“A true standout in action-excitement filmmaking.”
There are a lot of superhero movies out there. I don’t need to explain the various cinematic universes that have quite efficiently conquered pop culture the world over in the past fifteen years or so. They are high-budget, immaculately shiny, and absolutely stuffed with characters – and bombast. Yet despite the immense success of these high-concept sequels, in many ways Pixar’s own superhero sequel, Incredibles 2, leapfrogs way over their heads and delivers one of the most genuinely exciting, eye-popping cape-and-cowl films of them all. (Even though, of course, there are no capes.)
Brad Bird returns to the director’s chair, fifteen years after creating the widely beloved original, which dropped viewers into a retrofuturistic world where ‘Supers’ are made illegal after a one too many superpowered scuffle totals a great deal of infrastructure. Incredibles 2 picks up seconds after the first one ended, finally letting all of us who wondered just how the titular family would deal with The Underminer, all those years ago, see the fight in full. Of course, even more infrastructure is totaled, so the Supers are run underground yet again. Not long after, a shiny-toothed businessman (Bob Odenkirk) and his mysterious sister (Catherine Keener) join the story and offer to help the family, and all Supers, become legal again and protect the city unrestricted.
What separates the Incredibles films from others of their genre, in both cases, is the heavy focus on the actual people under the suits. Bob Parr, a.k.a. Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), is back and funnier than ever, as this time he is overshadowed by his much more marketable wife, Helen Parr, a.k.a. Elastigirl (Holly Hunter). In a quite timely and interesting turn of approach, the business siblings, (and, notably, the film itself) specifically decide to push the female-leadership angle as more compelling to “today’s” audience, and put Elastigirl front and center in most of the film’s breathtaking action set pieces.
Consequently, the greatest takeaways Incredibles 2 has to offer are indeed these stupendous sequences. One helicopter chase in particular struck me instantly as the most exciting superhero set piece I’ve seen in a while, (and I, unsheepishly, am a die-hard MCU fan). Though Disney had some apologizing to do for not warning patrons of a particularly strobe-lit scene, the scene in question is action film lighting at its absolute best, with the eerie villain textured with an utmost nightmarish quality, producing quite unnerving visuals. The groundbreaking studio’s penchant for industry-best animation is on display yet again; just try not to swoon when a glass of water is placed down, even in the corner of the frame, and the bubbles and minuscule waves in the surface are given every pixel of detail you would see in real life. These details, and the heights the animation can reach, make Incredibles 2 a true standout in action-excitement filmmaking.
On a slightly different note, the other side of the animation and craft being so exemplary is that one notices when the story stalls here and there, which happens more often than not. The plot ‘twists’ are … predictable! The jokes are mostly recycled from the first film, and though that is for the most part very welcome — for The Incredibles is one of the most daring animated ‘children’s’ films of all time, I’d say — some do make one wonder if Bird and company just forgot to write more material. The ending, in particular, feels like they ran out of time, especially when compared to the layered, satisfying final beats of the first. Plus, I hesitate to mention it, but the ‘Frozone’s hilariously sassy offscreen Black wife’ joke is not only tired, but getting kind of distasteful, and it is no surprise that in this film she is relegated to a quick line, as a callback. (Notably, somehow, though Incredibles 2 introduces a wide array of new Supers big and small, with the exception of the offscreen spouse, there are no Black women in the whole thing. Odd.)
Altogether, however, Incredibles 2 is good fun, and a pleasant continuation of the jauntiness and aesthetics of the brilliant first go round. Michael Giacchino’s score is still excellent, opting for a more noir sheen alongside his memorable and delightful main theme for the fantastic family. Bird has done well, albeit by doing what he already knew.
Reviewer: Nathaniel Brimmer-Beller (Seen 22 June)
Go to Incredibles 2 at the EIFF