*** (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Brad Bird
STARS Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter
The vigorous embrace of mediocrity above all else currently grips a 21st century America that has become too lazy to think for itself (as witnessed by the ascendancy of FOX News and reality TV), and writer-director Brad Bird smartly worked this national tragedy into an animated superhero tale that was, well, pretty incredible.
Released in 2004, the Pixar gem The Incredibles focused on a family of superheroes whose members consisted of dad Bob Parr/Mr. Incredible (voiced by Craig T. Nelson), mom Helen/Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), daughter Violet (Sarah Vowell), son Dash (Spencer Fox), and baby Jack-Jack. The Parrs were presented as the modern American family that was expected to conform to the societal status quo (i.e., blend with the bland) rather than champion its own uniqueness. The domestic conflicts triggered by the clan's suburban ennui gave way to an acceptance of each person's individuality and, consequently, an ability to pool their resources as both crime fighters and family members.
That’s pretty heady material for what’s ostensibly a kid flick, but, as Pixar has proven time and again, the company’s greatest works provide relevance and resonance for adults as well. Yet when it comes to the sequels, only the Toy Story follow-ups offer comparable gravitas. Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo and Cars were all followed by further chapters that still provided the entertainment value but eased the brakes on anything more substantial.
Surprisingly, that’s the case with Incredibles 2 as well. In this outing, arriving a full 14 years after the Oscar-winning original, superheroes are still outlawed and not allowed to engage in feats of derring-do. The philanthropic Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) hopes to change that, and he and his sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener) elect to showcase Elastigirl executing amazing deeds in an effort to sway the public into again supporting superheroes. (Hunter returns to handle vocal duties, as do all of the primary players except Fox, who’s been replaced by Huck Milner as the voice of Dash.)
While Helen is running around the world performing good deeds, a grouchy and exhausted Bob remains at home looking after the kids. It’s only when a villain known as the Screenslaver gets the upper hand on Elastigirl that Bob and the rest of the brood — with assists from Frozone (returning Samuel L. Jackson) and, of course, the invaluable designer Edna Mode (Bird himself) — must get involved in the fray.
Full of energy and imagination (if a tad overlong), Incredibles 2 is a guaranteed good time at the movies and certain to be one of the summer’s biggest hits. But while it frequently feints in the direction of something more meaningful, it usually backs away and merely lathers on more thrills. That’s not exactly a debit, but anyone expecting the complexity of its predecessor might be left wanting.
As before, the most satisfying element in the picture is the Parr family itself. The plot thread involving Jack-Jack and his seemingly infinite number of powers devours too much screen time (plus, what fun is a seemingly invincible superhero with limitless resources?), but the attention accorded to the other four family members is once again lovely, with Bob, Helen, Violet and Dash all retaining their standings among Pixar’s very best characters. Forget that Marvel gang: On screen, they’re the true Fantastic Four.