The Incredibles 2
Brad Bird (2018)
Has it really been fourteen years since the first Incredibles movie? Maybe it just doesn’t seem that long because Brad Bird’s initial animated foray into the superhero genre was so fresh, so memorable, that it seems like just yesterday that I laughed through it, enjoying the retro-futuristic Pixar animation of a family that reminded me of the Jetsons but with a lot more insight and sophistication. Bird’s second chapter, coming after his admirable work directing Ratatouille and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol in between, is no disappointment, picking up pretty much where the first film left off, only with even better-looking animation and a more woke sensibility that, in the fashion of recent films like WonderWoman (and the current Ocean’s Eight), puts a woman, Elastigirl (voiced by Holly Hunter), in the role of central hero of the movie. What we get is a film that cares a lot more about its animated characters than any superhero movie of the past six months has cared about its full-bodied ones. As a result The Incredibles 2is the best super-hero movie of the year so far, and could arguably be the all-around best film of the year to this point.
Part of the reason for this is the very relatable family dynamic in the film. I mentioned the Jetsons, but I can’t help thinking of Father Knows Best or Leave It to Beaver—the family setting has that kind of retro feel. These are superheroes whose private lives are at least as interesting as their professional “hero” lives, and who have everyday concerns that real people can relate to. Nor does this film fall into the trap of “The Stakes Must Be as High as Possible So That We Need Scores of Heroes in the Same Movie or the Entire Universe Will Be Destroyed” which drives the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or, for that matter, the “Everything’s Really Dark In Here” murkiness of the DC psyche.Incredibles 2 has the feel of the original, or of other superhero films of that time, like Tobey Maguire Spider-Man, rather than any kinship with something like the overbloated Avengers: Infinity War. Nor does it spend endless time on mind-numbing CGI-created battle scenes, though it is not without its occasional conflicts, allowing the characters to display their unique abilities. And its $180 million opening weekend suggests that audiences are hungry for this sort of simpler fare.
As this film opens, we are reintroduced to the Parr family, led by Bob, i.e. “Mr. Incredible” (Craig T. Nelson), patriarch of the family who begins the film with all the assumptions that title entails. His wife Helen, a.k.a. “Elastigirl” (Hunter) is his loyal super-teammate, but also mom to their children Violet (Sarah Vowel)—teenage daughter with all appropriate angst in addition to the power to make herself disappear; and preteen Dash (Huck Milner), a ball of impulsive, superfast energy. And then of course there is the baby, Jack-Jack, who begins to manifest superpowers in this film that make babysitting a challenge.
The Parr family, their home having been destroyed in the previous installment, is staying in a run-down motel, keeping a low profile because, of course, super-heroes are illegal in the world of this film. Society believes that superheroes only cause chaos and destruction (not an unreasonable assumption considering the number of buildings and neighborhoods that get destroyed in the computer graphic battles in conventional live-action superhero movies), and therefore laws have been passed to limit action by anyone in the superhero vein. But in steps the super-rich brother and sister team of Winston (Bob Odenkirk of Better Call Saul) and Evelyn Deavor (brilliantly voiced by Catherine Keener), respectively the CEO and chief research and development officer of a major tech company, who call in Bob, Helen, and their friendly neighbor Lucius (Samuel L. Jackson reprising his role as the Jerry Helper to Mr Incredible’s Rob Petrie), who happens to be the superhero Frozone, for a meeting. The Deavors’ plan is to equip the superheroes with body cameras, so that they can restore their reputations by showing the public what reallyhappens when they take on the bad guys. Of course, to do this they will have to break the law by actually performing superhero feats, so the film does present the audience with the dilemma of whether it is better to obey an unjust law or to break it with the view of changing it—a question much timelier than the filmmakers could have imagined in the years it has taken to bring this movie to the screen.
Winston and Evelyn have decided, though, to ease into their plan, and (to Bob’s chagrin) choose Elastigirl to be the public face of the strategy—she’s more finessed than the men, and the Deavors think a scalpel is going to be worth more than a large sledgehammer for their purposes. So Helen gets to chase after the cutting-edge new villain Screenslaver, who’s out to hypnotically control everyone’s minds through the various screens to which they are addicted.
Meanwhile the large sledgehammer, Mr. Incredible himself, takes over full-time parenting duties. At first it seems we are going to be subjected to that old stereotype of the clueless dad who is hopeless at taking care of the kids and running the house—you know, that scene from the family sit com where Dad puts too much laundry soap in the washing machine and the thing goes ballistic. And it’s a bit disappointing seeing the script take this clichéd turn: Bob botches things with Violet, who is having a personal crisis when the boy she likes has forgotten she even exists because of a government-sanctioned memory cleanse. Nor can Bob help Dash with his homework, because he doesn’t know how to figure things out in the “new math.” Worst of all, he suddenly is faced with dealing with baby Jack-Jack’s uncontrolled and random flashes of bizarre new superpowers. To be fair, nobody would know immediately how to parent that kind of a difficult child. And to be fair, Bob learns a great deal—he’s actually the one truly dynamic character in the film, taking a great leap forward in his parenting skills, as well as in his understanding of math, ultimately realizing that everyday parenting may be as important as superheroing.
Helen meanwhile, in “hero” scenes that parallel Bob’s domestic ones, seems to have a great time chasing down the bad guy, and seems perfectly suited to her new superhero status. Elastigirl proves to be flexible in many ways, and is able to adapt her superpower in ingenious ways to meet the demands of the situation. Perhaps she gets a bit too cocky, as it takes her a lot longer than the audience to figure out the secret behind the archvillain Screenslaver.
The Incredibles 2is fun. It’s good-looking. It’s smart. It raises interesting ideas. It boasts well-voiced and engagingly animated characters who seem more real than most live-action ones these days. It’s hilarious in spots, particularly some of the uncontrolled Jack-Jack moments, which are reminiscent of Bugs Bunny at his best. Kids will love this movie, and as for you grown-ups, go see it even if you don’t have any kids. It’s definitely worth it. Three Tennysons and half a Shakespeare for this terrific sequel.
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