Writer/director Brad Bird’s The Incredibles was released in 2004—the same year as Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2, four years before Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight—and is the best superhero film ever made. Partly because it’s animated, and animation is easily the best medium for adapting superheroes, but mostly because Bird is perfectly suited for classic superhero storytelling: He can slide between irreverence, earnestness, and emotion, often in the same scene, and often in a scene so cleverly executed that you’re halfway into the next before it dawns on you to ask, “How in the hell did he even think of that?”
Now, I said The Incredibles is the best superhero film, not was. Incredibles 2 simply isn’t as tightly tied together as the first. While the basic shape is superficially similar to its predecessor, Incredibles 2’s villain, the Screenslaver, isn’t as key to defining Elastigirl’s character as Syndrome was to Mr. Incredible’s in the first film—so when everything climactically comes together in the third act, Incredibles 2 ultimately packs a weaker thematic punch.
This isn’t really a knock, though. What Incredibles 2 (slightly) sacrifices in cohesion and heart it makes up for with action and comedy, enhanced by Bird using animation to do things that live action just can’t. He opens Incredibles 2 with back-to-back set pieces that quickly put the previous film’s finale in the rearview; he closes the film with a team-based triumph that any three X-Men flicks combined couldn’t compete with; and when he goes for the gag (which is often), it feels like Chuck Jones-era Looney Tunes via classic-era Simpsons (which Bird himself helped make classic). Incredibles 2 isn’t as good or affecting as the first, but it is prettier, louder, faster, and funnier—and if you have to make a trade, that’s not a bad one.