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Thursday, 21 June 2018

Incredibles 2

(PG) ★★★★

Director: Brad Bird.

Cast: (voices of) Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, Huck Milner, Eli Fucile, Samuel L. Jackson, Bob Odenkirk, Catherine Keener, Brad Bird, Jonathan Banks, Michael Bird, Sophia Bush.

It's always best to wear matching outfits on family outings.

So there's this tweet:
... which is spot on and I couldn't agree more, but the proof is in the pudding, isn't it?

Cars 2 and 3 are easily the worst of the Pixar pantheon. Maybe waiting 14 years might have made them half-decent films. Or maybe after 14 years, someone might have realised "we don't really have good plots for any Cars sequels - let's do something else".

Cars movies aside, Incredibles 2 is well worth the wait. Like its predecessor, it's a super-smart breakdown of family dynamics that just so happens to be wearing a superhero costume and parading around as a "kids movie" (oh how I despise that term).

Picking up right where we left off 14 years ago, the Parr family is taking on subterranean supervillain The Underminer. But the resulting battle and its collateral damage merely reinforces the rational behind the banning of non-caped crusaders such as Bob Parr's alter-ego Mr Incredible (Nelson) and his wife Helen AKA Elastigirl (Hunter). The authorities come smashing down like Thor's hammer (it's called Mjolnir, I'm not even going to pretend like I didn't know that).

Relocated one last time, the family is at a loss as to what to do next. That is until they are introduced to mega-rich superhero enthusiast Winston Deavor (Odenkirk) and his tech whiz sister Evelyn (Keener), who have big plans to return the likes of The Incredibles to their rightful place as protectors of society.

The first Incredibles film was a masterclass in character creation that used its genre to perfection. The ever-flexible-ever-bending mother, the always-must-be-strong father, the hyperactive kid wanting to burst free, the teen withdrawn to the point of invisibility. and the unknown quantity that is a new baby - it's a wonder it hadn't been done before. But it was the interaction of these players and the celebration of family that made the first one sing, and this one successfully carries the same tune - just in a different key.

These elements are expanded, flipped, and evolved in Incredibles 2. The family unit is still at the core, but this time it's Helen Parr pulling on the spandex and saving the day while Bob stays at home with the kids. Director Brad Bird makes the most of this role reversal, using it to make some pithy points about society and gender roles, but really it's just a way to put the characters in interesting positions to see how they react (which is something every good sequel should do). 

This is the most fascinating part of the film. It largely moves away from the "loving tribute, silly send-up, and spot-on satire" and into fairly standard superhero fare (part of the plot echoes Batman Forever to be honest) that never rises to the levels of the original. The set pieces work well though, in particular a dazzling seizure-inducing fist fight between Elastigirl and central villain the Screenslaver, as well as an all-in-brawl in the Parr house where half a dozen baddies take on Frozone (Jackson) and the three junior incredibles.

More so than the first film, this one is about the kids. Jak Jak (Fucile) steals every scene he's in, but the dynamic between Violet (Vowell) and Dash (Milner) and their parents is pushed more to the fore. This movie feels less about being husband-and-wife and more about being mother-and-father. Aiding all this is yet another wonderful voice cast, with Odenkirk in particular a great addition.

As with most sequels, Incredibles 2 takes a bigger is better approach, but where that approach really works is in the production design, score, and world-building, rather than the spectacle. The retro-futurism of the original is taken to the next level, Michael Giacchino's wonderful score is even jazzier and more ambitious than before, and the world the Parrs inhabit feels less like a city and more like a ... well ... world. 

There are some missteps along the way - some scene ordering feels a little off, Bob Parr's inability to genuinely support his wife takes his character a bit too far in the wrong direction, and the previous film's self-awareness is lacking.

But overall this is another Pixar success. Fun and funny, exciting and enjoyable, it is a triumph of character that continues the previous film's visual and musical coolness. I'd prefer not to wait another 14 years for another sequel, but if it's as good as this I won't be disappointed. 

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