Incredibles 2 (2018)
It’s been too long, dahlings.
After an incredibly long 14-year interval, Disney-Pixar’s super-family are back, right where we left ‘em — and we finally learn the fate of the nefarious Underminer (John Ratzenberger), who declared ‘war on peace and happiness’ at the close of the first film, foiling the Parr family’s happy ending. The cinematic landscape, however, has certainly changed since then. Today, the superhero genre has ‘taken to the skies,’ and, as a result, these types of films just doesn’t feel so ‘super’ anymore, every major Hollywood studio now chasing a slice of the crime-fighting pie. But I guess an Incredibles sequel was always on the cards, considering that the original picture earned over $600 million globally, along with an Oscar for Best Animated Feature for that year — now that’s what I’d call an incredible debut! With Brad Bird back on board as writer-director, and most of the voice cast reassuming their roles, Incredibles 2 is a decent enough follow-up, even if it lacks the charm, originality and sheer wow-factor of its marvelous predecessor.
Springing back into action, our story kicks into gear right where it left off; it literally feels as though someone’s un-paused the narrative (nearly a decade and a half later) — talk about an extended bathroom break! Anyhow, Incredibles 2 finds Bob Parr/ the super-strong Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) and his ‘stretchy’ loving wife Helen, aka Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), living in a rundown motel with their kids Violet (Sarah Vowell), Dash (Huck Milner) and baby Jack-Jack, the Parrs having no real place to call home after Syndrome’s jet exploded into a blazing heap at the conclusion of the former film, crashing into their house and totally obliterating it. But, despite saving their hometown, the fictional city of Metroville, from the sinister Syndrome and his super-sized war-bot, the Omnidroid, superheroes are still required to lay low, forced to subdue their powers and live a ‘normal’ life; but all that’s about to change.
Enter Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk), a suave and savvy entrepreneur and CEO of a leading telecommunications corporation named Devtech, which he runs with his brilliant-minded yet nonchalant sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener). As it turns out, the Deavors’ late parents were huge advocates of the now-terminated masked avengers, whose ‘Good Samaritan’ escapades were shut down by the government after public opinion plummeted, civilians claiming that Supers caused way too much collateral damage when beating-up bad guys or cracking crimes. Since inheriting the company, both Winston and his partner Evelyn had been looking for a way to ‘bring Supers back into the sunlight,’ honoring their folks’ legacy and love for do-good defenders — whom they trusted with their lives. And thus, Helen is selected to lead a secret campaign to rebuild the reputation of superheroes everywhere — Elastigirl chosen due to her stellar record, causing the least amount of damage and destruction when out on the job, unlike Bob or his ‘chill’ best bud Frozone/ Lucius Best (Samuel L. Jackson).
And so, much to Bob’s dismay, the mighty Mr. Incredible is left at home to battle the mundanities of everyday life, having to wrestle with day-to-day evils such as nappy changing or dealing with his overly hormonal teenage daughter Violet, who’s in the midst of some tricky boy troubles, the super-fam relocating to an exceedingly large and fancy, state-of-the-art home provided to them by the affluent, exceptionally generous Devours.
More of a domestic comedy and less of a sci-fi spy parody, Incredibles 2 is a solid continuation of the Parr family saga, Brad Bird delivering a whip-smart script and mildly compelling storyline that builds on what came before, the film making some sharp observations on the pains of parenthood. Furthermore, Bird’s movie boasts a ton of impressive, hugely enthralling set pieces — a scene which sees Elastigirl caught up in a high-speed chase, trying to stop a rouge runaway monorail on her shiny new Elasticycle, is a straight-up jaw-dropper, Hunter’s bendable bad-ass stretching and flexing her way through oncoming traffic, zigzagging over and under approaching obstacles, Mrs. Incredible even riding up buildings to avoid injury or collision, determined to save the lives of all the passengers in peril.
And yes, Incredibles 2 is also quite funny, the heartiest laughs stemming from toddler Jack-Jack’s emerging new powers, which range from laser vision, phasing and teleportation to transforming into a flaming demon baby — these abilities strangely sporadic though a little too undefined. Arguably, the funniest scene pits the tiny tot against a pesky trash panda, this kooky comical contest reminiscent of slapstick Loony Tunes cartoons such as Daffy Duck vs. Elmer Fudd or Tweety And Sylvester. And, like the previous outing, the bulk of the comedy derives from the Parr’s domestic/ suburban frustrations, along with the switching of gender roles, patriarch Bob thrust into a handful of combustible situations due to his lack of parental expertise — think helping his restless 10-year-old son with Math homework or setting up a ‘not so happenstance’ meet-up between Violet and her longtime crush Tony Rydinger (Michael Bird). With this in mind, proceedings do come with a ‘seen it all before’ type vibe, Incredibles 2 a bit predictable, story wise.
Visually, the film sticks closely to the style of its forerunner, Incredibles 2 harkening back to the pulpy comic-book era of the 1950s/ 60s, this heightened mid-century world fitted with sleek retro-future architecture and populated by caricature-esque inhabitants. The simplistic designs evoke the Golden Age of comics, where champions were square-jawed and dames long-legged, filmmaker Bird citing the spy genre, and shows like Hanna-Barbera’s 1960s cartoon Johnny’s Quest, as clear inspiration. The Parr’s new homestead, situated in New Urbem, ‘The City of the Future,’ is a mix of ultramodern and vintage, the house itself paving way for a number of amusing physical gags that center on moving floors, extravagant water features and some over-the-top tech. Returning composer Michael Giacchino, Star Trek (2009), also delivers another bombastic, big brass action score, which bolsters the smashing, leading-edge work by 3D CG animation studio Pixar, the soundtrack reminiscent of John Barry’s grandiloquent James Bond Theme.
Though fun and technically fantabulous, Incredibles 2 does have its drawbacks, this second chapter not as pioneering/ forward thinking as its near-perfect precursor — a film that was very much ahead of its time. You see, 2004’s The Incredibles primarily focused on the mucho, over-confident Bob; it was a story about an alpha male who’d lost his sense of purpose and identity, Bob forced into quitting his dream gig as a Super, hanging up his rubbery jumpsuit (indefinitely) for a mind-numbing desk job, our protagonist destined to live out his days in the drab suburbs as an ‘ordinary’ father/ family man, though rediscovering what it means to be a man by the film’s end. Back in ’04, challenging gender stereotypes — i.e. traditionally masculinity — was considered to be somewhat innovative, particularly in big studio pictures; in 2018, this is not so much the case. Switching up the gender roles, this successor chooses to focus on the heroics of Helen, Bob going from breadwinner to househusband, stuck at home on daddy duty. Given the recent trend of female-fronted Hollywood entertainers, this female-centric backbone hardly feels fresh or surprising — nor is it overly progressive — Incredibles 2 brimming with feminist undertones. How about less girl-power and more equality next time — remember Elastigirl’s line from the original film, ‘If we work together, you won’t have to be [the strongest or bravest],’ more of this, please!
Another of the movie’s hiccups is its lack of a memorable/ tangible adversary. The villain of the piece is Screenslaver, a mysterious madman who hijacks television monitors/ display screens and uses hypnosis to manipulate others, forcing hapless citizens into doing his dirty work. Although visually striking in terms of design — the shadowy antagonist donning an ominous techno-skull-type mask with frightfully large, mesmeric goggles — Screenslaver is too elusive of a threat and simply not a worthy enough foe for the butt-kicking fam-bam, the ‘supervillain’ possessing no extraordinary strength or ability — unless you consider brainwashing to be a super power.
Performances are all superb though, the gifted voice cast clearly having a blast, chiefly Craig T. Nelson, The Family Stone (2005), and Holly Hunter, The Big Sick (2017), who seamlessly slip back into the roles of Bob and Helen Parr, the former struggling to shoulder basic household responsibilities and the latter beaming in the limelight as the Supers’ new ambassador. Sarah Vowell, once again, injects energy into the socially awkward Violet, the Parr’s feisty firstborn, the sarcastic teen still learning to master her invisibility/ force-field powers, while newcomer Huckleberry ‘Huck’ Milner replaces the now-22-year-old Spencer Fox as Dash, a bouncy kid fueled with a jovial sense of adventure.
Speaking of newbies, Sophia Bush shines as an overeager ‘wannabe’ Super named Voyd, the ex One Tree Hill (2003-12) star imbuing the jittery hopeful (who’s gifted with the ability to generate nifty dimensional wormholes) with genuine pizzazz — her character design is pretty rad, too. Last of all, there are some nice bit-player parts: Isabella Rossellini, Blue Velvet (1986), voices an ambassador campaigning for the legalization of Superheroes; Jonathan Banks, Mudbound (2017), succeeds Bud Luckey as the über-serious Rick Dicker, head of the Super Relocation Program; and writer-director Brad Bird steals all of his scenes as the petite Japanese-German fashionista Edna Marie ‘E’ Mode, the skilled designer responsible for creating functional yet fashionable supersuits for heroes since way back when, who’s called upon by a desperate, sleep-deprived Bob to be Jack-Jacks new babysitter.
While I’m confident that Incredibles 2 will do big business at the box office, I can’t help but feel a tad disappointed, the film missing the whiz-bang wallop that made its forefather so dang super! Be that as it may, it’s still probably Disney-Pixar’s best sequel since 2010’s Toy Story 3 — and that’s gotta count for something. But, hey, if we’re treated to a third installment (which I’m certainly not against), here’s hoping that those in charge iron out the creases before suiting-up!
On a side note, while in theatres, Incredibles 2 is accompanied by odd yet touching Pixar mini-movie titled Bao, directed by Domee Shi, the 8-minute short telling a bittersweet Pinocchio-type tale about a Chinese woman who’s given a second chance at motherhood when one of her teensy weensy dumplings miraculously comes to life.
3.5 / 5 – Great
Reviewed by S-Littner