Long-Awaited Pixar Super-Hero Lands Solidly
DIRECTED BY BRAD BIRD/2018
Let’s get one thing knocked out of the way up front: The Incredibles 2 is less incredible than The Incredibles. That, however, is entirely forgivable, considering that the 2004 original was one of the absolute best films of its decade; a pitch-perfect last word on the overused notion of the super-team as “a family”. Not to mention, it’s appealing 007 flair, ramped-up intensity levels and adult relationship themes that it brought to the Pixar table. All this in a pre-Marvel Studios world.
Following form and then some, there are plenty of things quickly flying around throughout The Incredibles 2. Mostly, it’s ideas. Fourteen years worth of ideas, to be exact. Flying around, freely and sharply. The long-awaited sequel is a colorful, clever blast, to be sure; worth the decade-and-a-half wait.
Wisely, The Incredibles 2 is its own distinct adventure, as opposed to forging itself as part of some previously non-existent “continuing saga”
Picking up in the moment when the first film left off, The Incredibles 2 effectively and completely ignores its own release gap, and expects audiences to recall certain details, both major and minor. Re-watching The Incredibles is never a bad idea, but just prior to seeing 2 is a particularly choice move.
Wisely, though, The Incredibles 2 is its own distinct adventure, as opposed to forging itself as part of some previously non-existent “continuing saga”. Again, proper use of the self-contained 007 model. As a few old wise men once agreed, there’s no school like the old school.
Returning writer/director/major talent Brad Bird is clearly still shaking off his Tomorrowland mode, itself a synthetic yak-fest about what’s wrong with the world, but for kids. Such high-minded rabbit holes ended up devouring that live-action George Clooney vehicle, which proved to be Bird’s only career misstep to date. This time, thankfully, any and all arbitrary ideological asides are mostly inconsequential background clutter in the greater scheme of things. Don’t be too mentally distracted by the occasional chatter from the villainous Screenslaver. Every time he shows up, he prattles on Marshall McLuhan style about everything from our cultural passivity to mind-numbing screens in a world of consumer drones to advertising… distractions… media messaging… et cetra, et cetra. The true plot, though, lies with our heroic family, this time facing a major life change.
The Incredibles 2’s most precarious mission is its expectation to once again nail the first movie’s delicate line-walking between being kid-friendly, yet also being entirely engaging for older viewers. If anything, it leans even further out of kid-movie territory, this being the first Disney animated film to contain casual swearing. (Albeit, very minor swears, and only a handful at that). In terms of violence and general superhero mayhem, the sequel is right in keeping with the first one, but far less murder-y.
Instead, we have a brainwashing baddie. After a very destructive battle in the open minutes, and the public outrage that follows, the superhero sheltering program is completely shut down. This is especially poor timing for the Parr family, who’d just lost their home to Syndrome’s crashing jet. Broke and living in a lousy motel, the prospects of dad Bob (Mr. Incredible, Craig T. Nelson), mom Helen (Elastigirl, Holly Hunter), teenage daughter Violet (Sarah Vowell) and young son Dash (Huck Milner, perfectly replacing Spencer Fox) were never lower. But then, unlikely opportunity knocks…
The non-destructive Elastigirl is recruited by a wealthy entrepreneurial brother and sister pair (Bob Odenkirk and Catherine Keener) looking to make super heroes legal again. The idea is that after a few very public and rubble-free save-the-days (video recorded and broadcast via a small costume camera), lawmakers the world over will agree that super powered individuals operating freely is a good thing. Whatever the full list of motives that these two harbor, the Parr’s are in no position to turn down this well-paying opportunity to help legitimize their community.
Despite Syndrome’s superhero killing spree that was part of The Incredibles, a ragtag few do indeed remain. We meet Z-level characters Voyd (Sophia Bush), Krushauer (Phil LaMarr), the hilariously disgusting Reflux (Paul Eiding), and others. Screenslaver has big plans for them, even such as they are. But the real targets are Elastigirl, Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson), and Mr. Incredible.
Mr. Incredible, however, has transitioned into a stay-at-home dad role. Taking care of any baby is a challenge, but tracking baby Jack-Jack’s new powers- an ever growing list- is a meta human responsibility. How’s a parent supposed to stay focused on his home and other children (including the heartbroken Violet, upset because the boy she likes suddenly doesn’t recognize her) when the baby goes airborne and phases through ceiling whenever he sneezes? Bob, understandably exhausted, turns to Frozone, and then eccentric costumer Edna Mode (voiced by Brad Bird) for help. These sequences are the most uproarious portions of the film, by a long shot.
But primarily, this is of course a superhero action/adventure movie, a classification it definitely lives up to. Younger audience members will be wowed, even if The Incredibles 2 struggles to impact an older, post-Infinity War audience. Several beats are expected, but not every turn is predictable. This is Brad Bird getting back to his subtly subversive mode, evident from his Simpsons days, through The Iron Giant and Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol. Bird seems to be gently bucking Disney’s own consumer machine through Screenslaver’s rhetoric, and the company’s recent progressive streak by reinforcing the first Incredibles championing of the traditional nuclear family. His new super-misfits all represent some repressed corner of society, though there’s no doubt room for some group to be outraged. Finally, feminists’ milage will vary as far as Elastigirl‘s arc, but the fact stands that it’s an exciting and compelling arc. But this is not a message movie. It’s an expertly animated summer blockbuster (some of the animation a little too realistic), and, being the only Pixar franchise that anyone’s actually ever wanted a sequel to, it lives up to an awful lot.
So no. The Incredibles 2 isn’t quite as incredible as it’s predecessor, but it’s no stretch to say that it’s still pretty darned incredible.