Written and Directed by Brad Bird
Starring Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Catherine Keener, Bob Odenkirk, and Samuel L. Jackson
Reber’s Rating – A
2018 is already half over somehow, yet we’ve already seen a gluttony of super-hero films grace our screens. February’s Black Panther grossed $1.3 billion at the box office for Marvel, a blockbuster no one saw coming. Marvel’s most-anticipated entry of all time, Avengers: Infinity War, already has crossed $2 billion worldwide and hasn’t even been out for two full months yet. However, with this weekend’s release of Disney/Pixar’s Incredibles 2, many are questioning if studios are over-saturating theaters with super-hero flicks. Sure, Marvel Studios has dropped 18 movies in a decade whilst Warner Brothers has plopped five in as many years in our laps. Really though, have we reached super hero fatigue yet?
Right, okay. Whatever you say, Hollywood pundits. If you need further proof that the super hero crazy is far from over, take heed to Brad Bird’s 14-years-in-waiting sequel to his 2004 feature The Incredibles. Bird has done several films in that time span – 2007’s Ratatouille, 2011’s Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, and 2015’s Tomorrowland (far and away his most imaginative project to date) – but none as hotly anticipated at this follow-up. Bird swore that he wouldn’t do a sequel to The Incredibles if he wasn’t able to crack a story worthy of outshining the original. The narrative had to be timely and wouldn’t allow a sequel to be cobbled together for the sake of raking in millions, just to ruin the characters he loves so dearly.
If anything, Incredibles 2 is more than just your ordinary sequel. While children will tug on their parent’s shirts incessantly to see this over the summer in theaters because – you know – this is a Pixar movie, Incredibles 2 actually finds more of an audience with adults. That’s right, you and me. The kid in us may thoroughly enjoy the shenanigans of nubile Jack-Jack and the more juvenile goofs, yet at its core Incredibles 2 centers on a story about shaking up gender roles, striving for equality in modern society, and maintaining the visage that protecting those is sometimes a gamble worth making.
And yes, I fully expect some people to feel absolutely cold to what Brad Bird cooks up in this whirlwind, playful, and charming film. This movie isn’t for anyone who can’t think beyond the underlying themes. Incredibles 2 is for those who truly wish to escape to a wholly different time unlike our own, even though the message at its heart is very much rooted in today.
There’s a moment early on when I knew that Brad Bird, who spent a decade away from the property toiling and searching for the perfect plot, found his inspiration for one aspect of the story. Bob Odenkirk’s Winston Deavor, a boyish businessman determined with a childish innocence and desire to revisit his boyhood, looks across a room at Frozone, Mister Incredible, and Elastigirl trying to sell his vision that serves as the film’s Macguffin. (Imagine Saul Goodman working on a sales pitch to the Avengers but seeming overly giddy about his machinations, a telecom mogul not bent on world domination.) He looks at the screen, eyes wide, and raises his arms as his pitch comes to a close. The three adult heroes are still trying to buy into what he’s shoveling, but the point’s been made. “Make supers legal again!”
There’s several themes that intertwine with a tight 118 minute run time that clips by at a breakneck speed, never feeling long in the tooth but enough to reel you in close. One of the most important, for starters, is that bold vision of Winston Deavor and his father’s company, DEVTECH. Tackling a major topic still rampant in the media today, Deavor knows that the media are broadcasting what they want the public to see. We can be somewhere where news is breaking and see a totally different side of the story, but whatever the cameras catch is where the real story lies. No one pays attention to the truth, just what they’re shown as the camera lens catches the aftermath. Deavor’s tactic is to deploy body cameras onto the supers not just for their protection but to show the world that super heroes aren’t the villains. The media are what can make the virtuous out to be the monsters. We may see what the news broadcasts into our homes but is that truly the full story?
Really though, while the feature showcases the public’s fascination with supers and their attempts to repair the dishonest PR, nothing is better than the gender-role swap of Bob and Helen Parr. Unlike previously, Mister Incredible isn’t just seen as a dynamo with Herculean strength. Instead, in order to garner attention towards his cause, Deavor prefers that Elastigirl be the face of the movement to make supers commonplace in the country again. (Turns out that Mister Incredible’s brawn causes a lot of unnecessary and expensive damage. Whoops.) While Elastigirl is away from the family in New Urbrem making Deavor’s case, Bob is left to stew at home with the children. Bob was always the bread winner, taking on the job to ensure his family was secure financially and from public scrutiny. Helen’s always been the doting mom that embarrasses her kids. Now flip those roles, you’ve got Helen as the central character, feeling empowered and wanted for what she can do. And Bob? Bob has to learn to to be a father – something he’s never embraced in his children’s lives. Sitting at home not in the thick of the action drives Bob crazed and hurt.
Why? Because the man isn’t the one required for the job but instead a woman.
The first third of the film is heavy on dialogue and skimp on action so we can better grasp Bob and Helen’s struggles to keep their family whole. After that you’ll discover a film that once again takes cues from various 1960’s television serials that emphasized stylized heroics without sacrificing the importance of character. There’s one scene where Bob Parr awakens on the couch, television obnoxiously loud, Dash enamored with Hanna Barbera’s classic Jonny Quest. The episode playing on television is where Jonny Quest and company are attempting to thwart a giant robot. (Gee – that sounds oddly familiar, no? The 2004 original?) Violet is tending to the family, Dash snuggled on the couch, Jack-Jack at ease. Those types of moments, where we see the durable family bond, are spiced in to intermix with the tenacious action sequences. Once again, Bird’s flair for the explosive shines in frenetic and dazzling fight sequences that outshine most other super hero films. Incredibles 2 may be CG but the set pieces are electric, thrusting you into the middle of the fracas but cognizant when character must outshine quarrel. The sound editing is on point, each wallop landing with a hard thud, your eyes never trying to determine who is fighting whom, each scene clearly defined
Though Mister Incredible and Dash aren’t the biggest focus of Incredibles 2 – yes, Elastigirl and Violet have far and away more time in the story – the real scene stealer here is Jack-Jack. In case you forgot, in the short Jack-Jack Attack included in the 2005 home video release, Jack-Jack is slowly coming into his own. Turns out that, as babies, all supers can exhibit a wide variety of powers till he or she settles on one particular set of skills. Jack-Jack? Well, the little guy has no fewer than 17 unique powers that you can count. Jack-Jack just wants his momma at the end of the day. Even an exasperated Bob muttering “Cookie Nom Nom” aloud to coax the tyke out of hiding elicits more laughs than I would ever admit. And while the climax is an absolute brawl-for-all, a smattering of heroes trying to stand their ground, the final act still doesn’t hold a candle to Jack-Jack’s time to shine right before the halfway marker of Incredibles 2. A wide-eyed Jack-Jack spies a foe outside on the porch whilst Bob dozes and sneaks off to fight the evil-doer. That’s right – Jack-Jack has a bare-knuckle brawl with a poor innocent trash panda, a lively raccoon rummaging for a late-night snack. A gut-busting brawl ensues, the wild-eyed raccoon bewildered as Jack-Jack coos with glee, each power manifesting in a sequence that’s a joyride to watch unfold.
Incredibles 2’s villain, Screenslaver, is a mimicry of Syndrome from the 2004 original. Suffice to say, Bird’s attention isn’t fully on the existence of the film’s villain. Sure, the long diatribes by Screenslaver are pandering but hidden inside is a solid message. Do we wish to be tethered to our devices in life and forgetful of all that exists outside of the technology we’ve become dependent upon? We can continue to be sheep and run with the flock but we instead should strive to stand out from the crowd to make our own mark. In a way, despite Screenslaver’s half-cocked plan to stay ahead of the supers, the rhetoric does make a valid point. The best type of bonding with our families isn’t sitting in front of the television mesmerized by our tablets and smartphones. Going out as a family to dinner or sitting around talking, going for a walk, anything is more worthwhile than dependence on technology. I just wish Incredibles 2 spent more time trying to smooth out Screenslaver but eh, that nitpick doesn’t hurt the film.
If anything Incredibles 2 may even outshine its predecessor, a fun romp that emphasizes the importance of family and why both husband and wife can evenly split duties. There may be more exposition at the start of the film to drive the overall themes but once the action begins the film is a relentless juggernaut speeding towards a tidy conclusion. Sure, the narrative is familiar at times and that’s okay. What’s paramount is that Brad Bird, though taking a decade to devise the best suited sequel, hasn’t lost a step in returning to this world. The foundation of the story and characters resonate with the adults; the kids get to enjoy the fluffy shenanigans and dazzling action. Many super hero films may have fun, like Infinity War, but lack the same heart as settling in with the exploits of the Parr family. Sequel to this entry or not, I cannot be happier to have endured this 14 year wait. My inner child’s anticipation has been fully met.
Jerrold spent his childhood in southeastern Pennsylvania ingesting far too many TV shows and movies, thus creating a stark-raving mad geek. He’s a movie aficionado, binge-watches Netflix, and is a total TV junkie. His addiction has led to an unhealthy and rabid obsession of various geek pantheons – Star Trek, Star Wars, both DC *AND* Marvel,
cult 80’s and 90’s television, Supernatural, The X-Files, Doctor Who, and, and…holy overload. He’s still waiting to run away in a 1967 Impala or a blue police box.