"Incredibles 2" may be arriving an incredible fourteen years after 2004's "The Incredibles
," but this cheerfully clever, exuberantly written sequel doesn't miss a beat getting back into the swing of things. On top of being an engaging, character-focused superhero adventure, it earns further favor as a love letter to both stay-at-home dads and working moms. Watching the crowd-pleasing, never-pandering finished film, it is clear returning writer-director Brad Bird (2015's "Tomorrowland
") took his time developing the script, ensuring he had a worthwhile story to tell and an interesting angle in which to take his protagonists, the super-powered Parr family.
Picking up the second the first film
ended, married couple Bob Parr/Mr. Incredible (voiced by Craig T. Nelson) and Helen Parr/Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) kick into action to stop megalomaniacal drill-happy bad guy The Underminer (John Ratzenberger). When they ultimately fail to nab him or stop his destruction, the government is quick to declare the work of so-called "supers" as illegal. Just as Bob and Helen are left at an existential crossroads, savvy telecommunications tycoon Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) and his talented developer sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener) make them and their pal Lucius Best/Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) an offer they can't refuse: defy the law for the express purpose of proving once and for all super-powered crime-fighters can make a positive, even necessary, contribution to society. With Helen chosen to lead an inaugural mission that takes her away from her family, Bob offers to hold down the fort at home, in the process growing closer to daughter Violet (Sarah Vowell), son Dashiell (Huckleberry Milner), and infant Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile) while coming to appreciate the sacrifices Helen has made as a mother. Meanwhile, Helen's rescue of a runaway train reveals a new mystery villain in her midst known as Screenslaver.
True to form for beloved animation studio Pixar, "Incredibles 2" is a giant family entertainment with deeper, more universal themes at work and a sophistication in its storytelling that gives them four-quadrant mass appeal. Early on, Helen and Bob have been left down and out. With their house destroyed in an explosion, they have moved the family into a motel as they plot their next move. Deciding to accept a job offered to them by the Deavors, one that is technically illegal but in service of a greater good which they hope will remove the stigma against superheroes, is a risk they decide to take. That the Deavors enlist Helen for their first assignment leaves Bob initially feeling emasculated before he comes around to fully supporting his wife's ambitions and abilities. It's a snapshot of gender politics that feels particularly relevant in the present-day "Time's Up" climate, and it is especially inspired of Brad Bird to give Helen the picture's most capable, pro-active role.
Segueing between a lively adventure saga and an amusingly honest domestic comedy, the film devises a number of top-notch action set-piecesthat aforementioned train sequence could go toe-to-toe with the very best found in a Marvel movieinterspersed with Bob's relatable misadventures as a dad struggling to get Jack-Jack to go to sleep, flustered by Dash's math homework, and hoping to help Violet when her date with a classmate does not go as planned. It goes without saying Pixar's computer animation is gorgeous, but it warrants being highlighted. The imagination and level of detail bursting from every frame is considerable; the high-tech, modernistic glass house in which the Deavors put up the temporarily homeless Parrs is a feast for the eyes, full of cascading waterfalls and devastating views. Screwball moments, including a showdown between Jack-Jack and a feisty raccoon, display real comedic verve, as does the welcome return of Bob and Helen's illustrious costume designer Edna Mode (Brad Bird), who forms a surprising bond with Jack-Jack when she discovers he is exhibiting extraordinary gifts of his own.
"Incredibles 2" does what superior sequels should: it takes its already-established world and characters in fresh, organic directions while devoting more time to develop the key relationships viewers fell in love with the first time around. Take away their superpowers and the Parr family could be any family, one with ups and downs, struggles and victories, and ultimately love. At nearly two full hours, the third act might have been improved with a tighter edit, and one moment involving Lucius' wife, never physically seen but heard as a nagging offscreen voice, strikes as tone-deaf in a way the rest of the film is anything but. While the identity of mind-control villain Screenslaver will likely not come as a huge surprise, it scarcely matters since the picture far transcends this twist, its success or failure never hinging upon a single climactic reveal. "Incredibles 2" is another winner for Pixar, seemingly effortless in its savvy and confidence, excitement and heart.