They’re back! Mere minutes into director-writer Brad Bird’s long-awaited sequel, the last fourteen years dissolve as we are returned effortlessly to the family-friendly combo of wit, warmth and slapstick from the original Incredibles.
Picking up at their climactic battle with the villainous ‘Under-Miner’ (a cameo by Pixar voice-artist veteran John Ratzenberger) from its predecessor, the Parr family- a crime-fighting unit of ‘Supers’- are ready to save Metropolis from destruction once more. However, ‘Supers’ are still illegal and their rubble-inducing endeavours are shunned by police and politicians alike. Living in desperate circumstances after their last adventure- cramped into a motel and both Bob (Craig T. Nelson) and Helen (Holly Hunter) unemployed- they are offered a chance to advocate superheroes’ return to glory by corporate CEO twins Winston and Evelyn (Bob Odenkirk and Catherine Keener). The catch? Helen’s Elastigirl is the face of their new media movement (she’s the best option in Evelyn’s ‘cost-benefit’ analysis) while Mr. Incredible must set his mighty hands (and fragile ego) to his most trying mission yet: looking after Violet (Sarah Vowell), Dash, (Hick Milner) and the polymorph-powered baby Jack-Jack while mum’s away. The challenges of an Orwellian-esque mastermind ‘The Screen-Slaver’ for Helen and modern mathematical pedagogy for Bob, tests ‘the Incredibles’ family resolve anew.
‘I think Winston likes nostalgia’ Samuel L. Jackson’s Frozone comments of their new benefactor, and there’s certainly plenty of that here for the original. The Art-Deco retro-futuristic aesthetic looks absolutely incredible over a decade on. The film’s atmospheric lighting, towering modernist backdrops and intricate character details provide the same vibrancy that the Pixar animators demonstrated in their last feature Coco. Building the film’s virtuosity is Michael Giacchino’s iconic big-band score, flaring out John Barry-inspired jazz numbers perfectly timed to the genuinely thrilling, sublimely animated action-sequences. While I’m usually bored stiff by Marvel-Disney’s ever escalating high-speed chases and brawling (their recent Infinity War is particularly nauseous on this) Incredibles 2‘s fusion of animation, score, alternating wit and farce (a new cadre of superhero anti-heroes include Acid-Reflux Man) just drew me in. The sequences sparkle with Bird’s sharply humorous dialogue, as self-reflexive or silly as the original, performed perfectly by the returning voice cast. Nelson and Hunter are particularly notable for bringing back their couple’s caring and sniping repartee (‘You didn’t tell me Jack-Jack had powers?’ ‘Honey, Fight Now. Talk Later.’). All these elements, expertly paced by Bird, takes us back to these characters in a way that feels natural rather than contrived after such a long hiatus. No mean feat considering the diminishing returns of Pixar sequels Cars 2, 3, Monsters University and Finding Dory. A cameo by fan-favourite fashion-diva Edna Mode (voiced again by Bird himself) does feel a little superfluous- but I’m sure it wouldn’t be the same without her.
As with Andrew Adamson’s Shrek 2 and James Gunn’s recent Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Incredibles 2 only reaffirms the original film’s core moral values concerning mutual familial responsibility and support than provide any thematic reevaluation of them (leave that to Coco). Despite this lack of novelty, Bird does provide a timely reversal of Helen and Bob’s traditional genre and parental roles. Much has changed in film and society during the last fourteen years and the audience mood and expectations for the superhero genre and diversity is a factor Disney Studios are very well aware of. Therefore, the inclusion of PR-savvy corporatists who want change public perceptions of ‘Supers’ through the image of Elastigirl smacks of an, albeit satirical, celebration of the current cultural-political milieu. Bird puts Helen front-and-centre as the action-hero, revelling in both her physical and intellectual abilities in a way that the first film often only acknowledged, while Bob confronts the emotionally-challenging domestic life. Its a simple, clever move on Bird’s part, with subtle implications for both characters that tries to freshen up the familiar proceedings. The kids get little to do, however, though fortunately Jack-Jack isn’t the deus-ex-machina I feared he would be (his ‘Groot’-like appeal for the smaller kids does manage to offer some genuinely hilarious gaffs for the adults too!)
While nothing too unexpected occurs in Incredibles 2, it remains a successful for continuing the relatable charm which made The Incredibles such a stand-out Pixar feature and modern children’s classic. Uproariously funny, heartfelt and clever- Incredibles 2 is just super-fun!