Incredibles 2 **** / *****
Directed by: Brad Bird.
Written by: Brad Bird.
Starring: Holly Hunter (Helen Parr / Elastigirl), Craig T. Nelson (Bob Parr / Mr. Incredible), Sarah Vowell (Violet Parr), Huck Milner (Dashiell 'Dash' Parr), Samuel L. Jackson (Lucius Best / Frozone), Sophia Bush (Voyd), Jonathan Banks (Rick Dicker), Catherine Keener (Evelyn Deavor), Bob Odenkirk (Winston Deavor), Isabella Rossellini (Ambassador), John Ratzenberger (The Underminer), Brad Bird (Edna Mode), Kimberly Adair Clark (Honey).
It’s always a little bit frustrating when someone who is a genius at one thing, decides they want to do something else instead. Brad Bird is one of the greatest directors of animated films America has ever produced – with The Iron Giant, Ratatouille and the original Incredibles as more than enough proof of that – but after that trifecta of near perfection, he wanted to try his hand at live action filmmaking. Sure, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol is stellar action filmmaking at its finest – it’s one of the best Mission Impossible films and his first foray into something original, Tomorrowland, was at least an ambitious failure (but it was still a failure) – but neither really approached what Bird does best in those animated films. Finally, we have Bird back to doing what he does better than just about anyone else – and it’s making the one sequel everyone seems to agree we actually needed – to his wildly popular super hero epic The Incredibles for Pixar – 14 years after the original. The wait, was worth it.
The film picks up quite literally where the last film left off all those years ago – with the family suiting up to stop the Underminer from robbing a bank right as the credits started to role. Smartly, though, while Bird picks up at the exact point he left off story wise, he knows that the world – and the world of Superhero movies – has changed immeasurably since the first Incredibles movie (think about it for a minute – the original came out a year before Batman Begins kick started Nolan’s acclaimed Batman trilogy – and four years before Iron Man kick started the MCU). So while you can argue that certain themes and plot points are repeated here – what Bird is doing is deepening them, and offering a different perspective on them. He isn’t just in lather, rinse, repeat mode like most action sequels are.
In Incredibles II, the world is still against superheroes – while the Parr family kind of stops the Underminer, they don’t actually catch him, and a lot of damage has been caused. It would be simpler for all involved to just let him get away – they have insurance after all. The one person who doesn’t agree with this is Winston Deavor (voiced by Bob Odenkirk), an eccentric billionaire CEO of a tech company where his sister, Evelyn (Catherine Keener) is the genius behind all the innovations, and Winston is the genius sales person bringing them to the world. He has always loved supers – and wants to make them great again. While the plan is to eventually get them all working again, for now, they just want Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) – she causes the least amount of damage. So, while she heads to the big city to be a hero, Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) has to stay home with the kids – teenage Violet (Sarah Vowell), going through some relatable teenage girl stuff, adolescent Dash (Huck Milner), who still moves a mile a minute, and baby Jack-Jack, who has just gotten powers of his own – and they are completely unpredictable.
In his work, Bird has often challenged a couple of different things – one is the prescribed roles that everyone is supposed to play, and the other is exceptionalism. Here, of course, he flips the typical gender roles – husband stays home, woman goes off to work, and the results are quite what we expect. The scenes of Mr. Incredible trying to become a stay-at-home dad are clever, and while they begin in the sitcom cliché of klutzy dad doesn’t know what to do, it grows steadily throughout the film. Elastigirl’s plotline – as she fights against a villain known as Screenslaver, who quite literally enslaves people through their screens (an obvious, but effective metaphor) is constantly exciting. Bird stages action sequences in animation that puts almost anything done in live action to shame. The various chases and fight sequences here move quickly and fluidly – they aren’t cut to ribbons with rapid fire editing, but allowed to play out beautifully in front of our eyes. The film makes some comment on exceptionalism as well – not as much as before, but Bird still clearly believes that some people can do more – and should be able to do more. There is a pointed bit of anti-intellectualism commentary beneath the surface here.
If Incredibles II doesn’t quite hit the heights of Bird’s previous animation work, its more because of the nature of doing a sequel – you cannot ever quite surprise and delight people the same way a second time out. But Incredibles II comes about as close as possible to doing that. Yes, I wish Pixar in general, and Bird specifically, would concentrate more on original work, and less on sequels. But that’s not the world we live in now, so if we’re going to get more sequels, we need more like Incredibles II.