Film Review: Incredibles 2

Fourteen years later, Brad Bird super-sizes the Incredibles, but it’s the charm of the characters he created that really counts.
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Pixar gave extra meaning to “family entertainment” when it introduced the Parrs in 2004’s The Incredibles. Here was an animated film with all the action, comedy and wild imagination one could ask for, but at its heart was a tale of family dynamics (in every sense) that anyone could relate to. Now, 14 years later, the super-powered Parrs are back in the super-sized Incredibles 2, and though their battle to save the planet can sometimes be exhausting, the goodwill these characters generate makes it a welcome return indeed.

Writer-director Brad Bird hatched a brilliant concept with this clan of Marvel-style superheroes dealing with both life-or-death crises and the more mundane but almost equally fraught challenges of marriage and parenthood. The sequel, which picks up where the 2004 original left off, makes that dichotomy even sharper. The true action star this time around is Helen Parr/Elastigirl, she of the amazing stretchability, who is recruited to be the face of a PR campaign to redeem the superhero community, which has been banned due to the property damage their heroics often leave behind. While Helen is away demonstrating the need for her breed (by stopping a runaway monorail and such), her hubby Bob/Mr. Incredible becomes a stay-at-home dad, responsible for angsty 14-year-old Violet (who does invisibility and force fields), super-speedy 10-year-old Dash, and infant Jack-Jack, who is about to reveal an alarming smorgasbord of superpowers.

The big baddie in the new adventure is a mysterious, diabolical genius named Screenslaver, who has the power to hypnotize anyone to do his bidding via the many screens that dominate our lives. (Hmmm, does Brad Bird have a message for us all?) Bird more than doubles down on the clash of superpowers by bringing into the mix a sextet of Supers (like Voyd, who creates voids in space, and He-Lectrix, who shoots lightning bolts from his fingers) that fall under Screenslaver’s spell. The frenetic climax, aboard a giant ship careening toward the city, is very capably choreographed by Bird, but as in so many action-fantasy films today, the urge to keep upping the ante can feel like too much time spent in front of a videogame screen.

Incredibles 2 certainly delivers the action for those who crave it, but its charm comes from the characters Bird has created and the actors who voice them. Holly Hunter’s Helen, front and center this time, is a great addition to the current trend of female action heroes, and the juxtaposition of Elastigirl’s fantastical feats and Hunter’s warm Georgia twang is a constant delight. Bob Parr is probably the best role of TV veteran Craig T. Nelson’s long career, and he mines all the comedy in Mr. Incredible’s hapless struggle to parent his three very challenging kids. Acclaimed American-history author and wit Sarah Vowell continues to be an inspired choice as bold crimefighter/insecure teen Violet, and Samuel L. Jackson is again a hoot as the Parrs’ chief ally, Frozone (who deserves his own spinoff someday). Solid additions to the franchise are Bob Odenkirk and Catherine Keener as brother-and-sister telecommunication entrepreneurs Winston and Evelyn Deavor, who lead the effort to bring back the Supers, and it’s a pleasure to welcome back hilarious, imperious fashion maven Edna Mode (voiced by the versatile Bird.)

Another big pleasure is the retro ’60s production design by Ralph Eggleston, evoking the Sean Connery James Bond era (and even the TV cartoon “Jonny Quest,” which is glimpsed here); new locations include the “Safari Court” motel where the financially strapped Parrs first reside and the high-tech, cantilevered Jet Age house where they settle after the Deavors change their lives. Also invaluable is the jazzy, brassy score by the very gifted Pixar stalwart Michael Giacchino (Up, Inside Out), who made his movie debut with the first Incredibles.

Incredibles 2 is bigger, not necessarily better, but it’s a treat to spend time with the Parr family once again. Let’s hope it’s not another 14 years before their next visit.

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