Director: Brad Bird
PG | 1h 58min | Animation, Action, Adventure | 13 July 2018 (UK)
Picking up right where the last movie left off and acting like the 14 years in between films hadn't seen superheroes morph into shared universe juggernaut franchise machines, Incredibles 2 just gets on with doing much of what its predecessor did so successfully: combine the aesthetics of the Bond and Mission Impossible 60s series into a winning pot pourri, whilst using superpower tropes and superpowered bodies as allegories for gender politics and tools for sly commentaries on, well, a whole lot of stuff.
Directed and written again by Pixar doyen Brad Bird, Incredibles 2 is a fast, funny and vibrant sequel that only really suffers from feeling a bit over-stuffed with new characters, a less impactful villain, and from keeping the same cake-and-eat-it approach to its superhero critique. Sure, there are some pointed barbs about how superheroes like the Incredibles family keep causing billions of dollars worth of collateral damage when banks being robbed can just sit back and collect the insurance, but both movies also want us to believe people with powers have the inherent right to use them. The Incredibles family, particularly matriarch Helen Parr AKA Elastigirl (voiced again by Holly Hunter) and patriarch Bob Parr AKA Mr Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) argue often about the ethics of breaking the law in order to enforce it, especially as parents, but the argument is never allowed to grow to overshadow the plot's demand to give us superhero action. Luckily for us, that action is often exhilarating, crafted to perfection by Bird and his filmmaking team.
It helps that this time the star of the show is really ‘Elastigirl’, who leaves invincible strongman Bob (Nelson) at home with children Violet (Sarah Vowell) and Dash (Huck Milner) to navigate the day-to-day heroics of ‘normal’ parenting, as she is pushed into the public eye as the acceptably 'woke' (and less insurance-troubling) public face of a new privately-funded campaign to make superheroes legal again in the fictional city of Metroville. Bird uses the visual possibilities of 'classic' superhero powers- laser-blasting eyes, teleportation, morphing- to act as comedic allegories back in the Parr household to illustrate how tough transitions in gender roles are for everyone, with most of the superpowers being emitted by baby Jack-Jack, to his father's disdain. Jack-Jack's showdown with the backyard racoon will surely be a highlight for many, but watching the impossibly torso-heavy Bob Parr struggle with two hours sleep and a baby who can teleport into the walls Poltergeist-style (cookies are the solution) is endlessly amusing.
The arrival of new villain Screenslaver- who hatches a brilliant and dangerous plot to hypnotise people using the ubiquitous nature of screens- gives the filmmakers the plot hook they need to get Elastigirl into action. Going beyond a simple comedy switcher scenario where we get to watch Mr Incredible struggle to guide Dash through 'new math' ("why did they CHANGE math!?") and fail epically to help Violet deal with her insecurities at school, Bird gives Elastgirl some spectacular action sequences of her own, including one extended chase scene on her new 'Elasticycle' (a souped up bike that could easily be from a Bond movie, one that stretches to match her flexible shape) as she propels herself across skyscrapers and weaves through traffic to catch a monorail hijacked by Screenslaver. This scene, and many others, often showcase ingenious and frequently very funny uses of superpowers, but also, importantly, constantly surprising but always logical COMBINATIONS of powers. Whether it is teleporter vs force field user, strongman vs telekinetic, or an elastic-bodied parachute save, the filmmakers delight in showing you how different ingredients of superpowers help you get a square peg into a round hole.
But its really the family dynamics I will be back for when I watch these Incredibles movies once more; Hunter, Nelson and supporting cast members Sarah Vowel and Huck Milner (Violet and Dash respectively) give the kind of rich vocal performances that make these characters far more than just coat hangers for a bunch of ideas. And to top it all off, Samuel L. Jackson is back as the ice cool badass Frozone, and Bird returns also to voice the diminutive fashion terror and all-around scene stealer Edna Mode. Personally, I say bring on Incredibles 3, and preferably before 2032.