It’s been 14 years since Pixar’s The Incredibles laid the foundations for the pop culture zeitgeist of superhero syndrome that has since followed. In that time, we have seen countless heroes, villains, prequels and sequels with even more set to follow from Marvel and DC Studios.
The Incredibles 2 though, kicks off immediately where the first film ended – the Parr family (still the best screen-versions of The Fantastic Four) once again find themselves in a state of turmoil and transition. Following a battle with the Underminer, supers are still illegal and relying on mysterious billionaires for their next assignments. Whilst such a plotline may seem all too strangely familiar, the key difference is that it’s now Helen/Elastigirl (terrifically voiced by Holly Hunter) at the centre of a superhero PR strategy, whilst Bob (Craig T. Nelson) must take on the role of a stay-at-home dad and face his own challenges in the household.
The Parr’s new household allows time for a wonderfully-choreographed sequence that would make Tony Stark’s property look mediocre, but it soon becomes apparent that writer/director Brad Bird’s script is keen to maintain a key focus on the family drama. Bob must juggle helping out with his son’s homework, preparing his daughter for a first date and changing soiled diapers, whilst Dash and Violet are left to face the trauma of their sibling rivalries and adolescent angst.
The real household highlight, however, is baby Jack-Jack whose scenes are genuinely hilarious as he’s given substantial screen time to play with his powers. Whether he’s multiplying, crawling through walls or shooting lasers out of his eyes, Brad Bird and his team are clearly having the time of their lives writing, animating and choreographing Jack-Jack’s actions with an incredible attention to detail. Credit must also be given to Bird’s eye for action, which is wonderfully complemented by Michael Giacchino‘s classy score.
The film does great work of switching between the louder, more riveting scenes involving runaway trains with Helen’s new role, and the quieter, more authentic scenes at home amongst all the action. Family values have frequently been at the forefront of Pixar’s oeuvre over the past decade, something harboured into Bird’s script. Although the film is largely aimed at a younger demographic, Incredibles 2 will resonate with older audiences with its portrayal of the responsibilities and predicaments of parenting. Contextually, there are messages about feminism and equality exercised through Elastigirl, and although the villain ‘Screenslaver’ feels somewhat lacklustre, the social commentary on screen addictions and mass media propaganda feels both prescient and palpable.
The majority of the film, however, does exactly what it says on the tin. Moving along with bursting energy and Dash-like speed, the flaws that occasionally surface are outweighed by the film’s charm and charisma that is embodied in the Parr family. Nostalgia junkies won’t be disappointed at the return of fan-favourites such as Frozone (Samuel L.Jackson) and Edna Mode, who is once again benefited with meme-worthy catchphrases and stellar life advice. “Done properly parenting is a heroic act. Done properly“. Newcomers Winston and Evelyn Deaver (Bob Odenkirk and Catherine Keener) are a worthy, formulaic addition, but the new supers feel far somewhat ordinary in comparison with the Parr family, a far cry from incredible.
To criticise the film for its tendency to play it safe would be a mistake – Incredibles 2 delivers its characters, fun and adventure with enough joy to make this a truly worthy sequel. An animated film that can also be enjoyed as a family film and a superhero film, the lengthy wait has been justified – and wherever Bird decides to take these characters next, I’ll certainly be there to enjoy the ride with them.