The creatives at Pixar Animation Studios went with the name Incredibles 2 for their latest sequel, but it could have been just as easily titled Elastigirl Returns. Of course, I’m splitting hairs here. The name they went with makes perfect sense. The first Incredibles was centered around Mr. Incredible, but I think the creators of both films intended these superhero films to be uniquely tied by the relationship each hero shares with one another, as is properly represented in the title. Mother. Father. Brother. Sister. Parents. Spouse. Children. Siblings. However, the whole family approach–as unique as it may be–plays out more like a high school family drama. A television sitcom between a highly dysfunctional but gifted family. The effect is not unique, it just adds a relatively unfamiliar layer of comedy to a rather formulaic genre. No harm, no foul.
Where Incredibles 2 does shine for me is in their characterization of Elastigirl. They did a lot right in refitting her costume. Going from retro disco blue to a mellowed out sparkly gray and purple is not only reflective of the changing times but also does well to contrast different aspects of Elastigirl’s personality. Her fights in the shadowy crevices and alleyways of the urban setting she finds herself in do well to paint her as an edgy, modern superhero but in truth, she couldn’t be further from her other superhero counterparts. She elects to fight criminals illegally, but only under the supervision of DevTech. She’s monitored via video camera so that she can help other superheroes in hiding. Elastigirl is also calculative. She’s always measuring risks and optimizing conditions to reduce casualties. This trait was in particular highlighted during a train chase sequence that played out very differently than the one in Spider-Man 2. You have riveting animated sequences of Helen riding a motorcycle, not so unlike the one in The Dark Knight, against the steady current of traffic only to be used as a means to monitor the developing situation while talking to her partner in crime, Evelyn, to override the controls. I thought that was a very revealing moment in the film, as all action sequences should strive to be.
Elastigirl believes in teamwork and plays nice with others. She would rather talk her way out of crises than to use her fists and superpowers. She’s compassionate and caring, modest at every moment, bashful at every turn. It’s believable that she saves lives simply by the conviction of her morals. And to be quite frank, I thought her action sequences were more thrilling than anything Mr. Incredible could have conjured up, including every one of his fight scenes in the original. She deserved the limelight as much as Winston insisted she did. Perhaps that was the reason Bob was left on the couch to babysit the kids in this film. While it was somewhat amusing to gain insights into Jack Jack’s ever nuanced powers, I did feel the fragmentation of the narrative was not necessary when you had a superhero as engrossing as Elastigirl. I wanted this film to be Elastigirl’s.
Perhaps this would have been possible if there weren’t the continuity obligations typical of sequels that held this film back from being Pixar’s best work. The indulgent but ultimately useless heist with the Underminer that ties The Incredibles to Incredibles 2 did little to advance the story in any meaningful capacity. However, Pixar overcomes most of the usual sequel obstacles to deliver one of their most entertaining works yet. Although under closer inspection one could say Elastigirl has the ever so common Mary Sue characterization that plagues most of Hollywood’s current female protagonists. For now–in 2018–Elastigirl is a refreshing breath of air in a similar way Wonder Woman was in 2017. In a way, I’m beginning to think that the fact I wanted a solo Elastigirl film isn’t so much a problem as a compliment. It’s just a testament to how well Pixar and Brad Bird came back to handle their beloved characters. And as I try to collect myself and not rush into a statement I’m going to regret, I can confidently say I would trust Pixar to extend this franchise into a proper trilogy. Probably.
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