Director: Brad Bird | Screenwriter: Brad Bird | Cast: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, Huck Milner, Samuel L. Jackson, Bob Odenkirk | Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures | Running Time: 118 min. | MPAA Rating: PG
The screening of Incredibles 2 began with an apologetic thank you from the cast. Yes, it has taken 14 years for Pixar to construct a sequel for their fan-favorite of a film that perfectly blended the family dynamic with superhero theatrics. But as Samuel L. Jackson assures us, it will be worth the wait. He’s not just tooting the Disney horn, nor is the cantankerous writer/director Brad Bird, who returns to the franchise with fresh ideas to flex those old animated filmmaking muscles. And it is every bit as brilliant, exciting, and dazzling as its predecessor.
It may have been 14 years before, but the sequel begins at the exact second where the last film left off. When we last left our heroes, they were battling the dreaded villain of The Underminder, armed with his many drills that are ripping up the city streets. It sounds like a job for the superpowered Incredible family to deal with. Or it would be if their profession of vigilantism wasn’t still, you know, illegal. In comes a wealthy and hero-adoring tycoon (Bob Odenkirk) to reshape the perception of superheroes and make them legal once more. He wants everyone to come back, but, namely, he wants the star player to be Hellen/Elastigirl (Holly Hunter). She is chosen as the single hero that will renew the public’s faith. While she gets to zoom around a crime-infested city to build up notoriety, her husband Bob/Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) volunteers to watch the kids at home. It’s a major shift from his usual superhero duties and he doesn’t take such a shift without a slight grit in his teeth.
Incredibles 2 touches on a number of unique family aspects, outside of the overarching villain plot of the sinister Screenslaver, looking like Batman’s Bane if he were given a Daft Punk makeover. Bob and Hellen Parr have their marriage put to the test with a distance between them and a change in duties. Hellen is excited and having a ball being an inspiring female hero, but there’s a lingering longing for her family. Bob bites his tongue and steps into one-man-army parenting, but not without the aggravation of jealousy and exhaustion that comes from being the father at home. As the eccentric superhero fashion designer Edna (Brad Bird) states, parenting is a heroic feat when done properly. And considering there’s no book on how to handle your baby firing eye-lasers at wildlife, Bob has his work cut out for him. But if he can handle Jack-Jack shifting between dimensions, he can help his speedster son Dash with his homework and learn how to deal with his invisible daughter Violet and her troubles with a crush.
Most surprising about this sequel is how the world of the Incredibles runs with deeper lore. Through its throwback 1960s allure, it’s a tale of bureaucracy, cultural shifts, empowerment, and pathos. The writing is so deeply adult I was starting to wonder if kids were going to get left in the dust with a story better built for parents. Worry not, kids. Jack-Jack was such a small part of the last film but becomes the physical comedy jewel. His many sequences have all the simplicity of a Looney Tunes short with all the wonderment of comic book battle. He such a fascinating character that even the usually isolated Edna can’t resist his adorable nature, leading to some of the cutest scenes in the whole film.
So much of the Incredible universe has been dialed up for this return that original almost feels like looking through binoculars. We learn more about the world of heroes, finally getting to see more of them showcase their powers in action rather than hear about them past-tense. Highlights of these heroes include a nervous girl that can conjure dimension shifting portals and an elder that can barf streams of lava, perfectly named as Reflux. The ice-themed Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) finally receives a bigger role than a bookend support, showcasing the full extent of his frost magic that could put Elsa to shame with his trails of ices and tidal waves of snow. The world itself feels more defined in detail, from the futuristic trains to the 60s-style TV stations. The soundtrack by returning composer Michael Giacchino is much more striking with a few somber numbers not afraid to go straight into jazz territory. And in case Brad Bird hasn’t made it clear how big an influence Jonny Quest was on this franchise, his love is laid bare with Easter eggs of a Quest Industries logo in the background and literally showing footage of Jonny Quest on television in this world.
Incredibles 2 boasts such intelligent storytelling and intricate design that I have no doubt parents will be twice as enthralled as the kids. A word of caution: the film is nearly two hours (uncommon for animated family films) and features a few scenes of strobe-style lights filling the screen which may irritate the eyes of little ones. This may limit the film’s enjoyment for some kids, but the ones old enough or patient enough to sit through will be treated to an experience that never tries too hard to impress and never talks down to its audience. I recall watching the previous film in college and being so entranced that my roommates and I would be up until 2 am simply because one of us wanted to watch it at 12 am. Better make it 4 am now for what is easily a quintessential double-feature.