MOVIE REVIEW: Incredibles 2




In 2004, Disney/Pixar’s superhero family The Incredibles was fresh with kitschy style and pre-dated this huge surge of comic book genre films since. Fourteen years ago was also a time when Pixar was the leading computer animation funhouse by a long measure. That’s not the case anymore with a box office overflowing annually with kid-fueled CGI blockbusters from Dreamworks, Illumination Entertainment, Blue Sky, and Pixar’s own parent of Walt Disney Animation Studios. Counting all of the animated films and superhero flicks since 2004 is enough to make your head spin and forget about Brad Bird’s clever original.

The stiff challenge for this Incredibles 2 sequel returning after over a dozen years is the over-saturated marketplace. So-called “superhero movie fatigue” is a current and real quandary felt and shared by many casual moviegoers. To a slightly less spiteful degree, animated family films have experienced their own point of ad nauseum as well. How can a long-distance follow-up to an intentionally dated period piece work when the school-aged children and teens from back then are now the distracted twenty-something Millennials of today that have dined on bigger and better treats for years?

The answer is the usual Pixar brilliance. Their creators build intelligent foundations and smarter opportunities for progressive family films that do not numb minds. The crazy prophetic thing to realize going into this sequel is how the plot of the 2004 original was all about society’s reactions to a version of superhero fatigue. As fate would have it and in the words of Edna Mode, “yet here we are.” If anything can push away the genre debility of the present and any calls for retirement, it’s Incredibles 2.

This sequel starts mere seconds after the events of The Incredibles with the arrival of The Underminer (token Pixar good luck charm John Ratzenberger). The full Parr family staves off the worst of the dirt-dwelling baddie’s attack, but not without a repeat of the media-fueled backlash to the property damage and public danger created by Supers involving themselves in the community. Funding for the previous government watchdog program that supplemented relocation and cleanup support for heroes has been cut, forcing the Parrs to fend for themselves in finding work and anonymity.

Enter the successful communications magnate Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk). As a longtime fan of Supers, he is extroverted fandom and hero worship backed with money and a slick blue business suit. Winston and his tech inventor sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener) want to outfit and fund a secret program to employ Supers privately to stop crime, gently manipulate the media message, and change public perceptions through helpful saves and stringing together small victories. From their many recruits including Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson), Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) and a bevy of young new heroes, the Deavors tab Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) as the safest bet with the highest appeal and lowest risk to lead their campaign.

LESSON #1: DO GOOD BECAUSE IT’S RIGHT — What the Deavors are essentially putting up Helen to do is break the law in order to change the law. Weighing just versus unjust makes for a difficult challenge for the motherly do-gooder. She is flattered to be a leader again and relishes the newfound independence, but the dichotomy of dilemma hits twice in that in order to save her family, she has to leave them.

With Helen now playing hero as the breadwinner, this new situation puts Mr. Incredible on the unfamiliar and undesired sidelines as plain old Bob Parr, the stay-at-home parent. Initially overconfident, Bob is soon exhausted trying to nail down the mundane needs of homestead. He is overmatched dealing with the social/romantic roller coaster of his teenage daughter Violet (Sarah Vowell), the impatience of his son Dash (Huckleberry Milner), and the unpredictability of baby Jack-Jack’s wild new superpowers. His eccentric old friend and supersuit designer Edna Mode (director Brad Bird himself) spells him for a bit to get his groove together.

LESSON #2: THE DEBATE OF PARENTAL ROLES BY GENDER — You have to remember that The Incredibles franchise takes place in the 1960s when male and female expectations within the family unit were very different from today. This is loudly evident by Bob’s huge gender and spousal jealousy of Helen getting the gigs and headlines while he languishes as the backup parent screwing up routines left and right and feeling like a loser in doing so. Lesson #3 will make it worse and Lesson #4 will make it all better.

In the meantime, when the catastrophic threats of the mysterious hacker and hypnotist dubbed “The Screen Slaver” become too imposing, the familiar heroic horns of composer Michael Giacchino come calling and everyone young and old get in on the kinetic climax. Much of Incredibles 2 is a manic movie where everything is some form of a busy-bodied chase. Film editor Stephen Schaffer juggles the homebody hijinks with the tussles in tights to a dizzying flicker at times. The absolute breakneck speed of the film provides breathless thrills that will pop in both 2D and 3D formats, as long as you can keep up. The evolution of animation technology since 2004 also produces many aesthetic improvements. Displays of superpower use and refreshed character looks have added jolts of flair while the impressive production design and world-building scenic creations are eye-popping with polish and detail.

Incredibles 2 may not pack the usual signature “Pixar Punch” that sends stock in Kleenex skyrocketing, but the movie’s themes are formulated with deft wit, proper prudence, and enough meaningful magic. These heady motifs are supported well with the slick and swanky musical energy of Giacchino, now complete with catchy character theme songs playing through the end credits. The power of it all starts at the top and on the written page. Conquering writer-director Brad Bird (The Iron Giant, Ratatouille, Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol) has not lost his chops to mold domestic delights with soaring suspense. His expert handling of heart and hustle carries a level of gusto that is second to none on the Pixar roster.

No matter the shiny costumes and codenamed dazzlement on display, the true glowing core of both this film as its predecessor remains the tremendous family dynamic. Sure, this film is aimed at kid consumers, but a pile of parental messages manifest to sermonize every perilous situation. The filmmakers knew to aim the life lessons of social commentary squarely toward the attentive antennae of the moms and dads sitting there while the kids are awestruck by the fun.

LESSON #3: PARENTAL UNCERTAINTY — Like many parents who will be watching, both Bob and Helen carry a constant dread of doubt when it comes to knowing whether or not they are being effective and protective for their children. Trust wavers between accepting the truth or hiding it. Choices are presented about trading quality for ease, which is something all parents weigh on a nearly daily basis. For example, go ahead and draw the parallel between The Screen Slaver’s method of control with the topical issue of screen addiction evolving into straight-up hypnosis.

LESSON #4: PARENTING IS A HEROIC ACT — Ever-present fears aside, taking on the task of parenthood is the valiance worth celebrating when performed properly among any assignment of the roles. With this movie championing the emerging confidence and success for a working mom and a stay-at-home dad, Disney/Pixar might as well be sending their own Kevin Durant “You’re the real MVP” speech to the masses. In more of a good way than a bad one, Incredibles 2 invites parents to stand up and take a bow while they drop $80 to hear this message and satiate summer break boredom for the possibly spoiled kiddos in their charge.

LESSON #5: FAMILY TEAMWORK — If the parents are doing their jobs right to inspire initiative and instill values, their success will combine with that of their children’s. The “I’ve got this” confidence in Incredibles 2 turns into “We’ve got this” solidarity with the emergence of Violet, Dash, and Jack-Jack to the family adventuring. Teamwork like that brings a level of parental pride of seeing your kids do well that can wash away some of that lingering doubt and strengthen familial bonds.