The Power of Family.
After a 14-year hiatus, the heroic Parr family returns in a sequel that, in many ways, surpasses the outstanding original. Disney-Pixar’s Incredibles 2 excels in its ability to balance the important and emotional familial aspects of the story with the exciting superhero antics moviegoers have come to expect in the era of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But while there are plenty of moments of action-packed spectacle, writer/director Brad Bird doesn’t rely on them to replace the most important movie-making ingredient: heart.
Bird’s skillful balancing act employs a role-reversal within the Parr family, which previously centered on Bob/Mr. Incredible’s (Craig T. Nelson) desire to return to glory after a ban on superheroes forced the family into hiding and suburban blandness. Incredibles 2 cleverly establishes its place in continuity by opening with a thrilling battle against The Underminer (Cheers’ John Ratzenberger), who appeared to terrorize local citizens moments before the credits rolled on the original movie. But even the heroics of defeating Syndrome and The Underminer don’t change the law, and the Parrs are effectively returned to square one, facing a mundane future. With Bob still out of a job, that leaves him and Helen/Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), in desperate need of income.
Salvation comes in the form of a new character named Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk), who wants to bring superheroes out of hiding by proving that they’re essential members of the community. Odenkirk gives a memorable performance here, even if he’s just recycling his signature cheerfully sleazy Saul Goodman act from Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad. Think of Winston as an animated version of Steve Jobs; he’s overly ambitious and a bit of a jerk, but genuinely seems like a guy who wants to do the right thing. His sister, Evelyn (Catherine Keener), is more like Steve Wozniak. Evelyn makes all of the cool tech, like motorcycles and tiny cameras she can use to monitor Helen’s whereabouts while out on assignments.
The interesting gender role themes that exist for the Parr family also resonate with the Deavors. Evelyn appears to be content with playing second-fiddle to her brother; however, when Helen starts working for Winston by moonlighting as a superhero, she encourages Evelyn to embrace her brilliance and be more outspoken. If Helen’s story seems similar to Bob’s adventures in the previous movie, don’t worry; this time around, the Parrs are acting as a team from the very beginning, even if Bob is reluctant to stay behind while his wife gets her hands dirty.
While Elastigirl is off saving the world, Bob is stuck at home trying to save Violet’s (Sarah Vowell) adolescent, boy-crazed sanity; teach Dash (Huck Milner) a “new” version of math, and learn more about baby Jack-Jack’s emerging set of powers. It’s no easy task, but the storyline centered on Bob raising the kids is heartwarming and funny. It’s during these subtle moments, like when Bob is reading a bedtime story to Jack-Jack, where the emotional impact is keenly felt. Even with all of the new superhero films that have been released over the past 14 years, Incredibles 2 doesn’t try to play catch up or directly parody them; instead, it charts its own course by focusing its attention on the themes of parenting in a working-class family. All of the other superhero stuff is just the icing on the cake.
But boy, is that some tasty icing. Without going into spoilers, let’s just say that Elastigirl’s missions are fun to watch and when Dash, Violet, Bob, and Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) get involved in the action, it feels like you’re looking at an animated version of Avengers: Infinity War. While I still wouldn’t consider Frozone a major character, he does have a bigger role to play than in the first that becomes more apparent in the second half of the film. His chemistry with the Parrs if fun to watch, especially when he has to act as a chaperone for the kids.
The animation is, for lack of a better word, incredible. Even though 14 years have passed and animation is looking more and more lifelike, Incredibles 2 still retains the stylized charm from the original movie back in 2004. Visual details like hair and explosions look crisper, with more vibrant colors, yet the Parrs still feel like they did over a decade ago.
Incredibles 2 also does a tremendous job of expanding its universe, but not at the expense of the Parr family story, which is always front and center. Some new additions, like Sophia Bush’s Void, offer a less stoic version of a superhero. She’s older than Dash and Violet, yet younger than the older generation, making her awkward and intimidated by more seasoned superhero veterans like Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl. If Disney-Pixar chooses to develop a third Incredibles film, or even a spinoff, there are now even more compelling heroes to explore.
The one weakness that Incredibles 2 can’t escape is its lackluster villain, Screenslaver (Bill Wise), who’s about as campy and banal as one can be. He definitely fits the mustache-twirling monologuing trope that’s been done before, and lacks any of the memorable charm or pathos that Jason Lee’s Syndrome possessed in the first film. Thankfully, the second half of the movie offers a few surprises that diminish Screenslaver’s negative impact on the story.