Incredibles 2 (Brad Bird, 2018) 3 out of 4 stars.
14 years ago – 2 years before it was bought up by Walt Disney – Pixar released The Incredibles, a mostly enjoyable and clever animated superhero family dramedy about a world in which people with special abilities have to hide their powers, lest the less genetically talented folks out in the world get nervous about who is minding the minders. In that universe, Mr. Incredible (strong beyond measure) had married Elastigirl (flexible beyond belief), just as their kind were forced underground, and – as the villain of that first film yelled with glee – “gotten busy” (in the biblical sense), birthing two children who, it turned out, were similarly gifted, albeit in their own particular ways. They had a third child, as well, but he was just a baby, with no signs of anything out of the ordinary … or so they thought.
Now, we have the sequel, Incredibles 2 (preliminary article no longer needed), and the gang is back, including family friend Frozone (who shoots limitless ice flows from his hands) and yes, Jack-Jack (that baby) who, though cute as a button, may not be so normal, after all (though we knew that already from certain scenes in the first film). Like its predecessor, the film is a similarly entertaining treat, filled with fine digital images, well-realized action sequences, and plenty of good humor. Unlike the original, however, it is blissfully free of any neo-Nietzchean promotion of genetic superiority at all costs. Though I had a good-enough time watching The Incredibles, I was deeply annoyed not only that its primary message seemed to be that “if everybody is special, then no one is,” but also that it ignored cerebral genius as an equal call to greatness. The bad guy was mercilessly mocked for being tiny and merely smart, rather than strong. Got genes? You’re in! Not? Scram.
Instead, writer/director Brad Bird – who helmed #1 – turns his attention to the far more compelling narrative of how superheroes can win over the confidence of a public genuinely frightened of what they might do to them. The story revolves around a scheme by billionaire media tycoon Winston Deavor (voiced by Bob Odenkirk, AMC’s Better Call Saul) and sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener, Get Out). They think they’ve found a way to convince politicians to overturn the laws banning superheroes. For their plan to work, they’ll need Elastigirl (Mr. Incredible is just too messy and scary), creating a nice twist on the plot of the first film, where it was the husband who got to go out and play while Mom stayed home and took care of the kids. Now it’s Dad’s turn to parent. He’s not happy about it, but understands that he has no choice. Fortunately, Elastigirl rises to the challenges put to her, and a few daring rescues later, it looks like the world is poised to reconsider the prohibition on “supers” (as they are called). Not so fast: this being a Disney-Pixar affair, with their mastery of innovative takes on traditional three-act structure, we know there’s a dramatic reversal somewhere ahead.
Meanwhile, Mr. Incredible struggles to manage daughter Violet’s nascent romantic life, son Dash’s math homework, and Jack-Jack’s increasingly manic display of an incredible variety of supernatural talents (which manifest themselves in a hilarious tussle with a tough little raccoon). Fear not, fans of the first film’s most eccentric character: Edna (voiced by the director, himself), costume designer and brilliant technician extraordinaire, shows up to offer timely aid, keeping Dad from completely losing his mind (or losing Jack-Jack). Domestic problems finally under control, it’s time for the Incredibles family to gather as one to save the world again. For, you guessed it, the Deavors’ plan hits a few snags.
Most of the lead actors from the original movie are back: Eli Fucile as Jack-Jack, Holly Hunter (The Big Sick) as Elastigirl, Samuel L. Jackson (Kong: Skull Island) as Frozone, Craig T. Nelson (Book Club) as Mr. Incredible, and Sarah Vowell as Violet; Huck Milner (making his debut) joins the cast as Dash. All are in fine form. The film more than delivers on the promise of its premise, even if never quite as original as the best of Pixar (such as Finding Nemo, Inside Out, Monsters, Inc., Toy Story – and its own marvelous sequels – Up or Wall•E), providing a rollicking good time for all ages.