Starring the Voices of: Holly Hunter, Craig T. Nelson, Samuel L. Jackson, Bob Odenkirk, Catherine Keener, Sophia Bush, Sarah Vowell, Huck Milner and Brad Bird
Written by: Brad Bird
Directed by: Brad Bird
Studio: Pixar Animation Studios (Walt Disney Pictures)
Run Time: 1 hr, 58 min
If you look over any of those 10 Best Superhero Movies Ever lists that litter the interwebs like so many peanuts, you’ll find plenty from the Marvel and DC canons, but you’re also likely to find The Incredibles: Brad Bird’s sly homage/parody of the genre that arrived relatively early in our current cycle of superhero mania. There was clearly a wealth of opportunities for a sequel – the universe occupied by Brad’s super-powered family unit was just begging for exploration – and yet true to Pixar form, they waited to find the right story instead of just cranking out another movie for the sake of a few bucks.
2018 looks a hell of a lot different than 2004 on the superhero front. And yet if anything, the change makes The Incredibles 2 all the more charming: a smart, slick follow-up to the original that stays true to its origins and – in the process – distinguishes itself with its pitch-perfect retro-charm.
It picks up immediately after the original film ended, with the sinister Underminer (voiced by Pixar good-luck charm John Ratzenberger) launching an assault on the city and the super-powered Parr family stepping up to challenge him. The results don’t go quite as well as they had planned, leaving them on the wrong side of a society still not ready to welcome supers back into their ranks. Salvation appears to arrive with a pair of wealthy benefactors (voiced by Bob Odenkirk and Catharine Keener), who think they can turn the tide of public opinion and need a public do-gooder to help. The twist? This time it’s Helen Parr AKA Elastigirl (voiced by Holly Hunter) who has to go out and fight evil, leaving her husband Bob (voiced by Craig T. Nelson) to stay home and play Mr. Mom to the three kids.
That provides plenty of comic material for the cast to play with, as Bob learns how super you need to be to act as a parent and Helen tackles a new villain with tenacity and grit. The highlight comes in a face-off between the Parr’s baby Jack-Jack and a fiendish raccoon, but Bird’s inventiveness and creativity shine in every moment. That extends not only to the kinetic fight sequences, but to the supporting cast as well: a bevy of colorful new heroes who fill out the corners of this universe quite nicely.
The real trick, of course, is maintaining its arch tone and on-point send-up of superheroics while still playing the scenario as straight drama. That’s one of Pixar’s secret weapons – having its cake and eating it too on the comedy-drama balance – and Bird delivers without missing a beat. The Incredibles 2 has plenty of ammo to play with – everything from the Batmobile to the awkward necessity of secret identities gets a turn in the tumbler – but he keeps the characters front and center, and never makes jokes at the expense of their emotional core.
As a result, the film holds onto the timeless appeal that the first movie effortlessly, evoking The New Frontier or Marvel’s Silver Age heyday with just enough subversive winks to remind us that it’s all in the service of popcorn. Though expertly plotted and delivered with pitch-perfect pacing, it has nothing on its mind beyond two hours of entertainment, and on that field.
And yet in a pop culture landscape absolutely saturated with superhero stories, it stands out just as boldly as its predecessor. There’s something comforting about its take on four-color do-gooders, bolstered by terrific vocal performances and emphasizing just how much fun it can be to follow these figures around. (Bird’s beloved Edna Mode makes an appearance as well, and it’s just as spot-on as the rest of the film.) It’s a work of pure craftsmanship, designed to hold up to repeat viewings and making a grand companion piece to the first film. We keep hearing about superhero fatigue, and sooner or later I suppose it will kick in. We haven’t seen any sign of it so far however… and no movie as good as this one is going to break the streak.