Universal praise was lavished all over ‘The Incredibles’ when it came out in late 2004. With this follow up 14 years in the making, in between we’ve seen all three ‘Cars’ films, a Toy Story sequel, a Finding Nemo sequel, and a Monsters Inc prequel. With all that happening in that time, can it be that this sequel is quite simply…Incredible…Too?
Picking up right where the original left off, the Parr family (Craig T Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell and Huck Milner) are ready to charge into crime fighting, but are unfortunately still blocked by popular opinion and political discourse from doing it legally. That’s when their super friend Frozone (Samuel L Jackson) is contacted by Winston Dever (Bob Odenkirk) and his sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener). They’re interested in bringing supers back with a positive publicity campaign to pressure politicians into making it legal for them to fight crime again.
However, they choose Elastigirl as the super to turn the tide, leaving Mr Incredible to assume the role he’s unaccustomed to as the stay at home dad. Meanwhile, a new threat emerges in the villainous Screenslaver, a mysterious hacker who can perform hypnosis on anyone looking at a tv screen, and it’s up to the Incredibles to stop him from making supers unpopular permanently.
With the recent surge in interest for women’s rights in the workforce and the #MeToo movement exposing unchecked sexual harassment against women, this film seems to come in at the right time. The gender roles are reversed as Mrs Incredible is pushed to the forefront as the super hero of the film while Mr Incredible takes care of the kids and the household. It’s refreshing to see a female superhero take center stage, especially one with such unique powers as Elastigirl.
Mr Incredible was a pleasure to watch do his thing in the original, but at the end of the day he is just a big strong guy. He’s not too pleased about being put aside while his wife takes the mantle of breadwinner, but out of love and hope for eventual legality of being a hero again, he supports her.
In addition to the interesting new roles for the characters is the expanded role of the baby, Jack-Jack. His new powers, briefly shown at the end of the original, are developing more. The hilarity of watching a toddler using super powers they have near zero control over practically writes itself, but this film takes it up to just the right level.
The scene between Jack-Jack and the raccoon is comedy gold, and no dialogue is needed for slapstick to be fantastic. Mr Incredible’s desperate attempts to hold down the fort at home and convince his wife he’s capable of doing it on his own is both truthful and gut-busting. Comedically almost every joke or visual hits perfectly and the dialogue is whip smart yet understandable to the kids as well.
Action and Editing
The enthusiasm of the voice actors and animators is apparent in every frame. As another superhero movie amidst the invasion of Marvel over the last decade it says something when a film of that genre can stand out as much as this one. It takes full advantage of the possibilities animation allow while also delivering on an interesting story and returning all the characters we know and love. Especially when comparing the action scenes, it blows other superhero movies out of the water.
Most memorably, the scene with the runaway Monorail train outdoes any of the action scenes from several recent superhero movies, like say, ‘Black Panther.’ The camera is always focused on the important aspects of the shot and is never too close to see anything. Plus the editing always allows the action to breathe, never cutting too fast so that it becomes unintelligible.
Animation: Imagery and Comic timing
This is just about the pinnacle of animation in this day and age. Pixar always leads the way in its technological ways, but possessing the best tools versus making use of them is what sets Pixar apart. Like the original, vibrant colors and a great retro sixties style to the design of the buildings and technology gives the film a unique look and feel, like you’re watching a classic spy flick from the old days. There’s a marked difference in quality between the animation at Pixar and other animation studios like, say, Illumination. The comedy feels fresher, more energized, and less cliche and low brow than what you’d expect from a run-of-the-mill animated film aimed at children.
Like its predecessor, it doesn’t treat its audience like simpletons, but the plot is simple enough that it can be followed along by kids. Yes, thematically its similar to 2004’s Incredibles, but the new villain the Screenslaver is much darker in tone than Syndrome was. By taking advantage of everyone looking at a screen of some sort all the time, he’s commenting on the nature of modern humanity’s propensity for escaping the real world and not attempting to make a difference yourself. When his identity and motivations for his actions become clear it also resonates deeper since he’s not necessarily wrong that superheroes are making humanity weaker by relying on them. That kind of grey-area character is what makes these films so thoughtful and relevant even after you leave the theater, and something you don’t see a lot in modern children’s movies.
The score is slick, biting, and a treat to listen to. It complements the sixties/secret agent/James Bond style of the narrative and setting perfectly. Imagine my surprise when I saw Michael Giacchino’s name in the credits! For the last few years I’ve been on his case for providing some truly bland scores to the ‘Star Trek’ films, ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,’ ‘Spider-Man Homecoming,’ and even plagiarizing himself with the music in ‘Doctor Strange.’ Investigating into his other work, I was also surprised to see he provided the score for ‘Coco,’ which was extraordinary in utilizing Mexican styles of music. Given the strong style employed here as well, it seems like that’s what’s needed for him to turn in memorable work.
Pixar manages to make lightning strike twice with this sharp, funny, and aware sequel. All our favorite characters are back and with Brad Bird returning as writer and director, his stamp of quality is all over this picture. Some thematic elements and plot beats are reused, and the secret identity of the enigmatic villain is a tad predictable, but Incredibles 2 gets you laughing, excited, scared, and makes you think. A rare treat in that the sequel is practically as good as its predecessor, and worth the wait of fourteen years. Four and a half stars.