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INCREDIBLES 2 (2018) review

June 14, 2018

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written by: Brad Bird
produced by: John Walker and Nicole Paradis Grindle
directed by: Brad Bird
rated: PG (for action sequences and some brief mild language)
runtime: 118 min.
U.S. release date: June 15, 2018

 

In the hours leading up to my viewing of “Incredibles 2” I thought of how I felt leading up to my viewing of “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”. I wanted another Indiana Jones movie so bad for so long and when a sequel was finally released, I couldn’t help but think of all the adventures we could’ve taken with the character in the nineteen year absence in which we thought it would never happen. I felt the same way in anticipation for the only Pixar sequel I ever wanted, which comes fourteen years after writer/director Brad Bird delivered one of the best superhero movies ever. Absence may make the hard grow fonder, but it can also be frustrating and it’s often impossible to please expectations. 

At least we didn’t have an “Incredibles” animated television series greenlit during that long wait, which is something that studios typically do (looking at you, Dreamworks Animation) to hold over fans until the next movie. Sometimes too much of a good thing can also be frustrating. If any Pixar Animation Studios movie ended with a sequel tease it was 2004’s “The Incredibles” and Bird’s sequel thankfully picks up minutes after that movie’s cliffhanger ending. It’s a much better decision than seeing the Parr family age fourteen years – then I’d really feel like I missed out on a ton of superhero adventures.

 

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Although the super-powered family wind up preventing The Underminer (John Ratzenberger) from robbing Metroville bank, in the aftermath the subterranean villain got away and the spotlight was on the collateral damage caused by Supers who were supposed to have been living their lives solely under the guise of their secret identities for that very reason. Despite zero casualties, the government puts the smack down on the relocation program the family’s liaison, Rick Dicker (voiced by Jonathan Banks, after the late Bud Luckey), has assisted them with over and over again. The family of five will only be able to reside in a motel room for a couple of weeks, leaving the future uncertain after that.

Bob Parr/Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) and Helen Parr/Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) must now determine how to provide for their family – meaning figuring out which one of them will go back to the workforce. Their longtime friend, Lucius Best/Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) informs them of an offer that’s been made to the three of them from Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk), a charismatic telecommunications tycoon who runs Devtech, along with his sister, Evelyn Deavor (Catherine Keener), the designer genius behind the company. A wealthy fan of superheroes, Winston has a plan to change the perception of heroes and earn the public’s trust again, eventually making superheroes legal again.

They pick Elastigirl as the face of their new campaign, reasoning that Mr. Incredible has statistically been much more destructive than his capable and elegant wife. Although reluctant at first, Helen agrees to go along with their plan, while Bob handles the domestic duties of taking care of Violet (Sarah Vowell), Dash (Huck Milner) and little Jack Jack (Eli Fucile), in the swanky new home the Deavors set them up in. Outfitted with a new suit and a handy hi-tech motorcycle, Elastigirl sets off to the save the city from a new threat calling himself Screenslaver (Bill Wise), while Mr. Incredible navigates challenges such as teen love, new math and the discovery of a toddler who has a variety of superpowers.

 

 

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What’s immediately noticeable is how far the animation has come since the last movie. “The Incredibles” was Pixar’s first shot at an animated feature revolving around all human characters, something that the studio hadn’t quite mastered yet. Oh, the first movie doesn’t necessarily look bad, but back then the design of the human figures came across a little stiff or somewhat limited at times. Understandably so, since that’s when Pixar was still figuring out how to bring humans to the big screen using 3D-animation (one revisit to “Toy Story” and you’ll see how far the studio has come), which is not at all the case now. Without a doubt, animation has come a long way in fourteen years, so it’s great to see these characters rendered with a noticeably updated look. Well, noticeably for viewers like me, who’ve watched the first movie countless times.

Viewers well-versed in sequel formulas will likely pick up on an often used narrative approach which is when characters are split up (as seen in recent movies like “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” and “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2”), allotting time to place them in specific adventures or situations. I have no problem with this approach, since it’s quite effective (other than it tends to be somewhat noticeable), but what’s interesting is how Bird used that approach in the last film when Bob Parr snuck off to get back into superheroing, unbeknownst to Helen. Watching Mr. Incredible get his superhero mojo back was a blast and Bird did a fine job at eventually reuniting Helen with her husband thanks to eccentric designer Edna Mode (voiced by Bird himself, then and here), eventually finding the entire super-powered family working together. That’s something that also occurs in at the end of this sequel, only this time it’s the three kids who have to pull it together and save their parents and others aboard a cruise liner heading for the city in the movie’s third act.

This time, while both parents stories are interesting, it is surprisingly the domestic duties that Bob juggles that wind up more entertaining than Helen’s superheroics. Sure, it’s great to see Helen get the spotlight and watching her get back into the swing of things – literally stretching across rooftops on her Elasticycle in fantastically choreographed action sequences where she’s either trying to save a runaway elevated train or pursuing Screenslaver in much the same manner. It makes sense why she was picked by the Deavors, even if the villain she’s pursuing isn’t all that compelling, but seeing an overwhelmed Bob deal with the different needs and personalities of their three kids was just more comical and relatable, making for a richer storyline – not to mention with his story there are four characters to follow instead of Helen’s solo adventures. Essentially, the best moments occur when the most family members are together.

 

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It also becomes all too clear where Helen’s story is going, unlike the uncertain outcome of Bob and the kids.  Helen is monitored closely by the Deavors via communication devices as they guide her through the fastest routes for her missions, but such surveillance is bound to be limiting, preventing an organic vibe that comes with freedom and independence. Seeing Evelyn take a vested ‘woman-to-woman’ interest in Helen seems too on-the-nose and eventually it’s no surprise when suspicions arise surrounding the designer who’s always seen smirking on the sidelines. More interesting is another female superhero, Voyd (Sophia Bush), a young women with the ability to generate portals who gets all tongue-tied and star struck around Elastigirl. After a while, I just wanted Helen to get back with her family and kick butt together.

While it’s kind of dated to have the dad stay at home with the kids, becoming utterly befuddled and exasperated, let’s not forget that this is set in an environment that echoes  the classic nuclear American family. Due to who the family members are and what they can do, there’s enough to work with here for Bird to avoid cliches. Bob is intent on rolling up his sleeves and treating child-rearing with a focused seriousness, but when your toddler is teleporting in and out of dimensions, turning into a ghoulish creature or exploding into a fireball (to name a few of his new-found powers) when he’s not getting his way, it’s easy to get rattled. There’s also more room for comedy at home with these kids, like a truly humorous bit where Jack-Jack faces off against a raccoon in the yard. I didn’t expect it to be that funny, but it had me in stitches. In a hilarious and welcome bit, a desperate Bob turns to Edna for assistance, who gleefully becomes Jack-Jack’s babysitter when she realizes the boy’s rolodex of super potential.

As expected, Nelson and Hunter are wonderful in their roles and thankfully, Vowell is given a bit more to do in this movie with Violet crushing on her classmate, Tony Rydinger (Michael Bird), who she boldly set a date with at the end of the last movie. As for the new characters, the best thing I can say about the Deavors is that they’re appearances are modeled after the actor’s who voice them, especially Odenkirk as Winston. There are other new superheroes who are recruited by Winston, but none of them really standout and many of them just feel like a purposeful way to offer an assortment of superpowers. Once again, Bird is working with fantastic voice acting talent that serves as a particular subconscious draw.

Spending time in Bird’s retro-styled world again, with its designs and tone that pay homage to the spy films and comic books of the 60’s, is a real treat. For me, it’s like putting on a perfectly fitted suit and feeling as cool as Jon Hamm in “Mad Men”. I also got a kick seeing Jack-Jack glued to television programs such as “The Outer Limits” and “Johnny Quest”. Like “The Iron Giant”, you can see what Bird is into and he inserts his pop culture proclivities into his animated features purposely and appropriately.

There will be inevitable comparisons to the first movie and I would prefer if viewers would just consider this as a continuation of that story. The focus is only slightly different and even though the splintered storylines here seem kind of disjointed at times, it’s still a delight to hang with the Parr family again. “Incredibles 2” reminded me that although Bird is dealing with superheroes and family, his movies aren’t solely “for kids” (despite what certain people think about animated features) and confirms that, like many Pixar films, this movie is more for parents (and their memories of being a kid), than it is for their kids. That’ll be pretty clear when you see Mr. Incredible fall asleep while reading a bedtime story.

 

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RATING: ***

 

 

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