Is 'Incredibles 2' a Movie Out of Time?

Brad Bird's sequel arrives in a very different landscape for superhero movies than the 2004 original.

For all the excitement surrounding the release of The Incredibles 2, it’s worth noting that — in keeping with a recurring theme inside the movies themselves — Bob and Helen Parr and kids return to a world far different from the one they’re used to. As opposed to the cinematic landscape of 2004’s original movie, this time around, the Incredibles have to survive in a world where superhero movies are all around them... and audiences have learned to be far more discerning about what they want to see.

When The Incredibles arrived 14 years ago, the Golden Age of Superhero Movies was barely underway; Marvel Studios wasn’t going to happen for another four years, although Marvel properties were still showing up in theaters from other studios; in the same year as The Incredibles, audiences could go see Artisan’s The Punisher, Sony’s Spider-Man 2 or New Line’s Blade: Trinity, and the previous year had seen the release of Universal’s Hulk and Fox’s Daredevil and X2: X-Men United. No surprise, then, that such The Incredibles made such an impact; it wasn’t just that it was such an enjoyable movie in and of itself; it was arguably the best superhero movie in years — and certainly the first that captured the comic-book feel of a heavily populated superhero universe.

Today, of course, things are very different. It’s not just that Incredibles 2 will be the fourth superhero movie this year alone — with another five on the way before the end of 2018 — but what audiences expect from superhero movies has shifted significantly, in large part because of the influence of Marvel Studios. It goes beyond the Cinematic Universe of it all, although now the idea of seeing heroes cameo in each others’ adventures is less of a novelty than a pre-requisite (Sorry, Frozone); Marvel has successfully changed audiences’ perceptions of what a superhero movie should be: If Incredibles 2 doesn’t have a post-credit sequence, what’s even the point? (Kidding.)

Beyond that, what The Incredibles 2 has to say about the superhero genre feels as outdated as the characters themselves are supposed to be in the fictional universe of the movies. Mainstream audiences are conversant in the tropes, cliches and language of the superhero genre from a source (and time period) that The Incredibles as a franchise doesn’t really speak to directly — note that Screenslayer, the villain of the new movie, controls viewers of televisions instead of, say, phones or tablets because such things don’t exist in the Incredibles-verse, so determined it is to remain in a time period when Marvel’s first Fantastic Four comics were being published — the 1960s. Instead of a superhero movie, The Incredibles 2 feels more like a period comedy that happens to borrow some tropes from the superhero genre.

With this in mind, perhaps it’s no surprise that the promotion for the new movie leans heavily on the nostalgia audiences feel for the first movie, and pushes the family drama (and comedy) more than any costumed adventure material. Whether or not Brad Bird does, it appears that Disney and Pixar’s trailer department knows on some level that The Incredibles isn’t quite as much a superhero property as it used to be.

That's not to say the film isn't destined for greatness. Audiences and critics are responding positively, and it's on track to launch to $170 million at the box office this weekend, which would be a record for an animated movie. Perhaps by being blissfully unaware of the superhero bonanza that has sprung up since The Incredibles first saved the day, the superteam manages to be quaintly refreshing in its own way.