Before superheroes dominated the thinking of big Hollywood studios entirely, The Incredibles felt like a blast of fresh air in 2004.
Revolving around the Parr family, hiding out in suburbia because superheroes have become illegal, the film illustrated the very real dangers that might exist if super-powered people existed in the real world, weighed against the good that might be accomplished by such people if they were allowed to legally act upon their own altruistic intentions.
Written and directed by Brad Bird, The Incredibles followed up the filmmaker’s previous animated triumph, The Iron Giant, with an approach that felt very much ‘of the moment,’ a self-aware adventure that was filled with action sequences as well as commentary on contemporary issues. Bird completed his trilogy of outstanding animated films with another dissection of power and its relative value in Ratatouille, disguising his disgust in a heartwarming food story.
Bird then turned to live-action projects, first helming Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol to enjoyable, popcorn-chewing delight, and then faltering a bit with Tomorrowland, which resounded in visual splendors yet stumbled with its often-confusing, perhaps overly ambitious narrative.
Now he has returned to the friendly world of big-budget animation with Incredibles 2, which is absorbing and compelling to watch on the big screen, even though it doesn’t supply as much fresh material as his earlier animated endeavors.
Perhaps that was Bird’s intention? The new film picks up soon after the conclusion of the original. Bob Parr, aka Mr. Incredible (voiced by Craig T. Nelson), his wife Helen Parr, aka Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), their teenage daughter Violet (Sarah Vowell), their young son Dashiell (Huck Milner) and baby Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile) are in the government’s witness protection program — or, rather, the ‘super protection program’ — and struggling to get by in life.
Everyone in the family is superpowered, except for baby Jack-Jack, and remains eager to use their abilities to help ordinary citizens, especially when they come under attack by criminals and other villainous elements. Such activity is still illegal, however. And, after the family leaps into action to try and stop one such villain, not altogether successfully, the government acts swiftly to shut down the program and stop providing financial assistance.
Soon enough, however, possible salvation arrives in the form of Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) and his sister, Evelyn Deavor (Catherine Keener). Winston is the very public head of a large and very successful telecommunications company who is very much in favor of all superpowered people (or “supers”) returning to legality and he enlists Elastigirl in his public campaigning efforts. His sister Evelyn, meanwhile, likes to stay in the background while she develops innovative technology to further the cause.
As Elastigirl becomes a spokesperson for the “make supers legal” campaign, she is drawn away from her family, leaving Mr. Incredible to remain just Bob, a beleaguered ‘house husband’ who is quickly overwhelmed by domestic duties and raising their children on his own. Violet is a rebellious teen and Dashiell is a mischievous kid. Oh, and Jack-Jack starts to demonstrate that, while he cannot talk yet, he definitely has inherited a few powers of the “super” variety.
The pace is lively and the extended action sequences are well designed for maximum impact, each differentiated by the primary character(s) involved. Elastigirl’s early sequences, for example, are dark and shadowy, reminiscent of film noir in color as she prowls about the city in search of crimes to foil.
Incredibles 2 flies along with such visual grace, bolstered by witty dialogue and insightful character moments, that the absence of any great driving force behind the film as a whole is not felt until the third act. It’s wonderful that the focus has been shifted from the male to the female perspective on things (in general), yet beyond that, the film doesn’t have much else on its mind, or at least nothing that approaches the depths explored in Bird’s first three animated features.
In that sense, Incredibles 2 resembles Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol: a roaring good time that won’t necessarily stick in your head for any particular reason, beyond its considerable value as feel-good entertainment.
The film opens in theaters throughout Dallas and Fort Worth on Friday, June 15.