INCREDIBLES 2 (Movie Review)

*** out of ****
Rated PG
(for action sequences and some brief mild language)
Released: June 15, 2018
Runtime: 118 minutes
Directed by: Brad Bird
Starring (the voices of): Holly Hunter, Craig T. Nelson, Sarah Vowell, Huck Milner, Samuel L. Jackson, Bob Odenkirk, Catherine Keener, Eli Fucile, Sophia Bush, Brad Bird, Jonathan Banks, Isabella Rossellini

Full confession: I thought The Incredibles was just…okay.

Fine and fun for what it was, the themes of family, identity, and midlife crisis, et al, were pretty boilerplate. Sure, it still earned its inspiring moment when the Superhero family finally united as one, but as far as Pixar movies go it’s not in the masterpiece league of the Toy Stories, Wall-E, or Inside Out.

Seeing it again for the first time in 14 years since its original theatrical release didn’t change that opinion either, so when Incredibles 2 picked up where the last one left off (and started to play like a retread), it was fairly easy to shrug in resignation for another pleasantly harmless but easily disposable family-friendly entertainment.

Then, as it evolved into its own, Incredibles 2 became better than the first.

This overdue sequel to a Pixar favorite still covers the same thematic territory, at times regressively so (i.e. superheroes are still outlawed and the family is still angsty about it), and even the “Dad as Mr. Mom” narrative has been done, but returning writer/director Brad Bird’s script seems to find more specificity to this family and these characters within those universal themes while still being very relatable (the “new math” frustrations are spot on).

But more importantly, the action set pieces are truly spectacular (the first two Elastigirl sequences are packed with artfully-inspired thrills), ranking among the best of Pixar’s legendary canon and as inventive as any you’ll see in contemporary blockbusters, even exceeding the obnoxious overkill of many comic book franchises (yes, that includes most of the MCU).

Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk), a wealthy media tycoon with a fanboy nostalgia streak, underwrites the Parr family to don their suits again – even in defiance of the law – in a coordinated rebranding effort to make superhero-ing popular (and legal) again. Deavor’s media-savvy talents are complimented by sister Evelyn’s (Catherine Keener) tech genius.

To put the best marketing foot forward, Deavor asks Helen (Holly Hunter) to start solo. This energizes her while emasculating Bob (Craig T. Nelson). Meanwhile Violet (Sarah Vowell) sulks, Dash (Huck Milner) is antsy, and baby Jack-Jack…well, he continues to steal one scene after another. Sound familiar? Sure it does, and it is, which is why it’s a relief that so much of it still feels fresh.

Animation has come a long way in a decade-and-a-half, too. The original Incredibles still holds up, but it’s also abundantly clear how much more detailed and life-like 3D animation has become, even within such a hyper-stylized cartoonish aesthetic.

Skin tones and textures are particularly impressive, as characters actually appear more organic and less like semi-glossy computer-rigged models. The retro-future cityscape of Metroville also pops like never before, with a wider range of style (both in design and genre lighting). Michael Giacchino‘s score keeps it James Bond-jazzy, too. It’s a fun world to be in.

The villain arc is pretty predictable, plus there’s some semi-ironic commentary (coming from the Disney conglomerate) about spending too much time gazing at the screens of our hand-held devices.

Also, for as entertaining as it all is, Incredibles 2 still overstays its welcome at two hours (no need to stick through the credits; no bonuses there), especially with the pre-movie short tagged on at the beginning; called Bao, it’s a weirdly adorable and sentimental mother/child story that gives the affectionate term “dumpling” a whole new meaning.

Nevertheless, even with those caveats, when it comes to living up to the family name, Incredibles 2 whirls past the Parr’s legal moniker (yes, I’m making a golf pun) and lands a lot closer to their super alias.

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