Incredibles 2, 2018.
Directed by Brad Bird.
Featuring the voice talents of Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, Huck Milner, Catherine Keener, Eli Fucile, Bob Odenkirk, Samuel L. Jackson, Sophia Bush, Isabella Rossellini, and Jonathan Banks.
Bob Parr (Mr. Incredible) is left to care for Jack-Jack while Helen (Elastigirl) is out saving the world.
As if Disney’s multi-billion dollar acquisition of Marvel Entertainment didn’t grant the “House of Mouse” enough superhero might, Pixar’s Incredibles 2 (re)animates its own super-duper family formula. Maestro of pixelated magic Brad Bird ushers the Parr family into an Avengers: Civil War scenario while retaining household dynamics as to not lose focus of what’s most important – sorta. Kind of? 2018’s highly anticipated spandex sequel is a wonderous bar-setting visual achievement (Pixar continues to be the computer studio to beat), but thematic messaging is dodgy at best. You’ll be thrilled, charmed and Jack-Jack-attacked into fits of wet-eyed belly laughs, if only to be let down by such broad-yet-undefined villain motivations. A step below “super,” albeit plenty fun and massively awe-inspired.
The Parrs face their toughest challenge yet in Incredibles 2 – government restrictions that declare all superheroes illegal. Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson), every single one of ‘em. This means the entire Parr clan has to go into motel hiding until approached by entrepreneur and superhero enthusiast Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk). His plan is to utilize positive publicity to make superheroes welcome in society once again. To start a groundswell movement of good faith and reinforced necessity. Who’s the face of Winston’s superhero resurgence, you ask? Not Mr. Incredible, much to Bob Parr’s disappointment. That’d be his wife Helen aka Elastigirl.
As you can expect, a patriarchal flip takes place where Bob – the built-like-a-tank man of brawn – changes Jack-Jack’s loaded diapers and learns new math equations to help Dash (Huck Milner) finish his homework. He’ll endure Violet’s (Sarah Vowell) embarrassed outbursts when it’s learned that cute-boy-at-school Tony (Michael Bird) forgot their date after being mind erased (saw her sans mask). It’s everything you’d want from the role reversal, including a sleep-deprived outburst of exhausted short-circuiting when Bob realizes how much “harder” it is to keep the Parrs together than fight criminals all day. Mr. Macho steps up, but not without inexperienced blunders.
A major reason for this switcheroo arc’s success is Jack-Jack, who is discovered to have some 17 superpowers including spontaneous inferno ignitions, interdimensional warping and laser eyes. Bob falls asleep, Jack-Jack humorously mistakes a raccoon for a black-masked burglar on television, and thus instigates my damn-well favorite fight sequence of the whole punch-a-minute film. Yes, Jack-Jack is the very-much-obvious MVP of Incredibles 2. Unmatched when tangling with a trash panda, better when extinguished by blackberry lavender goop, best when imitating “Auntie” Edna Mode’s vaudevillian cigarette holder saunter. Jack-Jack, the world’s swaggiest superbaby.
While Bob bungles daily activities like buying AAA batteries instead of AA, Helen – aka Elastigirl – is out foiling the cyber hypnosis plot of nemesis Screenslaver. Zipping around on her detachable new electric cycle that utilizes Helen’s slingshot-like propulsion, shooting glances of girl-power acknowledgment towards Winston’s inventor sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener). Holly Hunter’s vocal work is very much the lifeblood of Helen’s maternal uneasiness over leaving home and heart-pounding excitement when halting runaway trains, so right for a character fighting to reverse gender stigmas. No matter how much it pains Bob, he steps aside to let Helen grace center stage – and she runs with it. A gesture that’s paid in full by Elastigirl’s crime-stopping domination.
Alas, the ongoing fight against evil – what Incredibles 2 is all about – haphazardly justifies itself. Screenslaver’s agenda dares to prove how easy it is to manipulate and control civilization with screens. We’ve become “passive” to the human experience, sitting safely on our couches while fantasy characters live the lives we should – but there’s also a massive takedown of superhero cinema saturation as well? Screenslaver’s autotuned mid-film monologue specifically fingers “superheroes” as our downfall (mirror to audience style), very unsubtly blaming an entire genre for cultural numbing on a large-grade scale. Then it’s to video games, screens as rotting distractions, only to later abandon the whole digital vendetta when parent deaths become the real cause of mastermind diabolics. Brad Bird’s politics are screamed in your face, but more like a ranting doomsdayer might pace city blocks spewing unconnected strings of base-value conspiracies. Very muddied, uneasily sifted.
On the flip side, Pixar’s stranglehold over the animated movie industry just delivered another deafening haymaker to its competition. Incredibles 2 shines unlike any predecessor. Action choreography takes this comic-panel-style perspective that bursts silhouettes and frantic light manipulation, while more standstill human details like a stack of waffles might make your mouth water. Physical character forms may be cartoonish and exaggerated – boxy-chested Krushauer or Brick – but aesthetic is honored in this case. We’re talking about the molten magma spews, Screenslaver’s chain link black-and-white hypnochamber (disclaimer: possible seizure warning) and aforementioned speeding bullet battle sequences. Absolute game-changing cinematic designs. Not that I’d trade reality for computers anytime soon, but Pixar’s work here is strong enough to make me ponder “Well, wait a minute.”
Through the eyes of younger audience demographics, Incredibles 2 is a rather enticing bit of all-ages world defense that’s sure to delight on multiple levels (immaturity, costumes, colors, missions). For older audiences, the true cinematic nature of Brad Bird’s sensibilities are easily appreciated (cut away right before Sammy J finishes “motha-,” the philosophical debate whether to “crush” or “uncrush”). These are the takeaways that will distract from the dizzying boondoggle that is the film’s chief causality, but that just speaks to the spectacle nature of Pixar’s anti-Marvel-until-the-end (?!) champion for the “illegals.” It gets there, just with a few guideless buzzthemes that really aren’t worth trying to grasp.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★★★ / Movie: ★★★