The ultimate family flick arrives on home-ent with superpowered extras.
One of the reasons behind the enduring success of The Simpsons is that its characters never age. For nearly three decades, Bart has been 10, Lisa eight and Maggie a toddler. So why worry when Brad Bird (a Simpsons veteran himself) decides to return to the world of The Incredibles, 14 years after their debut? To put that gap in perspective, the revival of Doctor Who hadn’t been broadcast back in 2004, and we’re now on the fifth new Doctor. Closer to home, Pixar has delivered Wall·E, Up, Inside Out, Coco, three Cars movies and several other follow-ups to its beloved early hits.
But hey, just seconds into Incredibles 2, it feels like we’ve been with the Parr family all along. True, the film doesn’t scale the heights of the original, which had an emotional resonance that’s largely lacking here. But it comes a lot closer to sustaining its predecessor’s quality than, say, Finding Dory or Monsters University.
Picking up immediately where the first film left off, the sequel sees the Parrs tackle the Underminer (John Ratzenberger), only to realise that one
loose thread was still hanging from the first film’s perfect narrative. Namely that, technically, superheroes are still illegal. Cue a quick return to mediocrity, now with the added insult of being housed in a motel, until a mysterious request for the family’s services arrives from telecoms guru Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) and his sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener).
Bird pulls off a delicate balancing act here. On the one hand, this really could have been made a decade ago, notwithstanding that Bird’s experiences in live action (especially Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol) have clearly helped refine his gift for action set-pieces.
Helen breaks loose
On the other hand, Incredibles 2 is infused with a genuine feel for the political sensibilities of 2018. It swirls with topical undercurrents. Where the first film saw Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) headhunted for a mission, this time it’s his wife who’s in demand, plus noticeably hired under her pre-marriage nom de plume Elastigirl. Suddenly, Helen (Holly Hunter) wears the trousers – well, thigh-length boots and tights – and Bob is left to play out-of-his-depth house-husband to the three children.
This is smart storytelling, not only in giving Hunter the lion’s share of the dialogue (a boon in itself given the richness of her unmistakable drawl), but also in the way it toys with the themes of the original. Bird took some flak for the Ayn Randian-esque subtext that superheroes should flaunt their superiority. Here, that’s subverted,
‘It’s bold stuff, but decanted Into breezy entertaInment’
with the alpha male getting his mid-life crisis while Helen kicks ass.
Think this is coincidental? Certainly not, when the villain of this movie – the Screenslaver (Bill Wise) – is conspicuously addressing the haves and have-nots of the modern world. When we try to set up the select few as worthy of slavish devotion, the sequel suggests, it instils an in-built complacency and intellectual lethargy in everybody else.
It’s a theme that resounds far more now – after a decade of MCU supremacy – than it would have done if the sequel had been made pre-Iron Man. It also has pointed things to say about social media, fake news and the cult of personality that surrounds a certain president.
It’s bold stuff, but decanted into breezy entertainment. Bird came a cropper in 2015’s
Tomorrowland by trying to be overly serious and sermonising, but there was a good hour in the middle that fizzed and ricocheted with gags, action and excitement. Here, he’s allowed these elements to overrule the life lessons.
If some of the first Incredibles’ peril and pathos are in shorter supply, there are dazzling displays of technical bravura. Bird’s best set-piece is a gripping bike-versus-train chase; runner-up goes to a spooky search of a gloomily lit apartment that suddenly explodes into a vivid, eye-scorching fight. There are throwaway gags, both visual (a nappy change on a boat) and verbal (a very familiar tale about how hard it is to buy the right batteries). There’s also a delectable score by Michael Giacchino which, even by the composer’s standards, is a blast. And, coursing through just about everything, is Pixar’s funniest, most energised and politically on-point subplot in years, as the Parr family gradually discovers the full extent of Jack-Jack’s powers.
Only hinted at in The Incredibles
(and confirmed in 2005’s spin-off short Jack-Jack Attack), here we get the full Looney Tunes symphony of what the youngest Parr is capable of. The variety keeps the action unpredictable and the laughs free-flowing, especially in Jack-Jack’s stand-off against a raccoon, a contender for the year’s best fight scene. More than that, the message – that we all have potential, and should be allowed to express it – is a fittingly woke refinement of everything the first film attempted to say.
Extras include the charming short Bao and a new mini-movie, Auntie Edna, which gives us more time with Edna Mode than the main film’s brief but on-point cameo allows. Simon Kinnear
The super-family are back, only this time it’s very much mum Helen, aka Elastigirl, taking the lead.