The year 2004 might as well have been a lifetime ago when it comes to films about superheroes. Back then, we were still four years from the first movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Yes, superhero films were around before 2004 — there had been a string of X-Men movies and the Spider-Man trilogy, in recent memory — but certainly not in the way that they exist now in 2018.
The Incredibles jumped onto the big screen in 2004 as Pixar's sixth film. There was no origin story or source material, simply an acceptance of retired superheroes living in a nondescript city and just trying to be "normal." It was also about a family going through an extreme set of circumstances because, as it turned out, they happened to have superpowers.
In 2018, it's a different landscape. Every few months (or sometimes even multiple times a month) a superhero movie hits theaters to huge box office numbers. The films are part of intertwining stories, sometimes with heroes we’ve been watching on the big screen for a full decade. There are long histories for the characters tracing back to comics, making the 14 years between Incredibles and Incredibles 2 seem like seconds. In 2018, the fear of superhero fatigue is real, and when Incredibles 2 director Brad Bird began working on the follow-up to the original, he felt it.
“There was a dark moment when all the machinery was kicked into gear," Bird says, discussing his reaction to getting a release date for Incredibles 2. "I realized, two years from now, the film is going to come out. There's too many superhero movies now. Are people going to be just sick of this in two years? And I went, 'Just what I want to happen, I arrive on the scene: Anybody ready for some fresh superheroes?' And everybody is like, 'Oh.'”
But the Incredibles aren't the Avengers or the Justice League. They're a family. They're stuck together. Forever. There's no Civil War-type fight happening here. They're invested in the success of each other in a way those other superhero groups just aren't. It's not better or worse, it's just different.
Sarah Vowell, who voices Violet, the oldest child in the family, agrees.
"I guess there are some films that are about de facto families of superheroes or created families, but The Incredibles is inherently about this family of superheroes," says Vowell. "And so those family dynamics are at the heart of every story and inform the powers each character has and their place in the plot. They're not just co-workers, they're co-workers who are related. So all of that family stuff is so much at the heart of everything that happens."
And that's exactly what Bird realized. What makes Incredibles 2 stand out from the potential "just another superhero movie" comments is that it's not a superhero movie. It's a family movie — one that happens to have a lot of superheroes in it.
“I realized that what excited me about the idea in the first place was not the superheroes," says Bird. "It was that it was about the family dynamic. And people's roles in different parts of their lives and how superheroes, that genre is like a twisted lemon that you squeeze on top of this. It's not what the movie is about. And then I got excited again. Because to me, families are kind of a continent of fresh opportunities. Because it's so universal.”
Incredibles 2 bursts into theaters June 15.