‘Incredibles 2’ Review: Pixar Is Super Again
The villain of The Incredibles is an average guy who creates gadgets to give himself powers. He resents heroes like Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl and their amazing gifts, and he dreams of a future where he can sell his inventions so everyone can become a superhero. Then “everyone can be super,” he taunts Mr. Incredible at one point, noting that “when everyone's super ... no one will be.”
Those lines were on my mind watching Incredibles 2, which arrives 14 years after the first Incredibles into a very different moviegoing landscape. When The Incredibles first hit theaters, superhero movies were just beginning their ascendance. In 2004, there was only one other comic-book movie among the top 25 films of the year (Spider-Man 2). Now there is a new superhero film every few weeks. That would appear to be the challenge for Pixar and writer/director Brad Bird with this sequel. When everyone is super, how do you stay special?
Bird’s rather elegant solution: Where so many modern superhero movies focus on larger-than-life spectacle, he explores the ordinary. Incredibles 2 has a few action scenes, including a truly inventive one involving Elastigirl on a high-tech motorcycle. But there are no alien invasions. There isn’t a giant laser beam in the sky. There isn’t even a huge Omnidroid that wants to smash downtown Municiberg. Mostly this isn’t a superhero movie; it’s a story about an ordinary family and their daily struggles. Their priority isn’t fighting crime. They’re way more worried about paying the bills, caring for the kids while one of the spouses is on a business trip, doing homework, and trying to keep the baby in its crib. Some scenes are so attuned to the little ups and downs of parenthood they could have come from a documentary (minus the parts where the baby turns into a raging gargoyle monster).
Although released almost a decade and a half after the original, Incredibles 2 picks up right where The Incredibles left off: With Bob (Craig T. Nelson), Helen (Holly Hunter), Violet (Sarah Vowell), Dash (Huck Milner), and baby Jack-Jack Parr attempting to stop an attack on their hometown of Municiberg by the Underminer (John Ratzenberger). The Incredibles may have stopped Syndrome and his robots in the last movie, but “supers” are still outlawed, and as a result of their battle with the Underminer, the family lose their governmental backing too. Now they have just two weeks to find a new job and home.
Their return to public heroism, though, catches the attention of idealistic brother and sister Winston (Bob Odenkirk) and Evelyn Deavor (Catherine Keener), who run a telecommunications company and love and miss the good old days when superheroes were everywhere. They launch a public relations campaign to drum up support for the supers, and they pick the flexible, resourceful Helen as its figurehead. That means while she travels the world making supers look good, Bob must stay at home and take care of the kids, who are each dealing with problems of their own. Violent likes a boy who doesn’t know she exists (having your brain erased by secret government agents will do that), Dash can’t figure out his “new math,” and Jack-Jack is developing powers by the hour, including the one all babies, even the non-super ones have: The ability to never, ever sleep.
The sequence where Jack-Jack gets into a fight with a raccoon would have worked better as a separate short film. Still, watching him giggle and spew lasers from his eyes and fluster his parents (and his dad in particular) is never not funny. Incredibles 2 is kind of like Jack-Jack; relatively small, extremely smart, bursting with potential, and capable of mutating into a new form in a matter of seconds. One scene might be about the most mundane familial drama imaginable. In the next, Helen might meet new supers with incredible powers like Voyd (Sophia Bush), who can create portals between different places, a skill Bird and the Pixar team use to very clever effect during the film’s fight sequences.
Helen’s work with the Deavers pits her against a new villain called the Screenslaver, who can control people’s minds through television screens, but the true nemesis of the film is the endless grind of quotidian domestic horrors; screaming kids, pubescent hormones, a baby that seems intent on killing itself. As the father of two children under the age of three, watching handsome, idealistic Mr. Incredible transform into an unshaven, exhausted mess after just a couple days alone with his kids was a balm for my weary soul. If a superhero can barely handle this, what chance does a schlub like me have?
It’s not all the horrors of fatherhood though. There’s a lovely beat during the final battle when Violet turns to Helen as she’s debating whether to chase the Screenslaver or protect her kids and simply says “We got this.” That’s something my wife and I say to each other constantly when things get hard. Because parenthood is the real never-ending battle. But family is worth fighting for.
-The Screenslaver is an ingenious idea for a metaphorical villain about our culture’s addiction to its cell phones. It never quite comes together, though, in part because Incredibles 2 is set in an undefined past where there’s all kinds of cool technology but no cell phones. That means that while the Screenslaver is monologuing about the evil of screens, the only ones we ever see people looking at in the film are a bunch of ancient tube televisions in the display window of a department store. It’s a great concept, but it doesn’t quite fit the material.
-Both the character animation and costume design for the Evelyn Deavor character are among the best Pixar has ever done.
-Speaking of superlatives, where does Michael Giacchino’s brassy Incredibles theme rank among film scores? It has to be in the top 50. Maybe 25. It’s so thrilling to hear it blasting out of theater speakers again.
-The fact that Incredibles 2 is so enmeshed in celebrating the everyday heroism of parents only solidifies my opinion that Pixar makes movies for adults that look like movies for children.