Review: 'Incredibles 2'

After a long hiatus, this Pixar sequel keeps the super hero family franchise interesting
'The Incredibles 2' cleverly reverses the polarity of episode one—with Elastigirl taking center stage.

In a beginning as splashy as most finales, director-writer Brad Bird's The Incredibles 2 picks up right where its predecessor ended. The mole-man Underminer escapes with Mr. Incredible clinging to the side of his burrowing hell machine, churning scree right in the hero's extra-large face. During the conflict, the superpowered family accidentally trash the city, even as their government liaison, Rick Dicker (voiced by Jonathan Banks), is donning an aloha shirt in preparation for retirement.

The Incredibles—dad Bob (voiced by Craig T. Nelson), mom Helen (Holly Hunter) and their three kids—go on the lam to a cheap motel. Their friend, the super-cool Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson), brings news of private sector help from the Deavers, a brother and sister high tech firm.

Evelyn Deaver (Catherine Keener), a bit of a drinker, has the blousy look of late-period Judy Garland. Her brother Winston (Bob Odenkirk) is too slick and sports an untrustworthy looking electric blue sharkskin suit. The Deavers have a plan to rebrand the superheros as public heroes, instead of as illegal agents of chaos. For modish girl-power marketing reasons, Elastigirl will be the first hero given a makeover.

That's the best single idea in Incredibles 2: reversing the angle on the predecessor by making it about her, by suggesting that the most superpowered member of the team might not be the massive Mr. Incredible. The amazing Elastigirl hurls her limbs to objects 400 yards away, swinging her way through the city. After forming a human parachute or a glider, the mother-hipped champion stretches like a Slinky dog to command a super-motorcycle that splits into a pair of unicycles. It's squash and stretch animation taken to its limits. Meanwhile, Bob stays home as an inept Mr. Mom with seething tween Violet (voiced by pop-historian Sarah Vowell), super-speedster son Dash and multiple-powered baby Jack-Jack.

In a Pixar project, where story is so slaved-over, the question of 'What's the movie about?' can't be answered with a plot-point roster: "family bonding, young love, a legion of bizarre superheroes, a terrific fight between an infant and a raccoon, aerial and terrestrial chases, and a finish in a runaway hydrofoiling superyacht—like the Disco Volante parts in Thunderball, only better."

It's not a movie that leaves you asking, "What more have you got?" But it isn't deepened by questions of duty and extra-legal force. In a really good superhero movie, the villain's speeches speak to our doubts—in The Dark Knight, the Joker's gibes about societal breakdown ring true.

The model for The Incredibles is Alan Moore's graphic novel The Watchmen,about the twilight of the superheroes—Bird even stole a joke about the problem of capes from it. In The Watchmen, the super-powered protectors had become illegal because protesters demand actual police with badges, instead of masked vigilantes.

In Incredibles 2, a hooded, skull-masked criminal known as Screenslaver hypnotizes his victims through Op-art TV broadcasts. His Unabomber speeches critique the public's decadent preference for secondhand experience and spectacle. Later on, the show's true villain says, "Superheroes keep us weak."

This time, it's not bottom-up but top-down action that made the supers illegal; the world's governments exiled them all. An overheard radio commentator describes Congress as a bunch of monkeys with a dartboard, and Dicker mutters that "politicians don't understand people who do good." Let Bird downplay the libertarianism in his work, but it's essentially the envy of the mediocre that keeps the Supers illegal here. Note the internet speculation over whether super-designer Edna Mode (ticklishly voiced by Bird) is meant to be Ayn Rand.

Bird's love for the mid-20th century style excuses the cranky politics-—back then, Rand seemed as futuristic as a monorail. He name-checks vintage animation, with an appearance by the hero of boomer youths, Johnny Quest. A shrewd reference foretells Screenslaver's rampage: The Outer Limits opener, reminding viewers that they're no longer in control of their televisions.

Incredibles 2 doubles down on the '60s ambience of the first, with composer Michael Giacchino unleashing the John Barry trombones, and production designer Ralph Eggleston wreaking supercars and mansions with push button-operated indoor waterfalls.

For all the nostalgia, this doesn't seem like a replay or a retread. It's particularly welcome, elating and thrilling, and it's less kid-pitched than recent Pixars: the older you are, the more you'll be pleased by what's going on.

The Incredibles 2
PG, 118 min.

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