In the sleuth of modern superheroes, Brad Bird’s ‘Incredibles 2’ rises above the noise by confidently kicking it old-school and placing its heart where it needs to be.
It seems like yesterday but when Pixar’s The Incredibles came out in 2004, the superhero genre was just starting to gain a foothold in the cinema – Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man and Bryan Singer’s X-Men were only the top commodities that time; Tim Burton’s Batman might be too gothic for mainstream taste; Christopher Nolan’s reinvention of Batman Begins wouldn’t come a year after; and Kevin Feige’s Marvel Cinematic Universe was still in its years of troubled development. Flash-forward to 2018, these superheroes (metahumans, demi-gods or whatever their comic origin calls them) has now dominated the landscape – heroes like Spider-Man are now just supporting characters in a gigantic crossover film where almost everyone is “super”.
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Hence, when the Parr family (Bob, Helen, Violet, Dash and Jack-Jack) first graced our silver-screens, it almost feels like a game-changer. A visually dazzling animated feature that alternates the breakneck action to the satire of living a suburban life; it knows when to be goofy and when to treat its protagonists seriously. Writer/director Brad Bird based each of his characters’ powers from stereotypes: the dads/providers are the strongest members in the household, moms/busy bees are always stretched to different directions, moody teenagers put up shields and struggle with social invisibility, young kids are filled with boundless energy, and the babies are just unpredictable. Simply put, this character-driven blockbuster uses spectacle for us to better see ourselves – it’s an instant classic that appeals to both children and parents.
But why delve so much on The Incredibles when this article is supposed to be a review on its sequel? It’s because Incredibles 2 literally picks off right where its predecessor ended, completely ignoring the 14 year-hiatus and keeping its characters of the same age – with animation it’s always possible. The 2004 film is a tough act to follow and rather than going with the modern formula that takes advantage of its genre’s popularity, Brad Bird keeps it visually and thematically intact with its predecessor.
And so, in the aftermath of a destructive battle with ‘The Underminer’, the “supers” are once again deemed illegal by the government forcing the Parrs to permanently hide their secret identities. Opportunity knocks the door when telecom mogul/superfan Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) and his tech-savvy sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener) offers them to revamp the public’s perception by letting the least destructive “super,” Helen/Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) do their crime-fighting activities. A gender reversal plays and Bob/Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) is left to take care of their teen daughter Violet (Sarah Vowell) who’s dealing with boy issues, their hyperactive son Dash (Huck Milner) who’s confused by his math homeworks and baby Jack-Jack who’s just discovering his variable array of powers. Keeping things in the continuous timeline, the sequel brings back old-timers like family friend Lucius Best/Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) and fashion designer Edna Mode (voiced by Bird himself) while introducing a new breed of superheroes with Karen/Voyd (Sophia Bush) being the standout.
Incredibles 2 kicks off with a sub-par level of animation to connect its opening sequence to the first film’s ending. As soon as the title card flashes, the modern animation flourishes yet Bird and his animators still bring out evocative imagery through retro design touches and occasional noir lighting. Complemented with a blood-stirring musical scoring from Michael Giacchino’s (also worked on Jurassic World films), Elastigirl is placed center stage and shines in manipulating her flexible frame – especially in a thrillingly executed runaway train sequence that should give the Mission Impossible films a run for its money.
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Juxtaposed with this high-wired action is the comic-relief from Bob’s struggle to temporarily act as both the father and the mother in his household. Majority of the stress comes from babysitting Jack-Jack as his unprecedented powers gives a whole new definition to “baby-proofing” when the house itself needs more of the protection. An ensuing brawl between the infant and a surprised raccoon is a pure child’s play that should amuse the younger audiences; but when the film comes down to its sincerest moments, it brings out a defining point in what does it take to be a superhero. That parenting requires far more than extendable limbs – a heroic act in itself that should never be undermined.
The beauty of Pixar/Disney films is that they always have something to say towards its mature audiences. At one point in the film, there is a moral debate between Bob and Helen on the legality of “supers”, whether it is better to set a good example to the kids by obeying an unjust law or bend them in the hopes of making a positive impact in the future. Another underlying message that should stick out is supervillain Screenslaver’s modus operandi of hypnotizing the public to eradicate the “supers.” This is an evident metaphor/PSA that we are part of a society who lives our lives through a screen. It may teem with social relevance but when it comes to nemesis, Syndrome packs more thematic punch since he’s more of a key element to Mr. Incredible’s character journey in the first film.
Incredibles 2 took 14 years to arrive and now that it has landed, is it a little outdated now to the growing tastes of moviegoers? One can definitely argue that point. However, Bird’s decision to pick up where the last film ended gives him more freedom to cultivate his script and direction without worrying how the characters stack up against the modern heroes of say, Marvel or DC universe. The proper goal of this sequel is to bank on what made the first outing memorable – a balanced act of domestic drama and superhero theatrics, while slightly prodding the franchise to a new direction. As long as the franchise places its heart where it should be – a story of a family working together in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, the Incredibles can rise above the noise.
4.5 out of 5 stars
Distributed by Walt Disney Studios, Incredibles 2 is now showing featuring the voices of Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, Huck Milner, Bob Odenkirk, Catherine Keener, Brad Bird, Jonathan Banks, Sophia Bush, and Samuel L. Jackson. Written and directed by Brad Bird. Runtime: 118 minutes.