Incredibles 2 (2018)
118 min., rated PG.
Pixar is at their best when inventing new stories, but when they do go back to the well of a franchise, there are still more winners (1999’s “Toy Story 2,” 2010’s “Toy Story 3,” 2016’s “Finding Dory”) than losers (2011’s “Cars 2”). While any sequel is always approached with a fair amount of trepidation that it could just be a retread of the first film and exist to merely cash in on its predecessor, the long-awaited “Incredibles 2” is another winner, proving writer-director Brad Bird is not out to make a cheap cash-grab. Bird takes what audiences loved about 2004’s “The Incredibles,” an ingenious domestic spin on pre-MCU superhero lore back when superheroes movies weren’t so ubiquitous, and takes it in a fresh, worthwhile direction. Fourteen years may stand between the original and the sequel, but no time has passed in terms of where the story continues, and “Incredibles 2” is just as cleverly conceived, consistently funny, fleet-footed and joyful.
Picking up immediately where “The Incredibles” left off, parents Bob Parr/Mr. Incredible (voice of Craig T. Nelson) and Helen Parr/Elastigirl (Holly Hunter)—along with their kids, easily annoyed Violet (Sarah Vowell), hyperactive Dash (Huckleberry Milner) and infant Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile), are trying to defend the city from destruction by drill-happy baddie The Underminer (John Ratzenberger). When they fail to stop him, the government shuts down the “supers” program, forcing the Parr family to go into hiding for the time being and temporarily camp out in a motel. Not long after, Bob, Helen, and family friend Lucius Best/Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) are contacted by telecommunications tycoon Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) and developer sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener) make them a proposal: turn the tides of how society thinks about superheroes and legalize crime-fighting again. With Helen selected to lead a mission because she causes less property damage, that leaves Bob to take care of Violet, Dash, and Jack-Jack in the high-tech, modern glass home provided to them by Winston. Meanwhile, when Helen saves a runaway train as Elastigirl, she uncovers a mysterious villain named Screenslaver with a nefarious mind-control scheme.
Once again written and directed by Brad Bird, “Incredibles 2” is an effortlessly delightful four-quadrant entertainment with a Pixar-level sophistication that never allows the film to try too hard or pander. It would be easy for an animated film to get caught up in its manic energy and lose sight of the characters at hand, but each and every character feels like they are in a different place than they were at the beginning. In an organic and refreshing switcheroo, Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl swap gender roles: the father stays home, helping Dash with math homework, making the kids breakfast, getting them ready for school, and then taking care of the baby, while the mother goes off to work. Helen runs at the chance to be in the spotlight and have adventures to herself, but she also doesn’t want to miss out on family time. For Bob, he supports his wife, wanting her to succeed so he can succeed in Mr. Mom mode. When the film gets back to the Incredibles foiling a villain’s plan, the reveal of the Screenslaver’s identity might not come as a surprise, but the film still subverts the predictable route it easily could have taken.
Even if it doesn’t quite reach the emotional chord of the preceding short film “Bao” about an Asian empty-nester and a dumpling, “Incredibles 2” never shortchanges the warm, dynamic relationships between all members of the Parr family. The voice performances are as superlative as they were in 2004, the enthusiasm in the voices of Craig T. Nelson and Holly Hunter returning as Bob and Helen so palpable that it’s infectious, and Huckleberry Milner stands in for the original’s Spencer Fox as son Dash without missing a beat. Eccentric, pint-sized super-suit designer Edna Mode (voiced again by Brad Bird) also makes a fabulous, scene-stealing appearance, this time putting her babysitting skills, or lack thereof, to the test.
“Incredibles 2” is a complete blast, prevailing as a sequel with a wonderful spirit and plenty of heart. Michael Giacchino’s jazzy, distinguished score is a rousing fit for all of the lively superhero action. Speaking of which, this film offers some of the most exciting and inventively staged sequences seen this year, animated or not; Elastigirl’s bike chase to stop a runaway train is a dazzling highlight. Also, when Jack-Jack begins unleashing his superhuman abilities that run the gamut but won’t be spoiled here, a scuffle between the baby and a trash-rummaging raccoon is a hoot. It goes without saying, but it deserves to be said again that the animation is gorgeous and vibrant. The mid-century modern mansion in which the Deavors put the Parr family is especially mouth-wateringly swanky and excellently detailed, from remote-controlled features in a grand room with a fireplace and movable flooring to an infinity pool and a garage concealed by a waterfall. “Incredibles 2” was well worth the wait.
Grade: B +