something tangential, and Elastigirl catches the villain, and whatever.
The original Incredibles gave us complex characters grappling with universal human problems. Incredibles 2 trades all that for marital clichés and fashionable feminism with all the depth of a Judy Syfers essay or an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond. The original showed us the folly and danger of trying to resurrect the past. Sadly, the sequel does the same.