It’s been nearly 14 years since Pixar’s The Incredibles raised the bar on superhero movies, but not a second of screen time passes between it and The Incredibles 2, which picks up the action so fluidly that a swiftly paced four-hour feature is only a splice away. But a lot has changed in that (real-life) time gap: the superhero mythos has been darkened, lightened, serialised and bundled into ubiquity. Now writer-director Brad Bird faces the Ayn Rand-esque threat posed by Syndrome, the imposter villain of the first one: “When everyone’s super, no one will be.”
Violet (Sarah Vowell) is still an awkward teen with the power to make herself invisible (although not, sadly, to make the boy she has a crush on really see her); her younger brother Dash (Huck Milner) is hyperactive and superfast; and infant Jack-Jack is just coming into his powers, which are more unpredictable and more various than his harried parents can keep up with. Superheroes are still illegal, and the movie’s opening sequence reminds us why: In attempting to foil a bank robbery by the Underminer (Pixar standby John Ratzenberger), Bob inadvertently reroutes the villain’s giant drill through downtown Municiberg, where it trashes buildings, rips up streets, and very nearly levels City Hall. As Bob is dressed down by government agents for the mess he’s made, he sputters, “Am I just supposed to do nothing?” and it turns out the answer is yes. The bank’s money is insured, and letting one bad guy get away with his crime isn’t so bad compared with the collateral damage of a battle royal.
(Photo courtesy of: Pixar)
In Incredibles 2, superheroes aren’t just illegal; they’re irrelevant. Not every wrong can be righted without them, but the world has other ways of coping. Bird’s previous Pixar movies, The Incredibles and Ratatouille, were built on a determinist philosophy in which there were people who were special and those who were not, and the latter’s job was simply to get out of the former’s way and let them lead. But perhaps rankling from the frequent accusations that those ideas put him in league with Ayn Rand, Incredibles 2 seems to suggest that perhaps the supers aren’t so super after all. While tech mogul and superfan Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) and his sister, Evelyn (Catherine Keener), urge Elastigirl out of retirement in a bid to rehabilitate costumed heroes’ collective image, Bob Parr stays at home and plays bumbling househusband, fumbling Violet’s adolescent emotional crises, furrowing his brow at Dash’s math homework, and frowning at Jack-Jack’s superpoopy diapers. Much of Bird’s work as a director is steeped in nostalgia for the naïve futurism of the 1950s and ’60s, but he doesn’t have to import the era’s gender politics along with it.
(Photo courtesy of: Pixar)
Bird threads several smart themes throughout “Incredibles 2” about gender roles in the workplace and at home, the media’s role in politics and our collective addictions to screens. While he never really goes deep in unpacking these ideas, there's much more to the substantive story than just action and humor — it hits that sweet spot of satisfaction for both younger and older audiences. The animation is just as jaw-dropping. It's more technologically advanced than the original film, but Bird maintains the retro 1950s aesthetic. The Parrs live in a strange land where mid-century styling, including the TVs, cars, stunning modernist architecture and kitschy Tiki details coexist along with highly advanced technology. Along with Michael Giacchino's addictive, spy movie-inspired score, it makes for a film with a snazzy singular style. Most impressively, for all the slick panache Bird and his team of animators have brought to the style of “Incredibles 2,” they’ve built in the most important element of all — actual danger, which creates actual emotional investment.
When Elastigirl tries out her new motorcycle, she skids and teeters and when she’s in pursuit of a runaway high-speed train, we feel her effort, despite all her impressive superpowers. In a cinematic landscape where it seems like consequences, hazards, injury and even death are no longer a factor, it’s possibly the most remarkable achievement of all that Bird has made a film that puts both the danger — and the fun — back into superhero stories.
Final Verdict: 4 out of 5 stars
Review by Cody and Leanie Gari