Was the Sequel Incredible? Comparing & Contrasting Pixar’s Superhero Films

The Incredibles 2 (Our review here!) has done significantly well in the box office as expected, sitting at a 94% on Rotten Tomatoes and earning over $182 million on opening weekend. Longtime fans have waited for nearly fifteen years for this Pixar sequel, a sequel that is actually deserving (we’ll get to that later). The Incredibles (2004) is one of my top five favorite Pixar films, sitting at #2, and was one of the first early films that made me think beyond the action and entertainment value. Still, to this day, The Incredibles holds up as a fun and entertaining film for families while giving very important messages on individualism, nature vs. nurture, and hero idolization.

I got a chance to see the sequel this past week, and while it was entertaining and fun, that’s all it really was in the end. The significance of it–character development, themes, and philosophy–was very lackluster, compared to the previous film. Overall, I gave the film a 7/10. It’s one of those sequels that’s good and acceptable, but in no way lives up to the original successor. In most film cases, the original has always done better than the sequel, so, what makes the original Incredibles better? In this article, we are going beyond the ordinary review and going into the depth of both films in a compare and contrast analysis. Keep in mind that this will contain major spoilers for the film, so if you have not seen it, you have been warned. So grab your super suit, put on your mask, and get ready!

1 – From Depth to One-Dimensional

Throughout the first film, each member of the Parr family had their own moments of character development and depth. Bob constantly battles his mid-life crisis while trying to relive the superhero glory days, Hellen struggles with trying to keep the family together and normal in society, Dash constantly learns humility and patience in using and controlling his powers, and Violet learns to accept her powers rather than to hide them and learns to look out for the interest of others over herself. Each member got just enough room to grow as individuals and eventually as a family, as they all realize that their powers make up their true identities and working as a team is better than working alone.

While Hellen got more character development as the leader of the family, the rest of the family fell far behind, slipping into the one-dimensional realm of character development. Bob raising the family on his own was exactly how I predicted it–Mr. Mom (1983) with superpowers. Of course, it was entertaining, it was witty, and it was funny, but it really wasn’t anything beyond that. It felt more like a comedy than a family fun action film with comedy. Furthermore, I was hoping to see Bob grow more with the kids individually as Hellen did in the previous film. It seemed as if despite Bob’s intentions to work with his kids, it backfired constantly to the point where he becomes unlikeable as the stress gets to his head. Sure, it did play into the struggle with his ego of being super, however, it focused highly on the comedic side of it rather than the dramatical side, something this particular topic definitely needed.

As for Violet, there’s so much more that could have been built off of her in her relation to Tony. In the opening film, we see him realize Violet is a superhero, freak out, and eventually get his mind erased by Mr. Dicker. What would have been more interesting to see would be Tony keeping his memory, thereby allowing Violet to learn the importance of concealing her identity while also opening up her true self to the ones she cares about outside of the family. It would have further pushed her into being a more open character as we saw her towards the end of the original film. Instead, her character is simply boy-crazy as she acts out of emotional rage while throwing rational thinking out the window. She went from a daughter with so much depth and development to the stereotypical boy crazy, overly-obsessive teen.

Throughout the first film, Dash constantly struggles with wanting to use his powers, while constantly being told not to. It’s not simply selfish–though that is there–but he wants to be expressive and unashamed of who he really is. When he finally uses his abilities on the island, he is still learning in the heat of the moments how to control his powers and new lengths he can go when using them like running on water. It would have been interesting to see him learn to control these powers in school in the area of pride and ego, nearly resembling his father which would have made for a heart-to-heart moment between the two. In the sequel, Dash really doesn’t grow anywhere significant.

We only ever see him in the house until the third act of the film when he puts on the mask again. Until then, he’s an annoyingly fun character. Dash is the same from the beginning of the film, to the end. Not much growth, no big changes, and not much depth. His goals and desires of being a super are there at the beginning, but after that, he’s just a kid who pushes a lot of buttons and causes a lot of problems… Seriously, he actually pushes a lot of buttons that cause a lot of problems. The car, the new house, etc. Violet and Dash went from siblings learning to control their powers and to be unique at young ages to trying to be the most annoyingly funny character throughout the movie.

Now some may be thinking, “But that is a lot of ground to cover in a near 2-hour film. Surely, they couldn’t have covered every character.” True, it is a lot of for a 2-hour film. However, it was done significantly well in the first. It is not as if this is new to the studio let alone to Director/Writer Brad Bird. The balance of character development had been executed so well before, so there isn’t a reason how it couldn’t have worked in the sequel, especially since it takes place literally where the first left off. Difficult? Yes. Impossible? Not in the slightest, especially for a studio like Pixar.

2. The Villain Motives 

At first, I had a large distaste for the villain Screenslaver and in most cases, I still do. I will admit that her philosophy on relying on the supers makes ordinary people lazy really made me think of Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s “The Madman” where the characters kill God. The basic idea is that humanity has come so far that the need for God or any supernaturalism is no longer necessary. Similar to Evelyn, she thinks that way about superheroes, how these god-like figures are not necessary for society to thrive and only prevent them from achieving greatness. A friend of mine also pointed out that the symbolism regarding excommunicating supers is similar to the struggle with immigration and how some don’t want them in the U.S, period. While I still have trouble picturing that idea, it is nonetheless interesting.

While her monologue was interesting, words can only go so far when the action and character aren’t memorable. Being a hardcore superhero comic book fan and cinephile the whole “big reveal” of the villain is hardly interesting. Very rarely does it work, let alone succeed. I get the idea of suspense but most of the time, big reveals have been lackluster, disinteresting, and most cases, predictable. In the case of Screenslaver, I figured it out when we were first introduced to Evelyn Deavor (Evil Endeavor when you say it slowly) that she would be the villain behind it all.

The messy hair, the questionable dialogue, the fact that she literally sits or stands in the dark parts of her brother’s office when they engage with Bob and Hellen. It’s super obvious. Along with that, her backstory is summed up in a 30 to 40-second flashback of her father being murdered. That really is not a lot of emotional depth to go off of for audiences to have some sort of sympathy. With the first film and Syndrome, the opening footage of seeing him rejected by Mr. Incredible is one that is striking and gives you a sense of sympathy for him. While it wasn’t overblown with details, it was just enough to allow the audience to grasp where he was coming from.

Overall, Evelyn’s plan was to continue to keep supers illegal on a more efficient scale. It just….could’ve been more. I don’t think it would have been enough to simply flush out superheroes as they were before, considering some of them were still doing superhero work vigilante style, like Mr. Incredible and Frozone in the first film. Nothing significantly would have changed other than more strict policies (as if that ever works). Syndrome, on the other hand, had a large plan that for the most part, worked in his favor. He literally killed off a large number of superheroes in order to build better robots and to become a better superhero himself.

As Mr. Incredible says, “You mean you killed off real heroes so you could pretend to be one?” To which his response was, “Oh I’m real! Real enough to defeat you! And I did it without your precious gifts, without your special powers. I’ll give them heroics. I’ll give them the most spectacular heroics anyone has ever seen! And when I’m old and I’ve had my fun, I’ll sell my inventions so that everyone can be superheroes, everyone can be super! And when everyone is super, no one will be.” In other words, he is taking Friedrich Nietzsche’s herd morality philosophy to a whole new level. Rather than dragging godlike heroes down to the level of the inferior, he destroys the superheroes, thereby allowing the inferiors to become the godlike superheroes. That is really dark, ingenious, and sophisticated.

Am I expecting Screenslaver to be like Syndrome? Absolutely not. Whoever a villain is and whatever their motives may be, they have to be significantly rooted and grounded in order for audiences to not only be entertained, but also to think critically about it like Syndrome or other villains like Thanos, The Joker, and so on.

3. What Did They Learn?

Throughout the first film, there are large lessons to be learned with the characters. Be humble, embrace the gifts you been given, live in the now than the past, hold your identity up with dignity, put other’s interest before your own, and so on. Great lessons for both children, teens, and adults. Aside from a different version of egotism with Bob and somewhat of a lesson in responsibility with Hellen, there isn’t a lesson learned with these characters. When it comes to superhero films, there is always a lesson or two to be learned in the end. I guess one lesson someone could find is don’t trust shady companies (then again, we got that in the first one also). Violet and Dash hardly learn anything new or expand on what they’ve already learned while Bob really doesn’t learn much about overcoming his Ego considering nothing was resolved between him and the kids. They just jump straight into the action when Evelyn calls him to help Elastagirl.

While the characters may not have big lessons learned, audiences on the other definitely learn the idea of how media works. Winston Deavor, there is big talk that the media only shows you what they want to show you. Major damage, people hurt or killed, and so on. In order to change the law, you need to change people’s perception first. With Screenslaver, there is much on the topic of mass media reliance and how screens control our lives, which is exactly what she does. The irony of this is that we watched this monologue about relying on screens on a screen. Talk about meta.

4. Was a Sequel Necessary?

In a time where audiences are constantly shoved with unnecessary sequels, prequels, and spin-offs down their throats, many have asked, “Why do we need a sequel? It feels unnecessary!” With The Incredibles, however, I honestly think a sequel was necessary and–despite my differences–this sequel was the better than other’s that Pixar has come out with. Sequels and even prequels like Monsters University (2013), and Finding Dory (2016) felt completely unnecessary because the end of the original films never left anything to be explored or questions to answer. The question is forced like, “What if we made a sequel about Dory, the comedic relief character?” or “What if we made a story about how Mike and Sully became friends?” It doesn’t work because it forces the question and is executed as a predictable cash grab story rather than something unique and profound.

With the end of the original Incredibles film, it left the door open pretty wide for people ask “What happens next?” The difficulty with that, however, is that they took a large amount of time to answer the question. I personally think having the story take place years later not only would have allowed for characters to change drastically but open the door for new ideas with the distance. With the Marvel movies and DC movies, the sequels take place right after the other as if it had only been a few days or weeks, with few exceptions. The Incredibles had the opportunity to go in the different route of having a gap, thereby allowing the kids to be of their own and for Bob and Hellen to face the new situation of getting old and dealing with the possibility of retiring for different reasons. The difficulty with taking place right after the original is making the characters seem like they are different as if they had grown up drastically when its only been a few days to a week from their fight with Syndrome.

Before I end this analysis, I just want to answer a quick question that I have heard about sequels, this one in particular. Some people are not too fond of comparing sequels to previous films or prequels to the originals, and so on and so forth. It can be debatable to compare to other films outside of it, but sequels and prequels are much different. They are directly in relation to the previous story, whether that takes place years later or the next day. Because it is of the same universe and the same timeline, they can, in fact, be compared.

Lastly, this analysis was not meant to be mean, or judgmental, or anything of that sort. It was meant to simply be an opinion on a particular film. In the end, opinions on movies and other forms of entertainment are opinions. It’s not truth because art at the end of the day is relative and therefore up for interpretation.

What did you think of the Incredibles 2? Was it truly incredible?

Trey Soto

Trey Soto holds a B.A. in Communication Studies from Biola University, emphasis in Interpersonal/Rhetorical Theory. He has been a Film Critic/Analysis for over a year at Geeks Under Grace and other websites such as Temple of Geek. In his spare time, he enjoys comic book literature, screenwriting, production assistant freelancing, photography, cosplay, and hosting his own film podcast T.V. Trey on Podbean and iTunes.

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