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Josh Reviews Incredibles 2

July 16th, 2018
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Back in 2004, Brad Bird’s The Incredibles was a revelation — an extraordinary animated film that was gorgeous and funny and moving.  It was a major change of pace for Pixar (it was their first film with human beings as the main characters), and it was also, in the era before the Marvel Cinematic Universe, one of the best superhero movies I’d ever seen.  For those of us who knew and loved Brad Bird’s animated film The Iron Giant, it was no surprise that Mr. Bird could create an extraordinary animated film, but still, the delights of The Incredibles are hard to overstate.  Fourteen years later, The Incredibles still stands as one of my favorite Pixar films, AND one of my favorite superhero films.  I was, of course, excited when, after long years of wishes and speculation, it was announced that Mr. Bird and Pixar were finally in serious development on an Incredibles sequel.  But could a sequel made fourteen long years after the original recapture the magic of that first film?

For the most part, I am very happy to report that Incredibles 2 does!!  The first Incredibles still stands as the superior film, but this sequel is a beautiful companion piece, an exciting and very entertaining new chapter for these characters.  It’s a thrill to be able to return to this world.

Although this sequel has been released fourteen years after the original film, it’s set immediately following the climactic battle at the end of the first film, and we get to follow the repercussions of those events on the Incredibles family (the Parrs).  While the family was able to save the day and return to the public eye, the law that bans supers didn’t magically vanish overnight, meaning that the Parrs are continuing to break the law each time they don their costumes and fight crime.  After a battle in a city center with “the Underminer” causes major damage, the “Super relocation” program is permanently ended, meaning that Helen and Bob, along with their kids Violet, Dash, and baby Jack-Jack, are left on their own to figure out where to go and how to make a living.  Enter Winston Deaver, a wealthy super-hero fan who offers to use he and his sister Evelyn’s resources and PR know-how to get the public back on the side or the Supers.  Winston and Evelyn ask Helen to be the front-person for their campaign, leaving Bob to tend to the kids.

There is a lot to love about Incredibles 2.  Despite the long gap between films, I was pleased by how effortlessly the film is able to step back into this world and these characters, and the enjoyably fun and somewhat retro tone of the original.  Incredibles 2 is fun and funny, with lots of fantastic super-heroic derring-do, along with a strong focus on these characters.  It’s a delight to get to spend more time with everyone in the Incredibles world, and I was pleased that the film was able to find interesting ways to move each character’s story forward.

It’s great to see Helen (Elastigirl) step into the spotlight, and Holly Hunter is again marvelous voicing this character.  I like that we get to see Helen be excellent at being a superhero, while still being a caring, loving mom to her family.  Craig T. Nelson is again hilarious as Bob (Mr. Incredible), and the film manages to find new ways for Bob to bump up against the structures of civilian life.  (Bob’s rant about “New Math” was a highlight of the film’s trailers, and while it feels a bit like a particular pet peeve of Mr. Bird’s shoehorned into the film, it works.)  Mr. Nelson is great at playing “slightly frustrated”, and the film certainly gives him plenty of opportunity for that!  Sarah Vowell was a revelation in the first film as Violet, and I really enjoyed Violet’s story in this film, as her new crush gets waylaid by an over-zealous memory-wipe by the family’s secret protector, agent Rick Dicker.  (I was so happy to hear the great Jonathan Banks’ gravelly tones as this character — he was an excellent replacement for original actor Bud Luckey, who recently passed away.)  Dash doesn’t have so much to do in this sequel, but Heck Milner is still great at conveying Dash’s endless energy and enthusiasm.

The film mines a tremendous amount of comedic gold out of the antics of the newly-super-powered baby Jack-Jack.  Pixar fans who’d seen and remembered the 2005 short film Jack-Jack Attack knew about this development, but this new film takes things well beyond that short, and it’s all marvelously fun.  Jack-Jack’s fight with a raccoon is a highlight of the film for me.

I was pleased that many of the original film’s other supporting characters returned for this sequel.  I already mentioned Jonathan Banks as agent Dicker.  Brad Bird reprises his role as super-hero costume designer Edna Mode, and the idea of pairing her up with Jack-Jack was inspired.  Samuel L. Jackson also returns as Frozone, and he gets some fun moments.

New to the sequel are Bob Odenkirk and Catherine Keener as Winston and Evelyn Deavor, and they’re both fantastic.  (With Mr. Odenkirk and Mr. Banks, it’s a Better Call Saul reunion!)  Mr. Odenkirk is great at playing Winston’s joyous enthusiasm for the Supers, while Ms. Keener is also great as the more level-headed, very intelligent Evelyn.  They fit right into the ensemble.

The animation is absolutely gorgeous.  The elevated train chase featuring Elastigirl is a standout sequence, and the character animation on Jack-Jack is as fun and clever as the classic work on the Genie from Aladdin.  But, truly, pretty much every frame of this film is gorgeous.  I was also very happy with Michael Giacchino’s engaging score.  (It might not equal his career-highlight score from the first film, but I loved it a lot.)

While I enjoyed the retro tone of both Incredibles films, there are aspects of Incredibles 2 that feel stuck in the past in a less endearing way.  Primarily, I just wasn’t that taken by how much of the film’s plot was focused on Bob’s frustration at taking care of the kids while his wife went to a glitzy job.  This is 2018, right?  Aren’t we past these sorts of stories by now?  I don’t think a man taking care of getting the kids ready for school or doing their homework should be a big deal anymore.  I also didn’t love the scenes with Frozone’s grating, off-screen wife who complains any time he attempts to put on his costume and get into action.  Again, aren’t we over these sorts of stories by now?

If the film has another weakness, it’s that the identity of the new villain the Screenslaver is pretty obvious right away.  Since this villain wears a full mask, we know he’s going to be revealed to be some other character we know, and the film really only gives us two potential suspects.  I wish they’d either done a better job of keeping this revelation a surprise, OR let us in on the villain’s identity earlier-on, so as to give us a chance to dig deeper into that character’s motivation.  The Screenslaver’s belief that people’s reliance on Supers can be damaging, preventing them from working to better themselves, is an interesting idea that has merit, but after presenting this idea the film jumps ahead to more action without really giving the villain’s point of view the investigation it deserves.

So, OK, Incredibles 2 isn’t perfect.  But it is still pretty great!  I am so happy that, at long last, a sequel to The Incredibles has finally been made, and that it fits so neatly as a companion piece to the first film.  I’d love to see an Incredibles 3, and I hope we don’t have to wait fourteen more years to get it!

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