Spoilers for Incredibles 2 and The Incredibles
Let's Be Honest
It is no secret that I liked this movie. If you haven't read my review yet, I would suggest skimming it as a starting point for this deep dive. I had so many things I wanted to say about "Incredibles 2" after I saw it that it was hard to contain myself. At first, I believed that this movie's greatness was self-contained but realized it did a lot to harken back to the first movie. I'm not talking about Mr. Incredible's car or other shallow throwback elements. The things that made sense from a story perspective like themes, character, and tone. The accomplishments that this movie achieves outweighs the problems the movie does have.
Let's start with some pretty obvious points. Syndrome is a way better villain than the Screenslaver. From a character motivation standpoint, Syndrome has a much more empathetic backstory which is easier to understand. You feel for him even though you still side with Mr. Incredible. Syndrome killed the villain monologue, which I miss, and was probably the most successful entrepreneur inventor to have ever lived. Wanting to first play the hero before selling his inventions, Syndrome's message and goals were enlightening and childish at the same time. The juxtaposition of his actions is due to him still holding a grudge from when he was a kid. He wanted to be a hero but if he couldn't then no one could be.
The Screenslaver, on the other hand, does not have the strong backstory to make them more than a mustache-twirling villain. They do have a message that is much more modern and rings true. The idea of society needing to have experiences neatly packaged for them to minimize risk. Since the ideal was not fleshed out, the villain suffered for it. Another thing about the Screenslaver that didn't work was their plan to get rid of heroes. Making heroes legal again to make them seem bad doesn't make sense. They were already illegal and if left alone would dig a bigger hole for themselves. The Screenslaver not only had a smaller presence than Syndrome but was also not as effective.
Another character that seemed to have problems was Dash. In the first installment, Dash had to learn to use his powers for the right reasons. Limited by his environment, he expressed his frustrations by using his powers for mischievous purposes. The whole situation worked because he was a kid that didn't understand what it meant to be a hero in hiding. For Incredibles 2, Dash liked to press buttons on remotes; this was his whole shtick for the entire movie. He didn't do anything other than help set up jokes for other characters to execute. He doesn't even use his powers in a meaningful way.
As self-contained movies, The Incredibles has more in common with James Bond than any comic book movie today. It relies on sneaking around, evil plots, and secret islands. The characters have powers but that doesn't make it a superhero movie. It had more to say about stereotypes from the early 2000's than it did about what it meant to be super. The middle-aged man chasing dreams for the good old days, a family united by the trials put in front of them, and a wife chasing after her husband. It's tropey enough to be an anime nowadays but it holds its own.
Incredibles 2 is a very different kind of movie. Instead of having montages of Mr. Incredible working out it has action set pieces. Instead of spending quiet time developing character relationships it has Jack-Jack fight a raccoon. This movie is a product of its time, deciding to up the anty while still having family undertones. It's like the first movie was remade with the focus on making it bigger and easier to watch.