Film review | The Incredibles 2

Brad Bird’s long-awaited sequel to the Pixar classic The Incredibles (2004) is a warm and welcome addition to an already-winning formula • 3.5/5

The Incredibles 2
The Incredibles 2

Super-heroes are currently oversaturating our media landscape, but when Brad Bird’s original, quasi-parodic take on the in The Incredibles (2004) made it to the big screen courtesy of Disney’s 3D animation stalwart studio Pixar, the genre certainly did not dominate the field of pop culture as it does now.

Sure, there may be some shared brushstrokes between The Incredibles and other landmark superhero properties. Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s Watchmen (made into a film by Zach Snyder in 2009) also places superheroes in a more grounded context, while Marvel’s more recent Civil War story-line – also travelling across the spectrum of comic book and cinema – has our heroes facing government regulation that aims to curb their activity for the common good.

But being a family-friendly property that also has very little truck with earnest superhero mythology and the foibles of franchise-building, Bird’s animated feature was allowed to be both more playful and more touching.

Now, the same mix is being re-introduced into the scene years later, and while the long delay between the two films may have sagged franchise momentum and/or resulted in heightened expectations, the resultant film thankfully has both heart and intelligence to spare.

Going by The Incredibles, the Parr family – made up of Bob aka Mr Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), Helen aka Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), Violet (Sarah Vowell), who can become invisible and generate forcefields, the super-speedy Dash (Huck Milner) and the toddler of the team, Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile) – are once again forced to retire their superhero personae after a disastrous encounter with the supervillain the Underminer results in a highly PR-unfriendly destruction of public space. Temporarily shunted off to a dingy motel, the family resign themselves to reconsidering more mundane alternatives to their lifestyle... until a stranger comes knocking.

The entrepreneur Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) is a superhero fan, and he wants to see the Parr family – and all other “supers” around the world – reinstated to their former glory. With the help of his sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener), Winston is determined to overturn the law that makes superheroics illegal, and picks out Helen to be the guinea pig in this lobbying drive, much to the chagrin of her husband, who is now charged with taking care of the kids in the plush new apartment offered to them by Winston, while Helen is kitted out with a brand new costume and hi-tech bike to match.

The charm that underlies Brad Bird’s Incredibles endeavour is very much in evidence here, and the risk of repetition is undercut by the domestic sphere more than the superheroic one. Bob’s fumbling with the kids yields to many moments of hilarity – chief of which comes courtesy of his youngest, Jack-Jack, who discovers a whopping array of 17 superpowers in a series of hilarious set-pieces as his exasperated dad looks on.

It will come as a shock to most to remember that the original Incredibles came out a whopping 14 years ago, and the sequel does fine work of making things just that tiny bit more topical for the adults – especially the parents – in the audience. Beyond Bob’s basic parenting mishaps – it’s always fun to watch a colossus collapse under the weight of helping their middle child with maths homework, and fail to deal with his daughter’s hormonal outbursts while also failing to put the youngest to sleep – it’s Helen who takes control of the meat of the story. This of course brings up issues of representation and agency, and by isolating Elastigirl as the bona fide hero for the bulk of the running time, gives us a true heroine to root for, and one we can believe in.

And while the build-up to the finale may be a bit staggered – building up in episodic increments as we ping-pong from Bob to Helen’s respective storylines – when it all comes together, it does so in a customarily riotous technicolour blast.

The verdict

A treat for fans of the original and a heartfelt example of what Pixar does best in any case, the long-awaited sequel to the Incredibles is as much an animated action-hero romp as it is a wry look at parenthood and the foibles of domestic life. Perhaps a tad overlong and suffering some pacing issues due to its back-and-forth narrative, its heart is very much in the strong place and keen to beat all throughout, while director Brad Bird succeeds in packing the story with incident and often hilarious set-pieces.