Film & TV

The Family That Saves Together

Incredibles 2 (Disney/Pixar)
The Incredibles 2 meets the standard of the original — and that’s the problem.

I can picture moviegoers feeling slightly disappointed by Incredibles 2, but it’s very much more of the same. The original film simply isn’t as good as everyone remembers.

When The Incredibles arrived in theaters, three days after the reelection of George W. Bush, it was manna for parched lips in the superhero-movie desert. There was only one other offering in the genre released that year (Spider-Man 2). The Incredibles brought to the party a soupçon of philosophical heft, a dash of meta wit, and some amusing family dynamics, all of which elements later emerged more fully fleshed out in better movies. Spider-Man: Homecoming, for instance, has far greater success imagining the collision of superpowers with drab daily life, The Lego Batman Movie is a much funnier and more imaginative spoof of superhero conventions, and many of the DC Comics and Marvel movies made in the last 13 years are more dogged in their pursuit of weighty themes.

Typical of the comic sensibility of Brad Bird, who returns as writer-director and loves to imagine superheroes doing battle with traffic, office politics, and lawsuits, the superhero family is hit with an unexpected cost-benefit analysis.

The elaborate action sequences and slapstick that eventually took over The Incredibles are even more dominant in the extremely blockbustery sequel, which features as much convoluted villainy as a James Bond movie and as much scenery destruction as any Michael Bay sci-fi epic. As before, though, Incredibles 2 has (just) enough smarts to stay engaging. Both films are perfectly satisfying entertainment, the main difference being that the earlier film had the advantage of being excitingly fresh at the time.

Typical of the comic sensibility of Brad Bird, who returns as writer-director and loves to imagine superheroes doing battle with traffic, office politics, and lawsuits, the superhero family is hit with an unexpected cost-benefit analysis. Their last adventure may have saved the day, but everything was covered by insurance, the bean-counters tell them, and anyway Mr. Incredible (voiced by Craig T. Nelson) did so much ancillary damage that his intervention may have been a net negative. His wife, Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), however, is in the habit of saving things without breaking other things, and she’s a natural to try to break the (continuing) ban on use of superpowers by saving a runaway train in pursuit of an unseen villain named Screenslaver. With occasional aid from Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson), she does most of the world-saving while her hubby is home on diaper duty, and this aspect of the film seems to be the one that most excites the critics, who have garlanded it with one of their highest accolades, the adjective “subversive.” Actually it’s about as subversive as a Jay Leno joke, but as a general rule, whenever liberal critics say “subversive,” you can mentally substitute the phrase “politically correct.”

Mr. I, tired and grumpy, is now Mr. Mom to the kids: awkward teen Violet (Sarah Vowell), impish lad Dash (Huck Milner), and the baby, Jack-Jack, who turns out to have more superpowers than the rest of the family combined. A large chunk of the movie is devoted to hijinks at home as Dad gets frazzled and Baby gets into Looney Tunes–style mischief, such as an extended fight with a raccoon. Given that it’s all an extended slapstick digression, the baby’s antics get a bit repetitive, as do several scenes of Violet’s attempt to snag a date with a cute boy from school. At 118 minutes, this movie is incredibly long for a cartoon.

A brother–sister team of business moguls (Bob Odenkirk and Catherine Keener), frustrated that superpowers are illegal, want to make America super again. They back Elastigirl, hoping to generate so much favorable publicity that Supers, as they’re known, will be welcomed back in the community. Vanquishing Screenslaver looks tricky, though; the malefactor is well hidden behind his nefarious gadgets. Maybe it’s just me, but I thought the fell scheme was appealing: Screenslaver’s victims get entranced and zombified by their screens, which the baddie is exploiting in hopes of breaking a societal tech addiction. “You don’t play games, you watch game shows,” Screenslaver taunts us. Is this wrong? Is not Screenslaver actually the hero of this film?

Bird doesn’t tease out the foundation of Screenslaver’s plot (or any other idea) very far, though, and is content to expend most of his energy whipping up one mammoth action set piece after another. My excitement for these scenes as a group was not unlimited, and it faded as the movie went on; no matter how much mayhem you manage in a cartoon, it’s still all just drawings. Bird would have been better off exploring character, family dynamics, and the motives of that intriguing villain; instead, most of the movie is just smash and crash. Unusually for a Pixar movie, Incredibles 2 contains considerably more demolition than emotion.

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