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Review: ‘Incredibles 2’

Avoiding sequel-itis, Pixar’s latest is their best since ‘Inside Out.’

‘Incredibles 2.’ Image © 2018 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

Incredibles 2 is Pixar’s best film since Inside Out.

2 easily (and thankfully) avoids sequel-itis, aka the “Spaceballs II: The Search for More Money” syndrome, wherein tropes and scenes are recycled and shuffled to give undemanding audiences a familiar yet supposedly new experience. (The movie lampshades its one such moment when Helen “Elastigirl” Parr waits in a dark alley for a juicy crime to foil and mentions husband Bob’s identical behavior in the original film.)

Even though it’s been 14 years since the original Incredibles’ 2004 release, 2 essentially begins at the exact moment that movie left off, with the family about to face John Ratzenberger’s Underminer. The showdown goes poorly, the Parrs are ditched by the government (the “supers” are still banned) and wind up in a motel. Things look bleak until corporate bigwig and supers fanboy Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) and his tech-wizard sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener) arrive with a plan to rehabilitate superheroes in the public’s eye.

Their media blitz plan centers on Elastigirl, leaving the envious Bob a stay-at-home dad whose superpowers are absolutely no use when it comes to raising kids. (Cue the “dad’s in over his head” gags.)

Jack-Jack begins revealing an endless assortment of superpowers, from laser eyes to dimension-tripping to self-replication, completely flummoxing Bob. (I was a touch confused here; didn’t he see Jack-Jack reveal his powers at the end of the first film, until I realized no he didn’t: the only witnesses were the soon to be shredded Syndrome and us folks in the audience.)

Director Brad Bird has never been afraid of Big Ideas: the original Incredibles toyed with the Ayn Rand/Nietzschean idea of the superior being forced into mediocrity by a conformist society. (When it comes to people with extraordinary abilities, it’s interesting to note the only Pixar movies written and directed by a single person are Bird’s two Incredibles features.)

If anything, 2 is even more audacious, flipping the first film’s conceit on its head by attacking the very idea of the superhero: according to villain Screenslaver, our dependence on and worship of them renders ourselves powerless. (In another comment on modern life, Screenslaver uses the video and computer screens we spend most of our days staring at to hypnotize victims into doing his will.)

It’s an intriguingly meta moment: is Bird, by extension, questioning our embrace of the superhero genre—and Incredibles 2 itself? I was a reminded of a moment in last year’s My Little Pony movie where the villain declares “I’m so over this ‘cute’ thing”—was he by any chance speaking for the filmmakers who were becoming disenchanted with their pastel creations?

If Pixar has a weakness, its kryptonite is sentimentality—an over-reliance on heart-tugging if not tearjerking moments. It’s something Bird’s Incredibles films are invulnerable to (especially the original film with its action-movie body count). It’s not quite in the same league as that film but in 2 a blowsy looking Evelyn is often shown with a drink in her hand; the suggestion that one of the film’s main characters is tipsy a good deal of the time is pretty sophisticated territory.

2 introduces a slew of new supers to make up for the ones slaughtered by Syndrome in the first film. The one who gets the most screen time is “Void,” a total fan of Elastigirl who possesses the “Portal”-type superpower to create dimensional gateways. (It gets downright trippy when she creates a self-repeating portal onto the same moment stretching into a hall-of-mirrors infinity.)

The reveal of the villain’s identity took me completely by surprise, but in retrospect it’s fairly obvious and savvy viewers will likely figure it out way before I did. It’s not really a spoiler to let you know Incredibles 2 ends with things set right and the supers once again allowed to publicly save the world; nor is it a spoiler to tell you Pixar definitely has plans for an Incredibles 3. Let’s just hope it doesn’t take another 14 years to get here; that future film’s villain is capable of a lot of destruction in the meantime.

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Joe Strike has written about animation for numerous publications. He is the author of Furry Nation: The True Story of America's Most Misunderstood Subculture.