Right before the opening credits of this week’s film, the stars appear onscreen to both apologize for how long its taken the film to make it to the screen, and to assure us the movie we were about to see would be worth the wait. I thought this was odd, considering we’d already bought our tickets to “The Incredibles — bought them early, in fact, to avoid a sell-out. But I guess this speaks less to the sequel and more to what a cultural phenomenon the original film was.
“The Incredibles” was released in 2004 — four years before “Iron Man” and the Marvel Universe would arrive to change movies forever. There had been a few successful super-hero movies at that point — “Spider-Man” and a couple of “X-Men” movies, but nothing like the cinematic landscape we have today. Director Brad Bird and his Pixar team decided to dive into this relatively new genre and do something extraordinary. First, they made a beautifully realized period piece, setting their film in the early 1960s. And second, and most importantly, the filmmakers decided that their story was going to be about a family, and the difficulties a family faces when there is a change of life — a new baby, a new job, retirement, etc. “The Incredibles” covers it all, and still manages to be one of the most exciting, most engaging, and funniest super-hero films ever made. And, of course, everyone assumed a sequel would be coming. Not necessarily fourteen years later, though.
Where most films would decided to tell a new story, maybe a setting their story in the ’70s or ’80s featuring a grown-up Violet and Dash, Bird and Co. wisely decided to go against expectations and start this film at the exact moment the last one ended. The themes that were resonant in the first film are still resonant and there are more family stories to tell — this time around the Parr family is dealing with a change in the family bread-winner and burgeoning new teenage relationships.
After a particularly destructive battle with The Underminer, the Incredibles are taken into custody and read the riot act by the police for their illegal attempt to apprehend him. Shadowy fixer Rick Dicker smooths things over one last time, and the Parr family are sent off to live in a motel until they can work out a new situation. And, despite the family bonding that occurred in the first film, Helen, aka Elastigirl, is adamant that their adventuring days are behind them.
That doesn’t last long, however, as an enthusiastic young tycoon approaches Bob and Helen, along with buddy Lucius, Frozone, and proposes a scheme to reestablish Supers’ legal status. Telecommunications mogul Winston Deaver, along with his designer sister Evelyn, plan to rebrand Supers by allowing the public to follow along in the adventure. By equipping Elastigirl with a body camera, the Deavers plan to change public perception and eventually get the law banning Supers reversed. The hitch, however, is that they only want Elastigirl for the time being, meaning Bob will be relegated to the homemaking role. “Mr. Mom”-style humor may seem a little tired, but these characters are so engaging and well-crafted that it works. And, while Mr. Incredible is battling math homework and a baby brimming with new powers, Helen is embracing her newfound freedom and attention as the world focuses on her exploits. But all is not as it seems and a nefarious new villain is about to turn everything upside down.
There are small moment in each of these series where the dialogue — particularly during arguments between Helen and Bob, feels forced. But that is likely due to the fact that it often feels real. These characters are incredibly (sorry) well-written and the filmmakers do a masterful job of making their travails both relatable and exciting. Bob Parr, in particular, is beautifully crafted, both by Craig T. Nelson, who voices him, and Bird, who wrote him. His struggle with identity is multi-faceted and nuanced and I appreciate the fact that they are not afraid to make him a little unlikeable at times. His relationship with baby Jack-Jack is hilarious and heartwarming. The baby, as you might have guessed, steals the show with his plethora of abilities, and this is where you see the animators and writers really having fun with the whole idea of superpowers. His scene with a villainous raccoon is by far the funniest thing in the film.
Holly Hunter is, as usual, perfect in her role, and it was fun to get to see the action focused more on her this time around. In fact, there are a lot more roles for women and girls this time around, as Violet’s (voiced by author/historian Sarah Vowell) story takes a more central role as she tries to navigate her way in high school and through a potential romance. There are even new Supers that emerge, the principal of which is Void, a nervous young woman whose hero-worship of Elastigirl will come into play. It’s interesting how well this movie is able to root itself in a ’60s aesthetic, while remaining completely relevant to what’s going on today.
You might imagine a movie like “The Incredibles,” which seemed so fresh and new in 2004, would feel played out today, but by focusing on universal themes and sticking with a story about a family, as opposed to one about saving the world, “The Incredibles 2” remains an incredible afternoon out at the movies. Grade: A
“The Incredibles 2” is rated PG for mature themes and cartoon violence.
Chris Jenness is an art teacher and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.