14 years have passed since the release of Pixar’s animated superhero film The Incredibles and much has changed and evolved in this particular genre. Cinema-goers have had the various offerings from the Marvel Cinematic Universe since that time (mostly good) and also that of the D.C. Cinematic Universe (mostly mediocre if truth be told). The 2004 Brad Bird-directed film came before all of those films and was particularly fresh with regard to its storyline of a family of superheroes who have been forced into a rather humdrum suburban existence by the stolid powers-that-be of the day. This theme is revisited at the beginning of the sequel which, happily, has Bird returning to directing and writing duties. Officialdom America is less than pleased with the Parr family efforts in preventing a robbery of the Metroville Bank by the Underminer (who – if you will recall – appeared towards the very end of The Incredibles many moons ago). The Superhero Relocation Program is duly shut down following the collateral damage at the City Hall (which is largely blamed on the Incredibles and their superhero friend Lucius Best/Frozone). The Parrs are reduced to staying in a shabby motel which scarcely befits a family of five, even less so a family of five with superpowers. Dad Bob (Craig T. Nelson) and Mom Helen (Holly Hunter) bemoan their lot with understandable angst. Their principal duty is towards their family, but they also wish to assist humankind generally.
When a telecommunications mogul by the name of Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) enters the fray, the family’s fortunes appear to take a turn for the better. Deavor has a telling point to make about perception and is adamant in his intent to portray superheroes in the light they ought to be seen. To this end, he proposes the extensive use of technology to regain the public’s trust for the powerful do-gooders. Deavor and his sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener) determine upon Helen as being the most appropriate persona to spearhead this campaign. A visibly nonplussed Bob takes on the mantle of minding the family. The stay-at-home Dad tag does not exactly rest easily on his considerable shoulders, but full kudos to Bird for exploring this particular theme with no small amount of sensitivity and some great humour. Craig T. Nelson was one of the very best things about 2004’s The Incredibles and, once again, the former Poltergeist star is in great form. Many of Incredibles 2’s funniest moments centre on the sub-plot concerning Baby Jack-Jack’s emerging (and multifarious) powers. The character of Edna Mode (as voiced by Bird himself) steals every scene she appears in as per the 2004 film. Samuel L. Jackson also reprises his role as the aforementioned Lucius Best/Frozone. Elsewhere, there are brief but winning turns by the likes of Isabella Rossellini and Jonathan Banks. The kids fare well also, but one slight quibble this reviewer would raise is that Dash’s character is scarcely fleshed out at all, whereas Violet’s is suitably written and explores some of the anxieties common for a teenager. That having been said, this is family entertainment of the highest order which is in keeping with the standards set by its Oscar-winning predecessor.
This being a Pixar film, we have certain expectations as regards the visual effects and production values and Incredibles 2 certainly does not disappoint in this respect. Bird (who previously helmed The Incredibles, Ratatouille and 1999’s The Iron Giant) is a past master in terms of assembling this sort of production and his script also picks out some subtle nuances and narrative threads during the two-hour running time. Of particular interest – as I mentioned – is the plot concerning the stay-at-home Dad, as personified by Bob, and his obvious struggles to adapt to this new role. Bird even suggests a certain resentment on his character’s part upon hearing of his wife’s exploits in the superhero realm. There are some compelling observations posited by Bird with regard to our modern-day obsession with screens and technology generally. The adversary character of the so-called Screenslaver is perhaps a tad on the money, but Bird’s point is well made nonetheless. At various junctures in the film, we see characters striving to communicate by conventional means, but ultimately failing in this design. Helen does not learn of her baby son Jack-Jack’s powers until a late point in the film – perhaps a somewhat jealous Bob has chosen to withhold this key item of information. Elsewhere, their daughter Violet struggles to engage with a boy at her school whom she fancies; her lot is hardly helped by the fact that he has had his memory erased at an early point in the film.
The action sequences of Incredibles 2 are deliciously choreographed and Bird (who also directed 2011’s Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol) shows a deft hand for such set pieces. The music by Pixar regular Michael Giacchino (who won an Oscar for 2009’s Up) is suitably jazzy and enhances the dynamic and thrust of the story. Returning cast members Nelson, Hunter and Jackson are all second-to-none and Catherine Keener is winningly duplicitous as Deavor’s smarter sister. As per the 2004 film, Incredibles 2 features some very smart and sophisticated women in the form of Helen Parr, her daughter Violet, the aforementioned Evelyn Deavor and even the idiosyncratic Edna Mode. It’s one of the film’s several welcome and constituent elements and is in keeping with the style and tone of one of the best animated features of 2018. The short film beforehand titled Bao is also engaging and emotional in the very best tradition of Pixar. A winning combination here and a superhero family well worth rooting for.