There isn’t really a word, or a precedent, to describe the place that superhero media has taken up in pop culture the last ten years or so: from Iron Man onwards, superhero cinema has been the major currency of most of the biggest studios out there, dominating yearly release schedule and sprawling to include franchises and characters many people never thought would see the big screen. For better or for worse, superheroes have never been bigger than they are right now. We know the formula by now – the origin story beats, the character arcs, the conflicts, the fight scenes.
But, in the last eighteen months, we’re seen a push back against the standard run of superhero movies. It really started with the triumph that was Logan, but it carried on into Spiderman: Homecoming, with a first movie that skipped straight past the origin story, to Wonder Woman, the first female-fronted movie to hit screens, to Black Panther, the first film centred on black people, and eventually culminated with Infinity War where, you know, half the cast we’ve come to know and love died in front of us. The formula is more malleable now than ever before – and that’s where Incredibles 2 comes in.
A sequel to 2004’s Incredibles, the Brad Bird-helmed follow-up has never been a more relevant piece of media than right now. Okay, first and foremost, let’s get the actual review part out of the way: this is a properly brilliant movie, a truly classic Summer blockbuster that soars with wit, gorgeous animation, and some of the best action you’ll see this side of Black Panther. Bold, funny, heartfelt, it’s the kind of film that leaves you feeling stuffed with pure quality. I really did try to come up with something to balance out all that praise, but the truth of the matter is that Incredibles 2 is already one of the most impressive films of the year, an achievement that glows amongst the exceptional ouevre Pixar already has behind it. Go and see it, really. I was pretty ambivalent about catching it, but I’m so glad I did, and it’s the most fun I’ve had in the cinema in a hell of a long time.
But so many people have said that already, and I want to take a look at where this movie falls in the world of superhero cinema. Because my immediate reaction, upon walking out of it, was that it felt so completely fresh. I hadn’t seen anything like this in what felt like forever, certainly not in the angst-ridden entries to the genre that have dominated it the last few years (not to say that Incredibles 2 doesn’t have it’s moments of gravity, because it certainly does and they’re gorgeously realized). But the fact of the matter is, Incredibles 2 isn’t new at all.
This movie, in tone, is really a Silver Age blockbuster. Fitted around family values, endless wit, with a score that sounds like it transmuted here straight from the 60s and classic space-age visuals to match, Incredibles is, in many ways, a throwback. But it’s also a movie that exists in this era of blockbuster entertainment and, while it relies on the superhero tropes of years past, it takes what it wants from the modern superhero world – the action scenes have the enormity, scope, and dynamism of anything Marvel has to offer, the sly gender commentary matches with the shifting place of women within the genre, and the flashbacks to the murder of a previous superhero advocate are what Batman versus Superman could have been if it wasn’t such a steaming pile of Snyder droppings. Yes, Incredibles 2 is a throwback, but it doesn’t use that as an excuse to feel old-fashioned.
And it’s that mix of modern and retro that makes Incredibles 2 feel so damn fresh. It takes the good stuff, the fun stuff, from the modern canon, and ditches the angst and the franchise fatigue and couches it in the uber-fun tone of a Silver Age comic. It’s an absolute treat of a film, even for those among us (raises hand) who are firmly into suffering with superhero overload. Bold, different, and wildly entertaining, Incredibles 2 is up there with the best blockbusters of 2018 so far, and that’s no small feat at all.
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By Louise MacGregor
(header image courtesy of APR.org)