Although the plot of Incredibles 2 picks up where its forerunner left off, it’s been fourteen years since the moviegoing public checked in on the Parr family. The storyline is uninterrupted, but the focus of the metaphors has shifted with the times. Whereas The Incredibles was largely a commentary on exceptionalism, its sequel adopts an array of more progressive social contexts. The end result is fun, funny, and timely, but not quite transcendent.
The Incredibles’ failed, calamitous pursuit of the Underminer triggers the government to shutter the Super Relocation program, forcing superheroes to retreat behind a wall of clandestine anonymity. Enter telecom tycoon Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk), who, with his sister, Evelyn (Catherine Keener), wants to rehabilitate the supers’ public image. Armed with binders of consumer research, their poster child is Helen Parr, aka Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), viewed as less destructive and more marketable than her male counterparts.
Backed by the Deavors, Elastigirl races back into crimefighting and becomes an overnight sensation. Meanwhile, husband Bob, aka Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), becomes Mr. Mom to Dash, Violet (Sarah Vowell), and Jack-Jack. He’s left to combat foes like new math homework, boy problems, and a sleepless infant. With an assist from Edith Head doppelganger Edna Mode, Mr. Incredible gradually realizes the joy of parenting, including witnessing baby’s first polymorphic powers.
In writer-director Brad Bird’s updated milieu, Elastigirl is an amorphous proxy for a variety of groups: immigrants, LGBTQ people, and women. Closeted supers come out of hiding, inspired to live as their true selves. The supers community, pointedly labeled “illegals” in one scene, ultimately just want the government to grant them legal status. It’s rather on the nose when the villain de jour assails society as weak and complacent for relying on supers to do the jobs no one else wants. Alas, as one character observes, people trust a monkey throwing darts more than Congress.
But all this allusion never coalesces into an overarching, definable message. Meanwhile, the frivolity of the gender-role-reversal drifts into predictability in the final act, when, as in the original film, the stay-at-home parent and kids, aided by family friend Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson), once again rush off to rescue their captive fellow Incredible.
Still, Bird packages it all with animated panache, propelled by Michael Giacchino’s rousing, jazz-infused score. Stick around for the closing credits to hear the “vintage” renditions of the Elastigirl, Frozone, and Mr. Incredible theme songs. Even when the narrative feels pat, Incredibles 2 remains super when examining and extolling the family dynamics of working parents and developing children. Not all heroes wear capes; some put the kids to bed every night.