Writer: Brad Bird
Cast: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Bob Odenkirk, Catherine Keener, Samuel L. Jackson
Running time: 118mins
What’s the story: Helen Parr, aka Elastigirl (Hunter), is recruited by brother and sister tech tycoons (Odenkirk and Keener) to rehabilitate public perception of superheroes. Leaving Bob Parr, aka Mr. Incredible (Nelson), to deal with kids Violet, Dash and Jack-Jack. But, supervillainous trouble looms in the shape of the mysterious Screenslaver.
What’s the verdict: The Incredibles was such a delight that despite climaxing with a cliffhanger (or, more accurately, a threat from below) a follow-up never felt necessary.
Writer/director Brad Bird clearly shared this opinion for years. Maybe it was the Incredibles like derring-do of 2011’s Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol that started an itch for further Parr-family adventures. Or perhaps his sophomore live action stumble Tomorrowland sent him back to the warm familiarity of animation.
Whatever the reason, we should rejoice at this Bird’s triumphant return to the costumed coup. Incredibles 2 is a worthy sequel, brimming with humour and heart, fizzing with invention and excitement.
The Incredibles came out in 2004, before Nolan’s Batman and the MCU redefined superhero movies. Indeed, Bird’s original movie seemed to be the only other film bar X-Men and Spider-Man that could get big-screen super malarkey right. Before he was leading The Avengers, Samuel L. Jackson was Frozone (making a welcome return here).
Bird hasn’t forgotten that cliffhanger, picking up where the first film left off with the Parr’s facing the mole-man like Underminer.
Yet, this opening seems to backtrack the climax of the first film, the family once more squabbling over who must hold baby Jack-Jack while the others save the day.
And the plot – Helen being contracted by brother and sister tech billionaires Winston and Evelyn Deavor (Odenkirk and Keener) to battle crime and rehabilitate the public perception of superheroes – is essentially a gender flip of The Incredibles. Leaving Bob Parr to handle Jack-Jack. And attempt to understand Dash’s homework. And dealing with Violet’s adolescent boy troubles.
But, the delight of an Incredibles movie lays in character first… second and third. Followed by wit and imagination. Then design and action set-pieces. And finally, when buzzing on the sheer enjoyment of the film, realising how smart the whole thing is.
By gender flipping the first movie, Incredibles 2 also beats Captain Marvel to claim the title of Disney’s first female-led superhero film. Helen Parr is also a middle-aged mom voiced by 60-year-old Holly Hunter, so take that Wonder Woman. Not that this is a competition. But if it, was Incredibles 2 wins).
Keeping Bob at home taps a goldmine of sitcom scenarios. Mr. Incredible proves decidedly unstellar at household chores and fights fiendish feelings of emasculation as his wife becomes the hero.
The villainous Screenslaver’s plan – manipulating people’s obsessions with screens, transforming them into unthinking slaves – looks like a sly commentary on how the world has shifted since 2004. A subplot about all superheroes becoming homogenised drones seems a bit rich coming from Disney, owners of Marvel Studios.
Even if the film abides by the Marvel style of underwhelming villains over-shadowed by more interesting protagonists.
Bird has the chutzpah to locate these modern concerns within a defiantly retro-setting. The year may never be revealed, but the James Bondalike set-design and score, plus The Outer Limits and Johnny Quest on TV locate this spiritually in the 1960s.
Alongside privacy questions, gender politics and parental anxieties (Jack-Jack’s powers are exaggerated metaphor for the terrible twos), Bird delivers a half dozen spectacular set-pieces that are a gauntlet throw down to his live action peers.
Infinity War’s moon-tossing fight scenes are small beer compared to Elastigirl pursuing a runaway bullet train or going full Crouching Tiger in a room of pulsing lights. Or Jack-Jack battling a raccoon in a spectacular war of escalation.
Elsewhere, Bird tosses in helicopters, planes and a hydro-foil, which may be a nod to Thunderball’s climax, to thrilling effect.
The voice cast are typical Pixar first rate, and we’re introduced to a whole new roster of lovable superheroes with offbeat and/or gross-out powers.
Action franchises often have trouble sticking the landing on a third movie. So, if Bird wants to leave it at two excellent adventures, we’re happy. We’d also be content to wait fourteen more years for an outing as whip smart as Incredibles 2.