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Friday, June 15, 2018

Incredibles 2

I remember walking out of 2004's The Incredibles, and thinking it was the best superhero movie I had ever seen.  Of course, that was a more innocent time for superheroes in the cinema.  Sure, we had the X-Men and Sam Raimi's Spider-Man franchise, but things had not yet reached critical mass with the Marvel Cinematic Universe taking hold, and seemingly releasing a new movie every two months or so.  There was no such thing as a shared Universe, and Robert Downey, Jr. was considered a risk in Hollywood.  And with this Pixar animated film, writer-director Brad Bird had given us not just a satisfying action film, but one that was emotionally driven and filled with smart humor.

It also ended on a note that seemed to suggest a sequel was all but inevitable, and would expand upon the world and the characters we had fallen in love with.  The "inevitable sequel" has taken 14 years, and obviously a lot has changed in that time.  The good news is that Incredibles 2, while not the genre-defining movie that the original felt like so long ago, is fresh and not the least bit tired.  These still feel like the characters from the original, and the world has been expanded on enough so that the sequel feels appropriately bigger without sacrificing the heart that lies within the story, which has always been the theme of family.  This is a smart and extremely fun animated film, the kind we always hope for from Pixar.  It may have taken longer than we had hoped for Brad Bird to return to his creation, but at least he has given us a worthy follow up.

The movie picks up at the precise moment the previous film left off, with the villainous Underminer (voice by Pixar regular John Ratzenberger) declaring war on the surface world, and creating a path of destruction through the city.  Of course, the heroic Parr family is there to stop him.  We are quickly reintroduced to the family of Bob/Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), Helen/Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), teenage daughter Violet (Sarah Vowell), young son and speedster Dash (Huck Milner), and little baby Jack-Jack, who must suit up and battle evil, even though the world still does not trust superheroes in general.  The Parrs do manage to stop the crime, but not without great damage to the city.  Instead of being thankful for the help of the superhero family, the police grill them, and actually state that things would have been better if the Underminer had gotten away with his scheme, as the bank he tried to rob had insurance and there would have been less destruction.  It seems that superheroes (or "Supers" as they're called here) will forever be mistrusted because of their abilities.

There is hope for change, however.  A young tycoon by the name of Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) has been a fan of the Supers ever since he was a child, raised by a father who believed in them even after the Supers were forced to go underground and keep their powers secret.  Seeing the Parr family in action has inspired him to set a plan into motion to improve the image of the Supers in the eyes of the government and the public, and bring them back out into the spotlight.  With the help of his sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener), Winston has created technology that works as a body camera on a superhero suit, so that they can record their heroics and show the public that the Supers are here to help.  The Deavor siblings choose Elastigirl to serve as the face of their new program, as her methods of heroics are much less destructive than that of her husband, Bob, and they believe she will be easier to sell to the public.  This leads to Elastigirl going out and doing good around the city, while Mr. Incredible is left at home to take care of the kids.

A majority of the film is split into parallel storylines, as Elastigirl goes into action and gets to meet fellow superheroes like Void (a heroine who can create portals) Screech (an owl-like hero) and Reflux (elderly, but still in the game), who are happy to be getting attention once again.  As for Bob, he has to deal with his son's confusing homework, daughter Violet's dating issues, and little baby Jack-Jack suddenly displaying not just one, but several super powers at will and seemingly at random.  He can multiply himself, set himself aflame, warp through time and space, and pass through solid matter.  If there is a character who can be described as stealing the show, it's definitely Jack-Jack, as the scenes depicting the little tyke discovering his powers are some of the most hilarious in the film.  And of course, a new villain is bound to show up.  This time it's the mysterious Screenslaver, who can hypnotize people through any monitor and bring them under their control.  The movie tries to keep the identity of this villain a secret, but anyone halfway alert probably will not be surprised when the big reveal comes.

Even if it's not that surprising when it comes to its plotting, Incredibles 2 excels at humor, and some of the most beautifully realized action sequences I have seen in an animated film.  The standout is a scene depicting Elastigirl trying to stop a runaway train, which is so fluid and beautiful you just want to soak it in and admire the work that went into designing it.  Even when the movie is not trying to thrill you, it dazzles you with the detailed animation, which is certainly what we have come to expect from Pixar.  But outside of the visuals, this is just a very tightly constructed screenplay that Bird has given us.  Things flow naturally, and there's no real lag or down time.  Nothing feels unnecessary here.  And even if the movie never feels as groundbreaking as the first one did 14 years ago, it constantly feels fresh, exciting and thrilling in a way that few family films are.

I also am happy to report that nothing comes up short here.  Not the voice acting, not the writing, and certainly not the memorably jazzy music score by Michael Giacchino.  This is one of those times where everything works to create a solid entertainment.  This is a movie that could have so easily gone the easy route, and just played on our nostalgia, as so many sequels to movies from over 10 years ago usually do.  But the filmmakers here are not that lazy, and have a real story to tell.  They care about these characters, and we can tell from the voice performances that the actors are happy to be back as well.  Everything about this movie is tuned to the point that it doesn't feel like it's been 14 years since the last one.

Even with the current cinematic slate of superhero movies, Incredibles 2 still manages to stand out thanks to its retro 1950s look, which brings to mind the Golden Age of comics.  This alone would be enough to make it interesting, but fortunately the movie goes further in creating a complete experience for the audience.  This movie just works.  Oh, does it ever.

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