For some reason, the hype and love for the original Incredibles film was something that kind of passed me by. Don’t get me wrong, I laughed along in the cinema with the rest of you those fourteen years ago, and I can’t profess to being ‘too cool’ for kid’s movies as a 15 year old in 2004 (I’m still not that cool), but the Incredibles was just a film that rarely entered my thinking process when it came to pondering a top five Pixar list. That doesn’t mean, though, that I wasn’t excited about the prospect of re-entering the universe. In fact, with a PR promise of the main focus being on Elastigirl this time around, I went in with the rare feeling that this could be a sequel I like better than the original.
I wasn’t wrong. Although released fourteen years later, Incredibles 2 takes off literally seconds after the end of the 2004 original. Everyone’s favourite super powered family are forced to fight off the bizarre mole like villain Underminer, but in doing so they attract far too much public attention to themselves are forced to go in to hiding of their own volition after the government shuts down the Superhero Relocation Program. This time around, and in a very timely narrative choice, it is Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) who is contacted by a man named Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk), a millionaire businessman who is committed to reversing the law that criminalises superhero through public acts of heroism and good PR.
In an attempt to avoid the messy, costly style of heroic destruction that often follows Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), Elastigirl is chosen as the new figurehead of this operation, and whilst she becomes embroiled in a fight against a mysterious cyber villain known as the Screensaver, dad has to stay at home with the kids and face his own battles in the form of Violet’s (Sarah Vowell) new crush, Dash’s (Huck Milner) penchant for trouble and baby Jack Jack’s many, MANY emerging powers. With a little babysitting help, of course, from our favourite super-suit designer, Edna Mode (Brad Bird).
From that brief synopsis you can see that Pixar, in their own special way, are joining the increasingly popular and increasingly brilliant party of putting female characters, and bad ass ones at that, in centre stage. While Elastigirl is out there doing her stretchy thing, Mr. Incredible is, initially unwillingly, forced to take on the ‘stay at home dad’ role. As one might expect, plenty of comedy is produced from these situations, and whilst it is always refreshing to see this kind of gender dynamic switched around, I can’t help feeling that the filmmakers succeeded in giving mom her new lease of life and autonomy at the expense of falling in to some of the more tired ‘bad dad’ cliches in the at home scenes. On balance things do work out in the end, but I will say that a studio as aware and intelligent as Pixar could have explored some more interesting options in the rich context that they created.
Incredibles 2 is a great animated feature, filled with inventive and engaging action and some truly hilarious comedy sequences. In terms of the Pixar blueprint, it is much more in line with the likes of the Cars and Monsters Inc. franchises in the sense that it provides heaps of fun, but not necessarily the smack you in the mouth, tear you up emotional depth that the studio has previously achieved with the likes of Up, Wall-E, Inside Out and, most recently, Coco. Just to clarify, this isn’t a bad thing at all. I don’t always need to be left emotionally drained by a cartoon. Sometimes I just want to experience some great visuals and have a super fun time, and that is precisely what Incredibles 2 gives you.
Alongside the likes of Monsters Inc., Toy Story and Finding Nemo, the voice performances in the Incredibles franchise are particularly important to the pictures. To be quite honest, I could listen to Holly Hunter talk all day long, and her unique, unmistakable drawl adds so much character and depth to Elastigirl. It’s the kind of voice I immediately associate with hard talking, hard acting characters like Clarice Starling, for example, and Hunter provide Elastigirl with so much of her grit and power before the character’s features have even been animated.
The same high quality contributions are made by the rest of the voice cast, with Craig T. Nelson in fine form as Mr. Incredible. Samuel L. Jackson’s Frozone is quite possibly the most beloved Pixar character with the least screen time, and he brings back some of that same cool charm whilst not overdoing it on the references that made his presence in the original so iconic.
Anyone who has seen Bob Odenkirk in the early seasons of Better Call Saul will be familiar with the more gentle, authentic side to a character that he can bring, and he is at arguably his most sincere as Winston Deavor, providing the charm and warmth that makes for a likeable “get the band back together” character arc.
Overall, Incredibles 2 is a great two hours to spend in the cinema. As one has come to expect from Pixar, the film plays just as well for grown adults as it does for children, and with such a long gap between franchise instalments in this case, many of us will have had the pleasure of seeing the first from one perspective and the second from the other. The Incredibles series still doesn’t quite make it on to the very top Pixar tier for me, but there is no doubting that this sequel is a triumph. Funny, entertaining, at times touching, and extremely timely.