Something has changed in the world since writer/director Brad Bird’s The Incredibles hit theaters in 2004—movie theaters have been taken over by superheroes with an alarming regularity. In the last 14 years, we’ve seen three different Spider-Mans, the world of the X-Men has exploded into two different timelines (at least), the DC expanded universe has become…whatever it is, and Marvel Studios was created and has birthed some of the most successful films of all time.
One might even wonder if there is still a place for a Pixar movie about a family of superheroes trying to find their place in a world that seems increasingly hostile towards powered people. And it turns out that there not only is a place for such a richly animated work like Incredibles 2, but that it seems almost imperative that it exists to remind us that it’s not impossible for these films to have a beating heart behind the chest emblem.
Having also helmed The Incredibles, Bird is damn-near a perfect filmmaker, directing such works as The Iron Giant, Ratatouille, and the live-action Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol (we’ll give him a mulligan on Tomorrowland). I’m guessing that the reason he and Pixar didn’t rush to make a sequel to the quite successful first film is that they wanted to have something to say before diving in. They didn’t just want to dive into the further adventures of the Parr family; they needed to find a relevant angle to bring the family into a new decade.
The film opens not too long after the last movie ended. Supers are tolerated to a certain degree under government supervision, but after the Parrs—Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), Violet (Sarah Vowell), and Dash (Huck Milner), with infant Jack-Jack still in the wings—stop the destructive plot of Underminer (John Ratzenberger), while still managing to cause a massive amount of destruction in the process, the feds decide to crack down and place a ban on all powered heroes. This move forces the Parrs to seek other forms of employment, with Bob contemplating going back to his insurance job, while the family finds a new place to live.
Tensions are high in their cramped motel quarters when an almost too-fortuitous opportunity arises from telecom tycoon (and big superhero admirer) Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) and his sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener), both of whom are keen to spearhead a publicity campaign to bring Supers back into the mainstream by having the ban lifted. After running the numbers, the Deavors decide that Elastigirl would be the best face to put forward to lead the campaign, so they design her a new suit, give her a sweet new motorcycle, and have her patrol a major city while Bob and the kids stay home in their fancy new digs (courtesy of the Deavors as well).
It doesn’t take long for a new, even more dangerous, villain named Screenslaver (with a full mask and distorted voice, which usually is a sure sign that the true identity of this baddy is someone else in the film) to threaten the city, and Elastigirl is there ready to save the day, helping the Supers’ cause around the world and bringing many new heroes out of hiding.
The sheer volume of fun new supporting characters—including the time-space jumper Void (Sophia Bush) and gross Reflux (Paul Eiding), who belches up some sort of chunky liquid that sort of resembles lava—is one of Incredible 2’s many strengths. But the film still makes plenty of room for old favorites like Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson), who is fully on board with the Deavors’ P.R. efforts, and costume designer Edna Mode (voiced by the director), who takes on the unenviable task of baby sitting Jack-Jack, who is himself developing a whole host of very dangerous powers.
The true identity of Screenslaver (who mostly rants about how much time people spend glued to their various screen-based devices) isn’t that difficult to figure out, nor are his/her true intentions as far as Supers are concerns, but that isn’t really the point of the film. Incredibles 2 takes a unique look at family gender roles, especially when Elastigirl gets a job, leaving Mr. Incredible home to take care of the kids (he becomes a bit of an entitled male prick for a brief moment while he gets used to his new role). Eventually, he catches himself and does everything he can to become a better father, advising his kids on being strong, responsible people, while leaving open the possibility that they might not want to live the lives of superheroes.
Not unlike the themes in the X-Men movies, the idea of superheroes “coming out” to the world holds many parallels in the real world, and Bush’s Voyd is particularly sweet as a young Elastigirl fangirl who is looking to her idol as something of a mentor and role model as well. Even the challenges of the Parr children seem more grounded in reality, especially Violet’s anxiety over being asked out for the first time by a boy who then sees her in costume but without her mask.
In the more traditional sequel sense, Incredibles 2 is also bigger and better—there’s more action; it’s funnier; the animation looks more vibrant; and the retro score from returning composer Michael Giacchino is particularly fun. Ever since Toy Story 3, Pixar has struggled with its sequels. But this one makes up a lot of ground and delivers pure, unfiltered entertainment with heart and little something to think about. It’s tough to imagine a more perfect summertime offering.
The film opens wide in Chicago on Friday.
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