It’s been 14 years since writer-director Brad Bird’s The Incredibles put a new spin on the superhero movie. In “movie years” that amounts to two generations; Walt Disney used to reissue his animated classics every seven years. The landscape is different from what it was, too; superhero movies are a lot thicker on the ground than they were in 2004. Can Incredibles 2 measure up to its predecessor? Can it even stand out from the crowd?
The answer is “yes” to both questions. Some of us are frankly sick and tired of comic-book superhero movies, but Bird makes the genre fun again.
Incredibles 2 follows a template very close to The Incredibles, albeit with a few new plot threads and the benefit of 14 years’ progress in the field of computer animation. The story picks up at the exact instant where The Incredibles left off, with the sudden appearance of a new supervillain, the Underminer (voiced by Pixar good-luck charm John Ratzenberger), and the Parr family swinging into action—dad Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), mom Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), daughter Violet (Sarah Vowell) and son Dash (Huckleberry Milner).
Once again, there’s a backlash against the resulting mayhem, and the Parrs have to go once again into hiding. But they and their friend Lucius Best, aka Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) have drawn the sympathetic attention of telecom tycoons Winston (Bob Odenkirk) and Evelyn Deavor (Catherine Keener), who want to mount a PR campaign to restore all superheroes to legal status. Their approach is to focus on Elastigirl, who is not only telegenic but is also able to ply her super-trade with less collateral damage than the well-meaning but heedless Mr. Incredible. So mom goes off being super while dad stays home to mind the kids—including the infant Jack-Jack, who has an impressive array of powers of his own that he’s still too young to control.
Meanwhile, the Underminer is dropped completely in a mysterious entity calling himself Screenslaver, able to remotely hypnotize innocent bystanders into carrying out his criminal plans.
The truth is, there are so many Marvel and DC Comics sequels flooding multiplexes these days that what was a “new spin” in 2004 tends to look like a broken record today. For example, the phalanx of superpeople the Deavors recruit look a lot like X-Men, and Bird’s creation, so delightfully original back in 2004, starts looking unfortunately derivative. Balanced against that—and to be honest, tending to outweigh it—is Bird’s clever wit, the excellent voice work by the cast (especially Holly Hunter and Sarah Vowell), and the customary, breathtaking Pixar polish.
Paradoxically, the Parr family—the Incredibles—these retro-1960s animated caricatures, feel much more real than all the Batmen, Iron Men, Thors, Deadpools and other live-action comic-book characters in the Marvel and DC universes put together. It’s a credit to Bird’s powers of invention.
Personally, I wouldn’t mind if Marvel and DC never made another movie. Bird does it better—plus, so far, he’s given us a nice long break between chapters.