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Review: ‘Incredibles 2’

dfn-Incredibles2-poster-300Before 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.

Review: ‘Tomorrowland’

'Tomorrowland' (Disney)
‘Tomorrowland’ (Disney)
An adventure story for young people, Tomorrowland follows a plucky teenage heroine named Casey Newton as she attempts to save the world.

It’s a family-friendly film, with a buoyant, optimistic emphasis on the possibilities of a future in which technology has been harnessed for the benefit of mankind. Yet it’s also serves up a moral lesson about mankind’s reluctance to change, even in the face of dire warnings about the end of human society as we know it.

For much of its running time, Tomorrowland functions as a science-fiction mystery, with an opening featuring a grizzled George Clooney and an excitable Britt Robertson dithering over how to present the story. Clooney goes first, giving the origin of his character, Frank Walker, as a fantastically bright boy who heads to the 1964 World’s Fair in New York with his invention, a jet-pack that doesn’t quite work yet.

While there, young Frank (Thomas Robinson) meets Athena (Raffey Cassidy), who looks to be his age, and she introduces him to a fantastically bright future, filled with geegaws that are very suggestive of a far more animated extension of Disneyland’s very own Tomorrowland theme park section in the 1960s. It’s much more a world based on fantasy than science, but it looks exactly like something dreamed up by a science-fiction loving kid would have dreamed up in the 1960s.

The film then pauses, turning the stage over to Casey (Robertson). She’s revealed to be a fantastically bright young woman living in Florida. Her father (Tim McGraw) is a NASA scientist who’s about to lose his job because the nearby launch platform is shutting down. Her younger brother Nate (Pierce Gagnon) looks to be pretty smart, too, but it’s Casey who is trying in vain to delay the closing of the launch platform. During a legal entanglement, she discovers a mysterious pin among her possessions; touching the pin transports her to a magical world that looks much like the one that Frank first visited some 50 years before.

Soon Casey meets up with Athena, and then with the grown-up Frank (Clooney), and the point of the story will become apparent, but until then it’s a grand, motion-filled ride, as the ever-optimistic Casey deals with one challenge after another, all in pursuit of an undefined goal. It’s a wonderful way to handle an adventure story that’s aimed at young people, and for much of the movie it works wonderfully as a ticking clock.

Once the purpose of the mystery is exposed, however, the movie becomes more unsettled as it races to the finish. Tomorrowland originated with producer Damon Lindelof, who wrote the story with Jeff Jensen. When Brad Bird joined the project as director, he also took on writing duties with Lindelof, and while it’s difficult to say with any certainty, the movie feels like a lumpy blending of their strengths as writers. Lindelof, co-creator of TV’s Lost, is known for crafting extremely complicated mysteries; Bird, writer and director of the animated The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, and Ratatouille (he also directed the live-action Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol), is known for his mature view of nostalgia and partiality for moral lessons.

While Tomorrowland benefits from its mysterious scenario, the lead characters — let’s call them Grumpy and Happy to tie in the Disney mystique — fail to make much of an impact upon the story. We’re repeatedly told, for example, that Casey is special, but her intelligence is reduced to a series of hunches, not deductive reasoning. And Frank seems to have become little more than a paranoid, self-serving hermit.

It’s too bad that such an exciting setup is frittered away to little effect, or that the concluding scenes play as little more than an excuse for Bird to preach about the failings of mankind, via the voice of a character who pops up at the end. (That’s an idea that sounds stolen directly from The Wizard of Oz.)

Still, Tomorrowland has much to recommend it, especially for younger viewers and their parents, who should have a good time discussing the thematic issues raised. Overall, however it’s a reminder that yesterday’s Tomorrowland pales in comparison with today’s problems.

The film opens wide in theaters across Dallas and Ft. Worth on Friday, May 22.