'Incredibles 2'

A lot has changed in the 14 years since Pixar Studios first released The Incredibles. Very little of that change seems to have filtered through to Mr. Incredible, Elastigirl and their brood in the intervening time. That fits snugly with the predictable pattern of most sequels, and, indeed, the superhero genre itself, but it also runs counter to what we know Pixar itself is capable of delivering. Where that leaves Incredibles 2, then, comes down to a matter of personal calculus - how much you enjoyed the original and how much - and what - you expected from a follow-up.

Despite the gap between films, the sequel picks up nearly where the original film left off, with Violet, Dash, Jack-Jack and their parents remaining undercover, but also determined to take on all comers.

Unlike many sequels, Incredibles 2 does not try to story-top its predecessor. Instead, it settles for much more of a remix of the originating elements. This time around, it is Elastigirl (voiced by Holly Hunter) who is called in to duty by a semi-mysterious organization while Mr. Incredible (voiced by Craig T. Nelson) is stuck at home with three spirited children, the youngest of whom is displaying not just one but a myriad of special abilities. Like last time around, there is more than one villain, and there are twists and turns before the big bad is revealed. And again, there is a male-female duo in the middle of all the mystery - this time a brother-and-sister pair, voiced by Bob Odenkirk and Catherine Keener, using their clout as telecommunications titans to try and bring superheroes back in to favor.

This is all well and good - a wonderful way to beat the heat with the kids in tow. Writer and director Brad Bird has shown time and again that he is a gifted storyteller. The artists at Pixar remain technological wizards. Good storytelling and magical artistry can take your breath away, and it does again and again in Incredibles 2. If you go back and watch the original, you can tell just how far the animation tech has come. The whole thing, as was the first, is a glorious mashup of spy thriller and noir, right down to the score and the 1950s-style automobiles.

The opening sequence, which features the whole family chasing a villain named Underminer matches the pace of a James Bond opener and ends with an Earth-churning vehicle resting dramatically atop town hall. And when it is over, you catch your breath and realize that this world-class action scene has been dreamed up and created entirely by animators. The same is true of the now semi-notorious, epilepsy-inducing showdown between Elastigirl and another of the villains, Screenslaver. It is reminiscent of a Jason Bourne fight under a strobe light. Again, you realize this wasn't shot on location with stuntmen. Every frame was created on a machine. And, in a sense, it is all the better for it. It certainly opens up more possibilities.

It is important to celebrate this sort of thing. Pixar Studios has spoiled us over the years, and it is all too easy to not be as appreciative of it in 2018 as we were in 2004. It is also important to recognize how different the context is for Incredibles 2 than it was for The Incredibles.  Put another way: since The Incredibles came out, Marvel happened. Superhero movies - thoughtful ones - are not just a staple of the film business, they define it. In that context, and with a story that feels like a bit of a remix to boot, Incredibles 2 feels - ever so slightly - tired.

The story moves. There are interesting ideas explored, including how men often don't fully appreciate domestic labor and the delicate balance between creativity and salesmanship. Pixar Studios, as ever, is in to stories that are about the storytelling process. But Bird never lets you sit with those ideas for too long. The story has to keep moving. And in that sense, Incredibles 2 is a lot like its Marvel Studios brethren. It is competently made - a good time out - but frustratingly shallow at times.

You can do much worse than Incredibles 2, but as Pixar Studios has demonstrated so clearly, you can also do better.

Andrew Johnson