US (2018) Dir. Brad Bird
Usually in Hollywood, when a film becomes a massive hit the studio bean counters start making plans for a sequel. After the success of The Incredibles in 2004, Brad Bird of Pixar decided to work on other projects instead of instantly capitalising on his latest cash cow, making us wait for the follow up. And make us wait he did – fourteen years!
The superhero Parr family – parents Bob/Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), Helen/Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) and children Violet (Sarah Vowell), Dash (Huckleberry Milner) and baby Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile) – along with old friend Lucius Best/Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) tear up the city of Metroville when trying to capture bank robber The Underminer (John Ratzenberger), and end up having their government support programme rescinded.
Living in a motel and in need of money since being a hero is illegal, Bob and Helen think it is time to get proper jobs until Lucius informs them of an offer from billionaire Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) to work for him. Deavor is a fan of superheroes and wants them reinstated, so his idea is to televise their missions and get the government support back – except he wants Elastigirl to front the missions, leaving Bob to look after the kids.
One of things that made the original Incredibles film stand out was its unique twist on the superhero concept by making it about a whole family of people with special abilities, allowing Brad Bird to propagate that old staple of American storytelling, the importance of the family unit. It’s a theme that makes room for more than one personality to shine and explore more ideas rather than reinvent the wheel each time, something that is very evident in this sequel.
Brad Bird had apparently already decided after the success of the first film in 2004 that a sequel would feature Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl switching the breadwinner/homemaker roles, suggesting he is either a feminist at heart, or was eerily prescient in predicting the current climate of female empowerment and equality. Perhaps in hindsight, holding off until now was a canny strategy after all.
Yet this isn’t a strident feminist rally cry as much as some might want it to be, despite females having prominent roles throughout, and a number of the males are portrayed as weaker characters. With their films aimed at the whole family it would behove Pixar to be careful about pushing heavy agendas in their stories, yet Elastigirl as a mother is a strong enough character to present her in a positive light for both genders.
Another canny ploy was to set this story immediately after the events of the first film which avoids the issue of changing the personalities of the younger members of Parr family, so no whiny, angsty teens here just the same kids we had fun with last time. With the 14-year gap, some may have forgotten the first film ended with the arrival of the Underminer unless you played the 2005 spin-off video game in which he was the main villain.
Here though he is a mere catalyst to remind us of what the Parr family can do as well as setting up the main story of Supers being outlawed after the Parr’s destroy the city in trying to halt the Underminer. Providing opposition for our protagonists this time is the mysterious Screenslaver, so-called for being able to hypnotise people using any surface as a screen, controlling them through special goggles.
The Screenslaver proves tricky to hunt down with such incredibly advanced technology at his disposal but Elastigirl has a handy ally in tech genius Evelyn Deavor (Catherine Keener), Winston’s younger sister. Winston is the salesman for their telecommunications company but Eleanor is the mastermind behind their products. They have an interesting history with Supers which telegraphs the direction the plot is heading in but Bird’s script does a good job of leading us down a few different paths first.
For example, the idea of recording Elastigirl’s missions for TV broadcast resembles the main premise of the anime series Tiger & Bunny but this is dismissed as Winston is not driven by profit and ratings but is genuinely trying to get the ban on Supers reversed by getting public opinion heard by the decision makers. Yet, there is something about his jolly facade of this salesman that perhaps Elastigirl shouldn’t trust.
Meanwhile Bob struggles with looking after the Parr children, having to deal with hyper troublemaker son Dash, lovestruck daughter Violet and baby Jack-Jack whose own powers are already starting to develop. Plural is correct here as the toddler has a litany of abilities that need controlling, including breathing fire, dimension hopping, cloning, laser beam eyes and turning into a demon among others.
You can feel the Tex Avery influence in the scenes involving Jack-Jack, the manic energy, and invention in depicting his powers provide non-stop slapstick action, especially the fight with the racoon. Ironically, Jack-Jack is the glue keeping the family together as babies often are but not in the same league as one who can turn into a giant!
It’s almost redundant to praise the quality of the visuals and production values of a Pixar film yet also inescapable. In the 14 years since the first film, the improvements and advances in CGI animation have meant the physical movements are more precise than ever; the background artwork and elemental textures are incredibly photorealistic, leaving the cartoon character designs as the only reminder this is an animated work.
Debating whether Incredibles 2 is better than its predecessor is somewhat moot for this writer as it has been a decade plus since I saw the first film yet I found this quite easy and comfortable to slip back into. It’s certainly full of great action, inventive comedy and a strong story to keep kids and adults quiet for 110 minutes, which is all you can ask for from any film of this nature let alone a sequel.