Courtesy of Pixar
14 years is a-long time to let anything gestate. In fact, much has changed since November 2004 when Pixar unleashed The Parr clan into multiplexes. If you’ve been counting, there's been two sequels to ‘Cars’ (yes, two) - two films spun from the “Monster’s Inc” cloth, a dozen “Spider-Man” flicks and about three hundred iterations of Marvel movies. For decades, Pixar had been focused solely on original properties that have thrived, but if any of their films was deserving of a sequel (that wasn’t “Toy Story”) it was “The Incredibles.” It just felt right. Especially when you consider the cliffhanger we all left the theater raving about, and the huge world that was still open for exploring.
Thankfully, and after a slightly bumpy start, “The Incredibles 2” is able to liven this franchise once again, by utilizing the same characters we grew to love, in ways that don’t seem like a selfish cash grab. In other words, “Incredibles 2” does exactly what a sequel is supposed to: build on the original, while staking its claim as something fresh and inventive.
As for that cliffhanger, you’ll be thrilled to find out this adventure kicks off where “The Incredibles” ended, with the rise of the Underminer. It’s also one of the weaker points in the film. Not for lack of trying, it’s likely due to the onslaught of superhero fare I’ve seen during the hiatus. At least it gets us back to the real gimmick, and the connection which glues this fabric together, the family.
For starters, rather than fight and parody all the superhero cliches which have defined cinema for the last few years, Writer and Director Brad Bird embraces the wholesomeness of what made his original so beloved. But he also wants to explore new avenues, so when the gang - which, to recap, consists of the hulky Mr. Incredible/Dad (Craig T. Nelson), flexible Elastigirl/Mom (Holly Hunter - the real MVP), speedy Dash (Huck Milner) invisible Violet (Sarah Vowell) and baby Jack Jack - are forced to figure out the next step after the government shuts down the supers assistant program - (in case you forgot, superheroes with superpowers are still very much illegal) - help arrives in the from of wealthy siblings Winston and Evelyn Deavor (Bob Odenkirk and Catherine Keener) whom offer them a solution.
They want to change the perception of supers in the public eye. Because, like any well informed citizen, Winston understands media bias, and how it can be manipulated to alter opinions (well played Bird). The pair figure if one super does enough good for the world, then eventually Congress will change their laws and welcome supers back into society with open arms. They enlist Elastigirl as the face of the campaign (after studies show her cost liability is low in comparison to her husband). Leaving pops to stay at home and look after the kids.
It’s actually refreshing to see the gender swapped roles on screen, watching Elastigirl fight crime, while Mr. Incredible is left home with the kids - dealing with real issues like: math homework, a hormonal teenager that just got stood up, and a baby who’s just discovering his own powers - is exactly the kind of empowerment children of all ages need to witness. That both parents can do the same jobs. It’s also reflective of the climate we’re living in. More so than in 2004.
As for Jack-Jack - easily the cutest baby on the planet - the little tyke is coming into his own range of capabilities. Consisting of everything from x-ray vision to third dimensional travel. All of which is showcased through a hilarious backyard showdown with a raccoon.
Not kidding, that’s one of the most dazzling superhero sequences I’ve ever seen, and it involves a toddler. Go figure.
Of course, there needs to be a villain to patch the plot together and Bird delivers it to us in the form of The Screenslaver, a baddie whose signature move is hacking airwaves and streaming brainwashing propaganda right into people’s homes. It’s the toughest foe these heroes have faced yet (more so than Syndrome) but towards the end of the second act, rather than feel original, The Screensalver slowly becomes a bit contrived, like he was quickly assembled to fill a narrative gap.
Nonetheless, the family dynamic is savvy enough to figure out new and creative ways to fight the thugs (including a showdown between Elastigirl and a shady bad guy inside a neon cage). Bird even goes outside the box, and introduces a slew of new B-movie level heroes that could easily have their own movie. The most interesting being Voyd (Sophia Bush) who diverts and manipulates objects around her by creating voids (or wormholes) that allow the objects to appear and disappear. You’ll even spot Frozone (voiced with gusto by Samuel L. Jackson) back in the mix, and fashion designer (“Dahling”) Edna Mode (voiced by Bird himself) in an extended cameo.
And praise needs to be acclimated for composer Micheal Giacchino who continues to bolster these films with his enigmatic musical score. If Bird is the heart of this movie, then Giacchino is the ears. As if “The Incredibles” weren’t already top-of-the-line, here comes Giacchino to add the cherry on top.
All the same, this is more than anyone was asking for in a sequel, and the vocal work is polished exceptionally with action sequences that rival some of Hollywood’s lucrative blockbusters. In the process, Bird has created a terrific film about The Parr family doing what they do best: fighting side by side, against destruction, when the odds are against them. If it takes another 14 years for Bird to write “The Incredibles 3” and it comes out half as good as “The Incredibles 2” - then it’ll be worth the wait.