The Incredibles 2: Movie Review

When my wife and I went to see the new Incredibles sequel, it started with what honestly felt like an apology: Holly Hunter and Samuel L. Jackson and Craig T. Nelson helpfully explaining why it had taken Pixar so long to do an Incredibles sequel. I thought that was weirdly unnecessary. In fact, Incredibles 2 required nothing of the kind. It’s an energetic, imaginative family/superhero comedy, a perfectly enjoyable piece of popular entertainment. With–tread lightly here–some non-intrusive-but-not-uninteresting political overtones and ramifications.

Both of the Incredibles movies posit a world where superheros exist, do good,save people, catch crooks–especially supervillains– but due to the property damage they sometimes cause, have become politically problematic. I think that’s a funny conceit, and I also totally get it. How many cities have been wrecked in the Avengers‘ movies? A popular superhero movie cliché is the fight scene where one superhero flings another one into a building, which is wrecked, though the superhero remains unscathed. I think that particular trope started with Richard Donner’s Superman, way back in 1978, which might be the first one where special effects were sufficiently advanced to make things like Christopher Reeve flying and smashing up things look realistic. Anyway, if any of that were real, someone would have to pay for all those ruined buildings, and probably means government, and that means tax increases, which no one likes, least of all politicians. So, yeah, ban superheros. Absolutely. Make ’em get normal-people jobs, put away the capes and skin-tight lycra costumes, punch a clock. Darn right too. Why do they get all the excitement and, you know, celebrity? Not fair.

In the first Incredibles, that’s precisely what Bob Parr (aka Mr. Incredible), voiced by Nelson, has done. His superhero costume has been put in a closet, and barely fits anyway. He works as an insurance executive, and hates everything about it. But that’s what you do when you have a young family. Nights, he sneaks off with Lucius/Frozone (Jackson), and monitors police radios. And dreams of doing superhero things. And Bob’s wife, Helen/Elastigirl (Hunter), is the occasionally nagging voice of domestic conventionality. And then a really nasty supervillain shows up, and Mr. Incredible is again needed, along with Frozone and Elastigirl.

Now, in the sequel, the politics are ever so slightly more front-and-center. A business mogul/political operative, Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk), is into superheros, about the way Elon Musk is into space travel. Winston’s plan is to choose one particularly appealing and personable superhero, and send her out to rescue people, stop bad guys, do superhero stuff. Generate some positive public support. (He’s assisted in all this by sister Eleanor (Catherine Keener). And the hero he chooses is Elastigirl. And Helen is both intrigued and reluctant. But the money is good, hubby would seem to be temporarily unemployable, plus she really likes being Elastigirl. So she jumps at it.

So the movie splits focus, and we cut from Elastigirl’s heroic antics, to Bob’s best attempts at parenting. And he has some challenges. Daughter Violet (Sarah Vowell), is busy negotiating the terrifying world of junior high crushes and romance. Son Dash (Huck Milner), is a boy’s boy, flunking math, into sports,  hyperactive, and also possessed of a super-speed superpower. And they’re the easy kids. There’s also baby Jack-Jack (voiced by Eli Fucile), who has a baby’s energy, a baby’s lack of discipline, plus a whole raft-full of emerging superpowers, some of them truly freaky. Bob is quickly exhausted. And seeks help, from, obviously, his favorite costume designer, Edna Mode (Brad Bird). And boy does she come through.

That’s the main body of the film, those intercut scenes, with Elastigirl’s heroing, and Bob trying to be a good Dad. Meanwhile back at the ranch. And the scenes with Bob and the kids are far more engaging. I mean, Elastigirl is an awesome hero, and her action sequences are cleverly conceived and beautifully drawn. But a very long extended scene of a battle royale between Jack-Jack and a racoon is a comedic masterpiece, brilliant and also terrifying (Jack-Jack is , after all, a small child, and racoons are predators! And susceptible to rabies! Yikes!) All the stuff with Bob at home is quite brilliant.

The last third of the film feels more pro forma. There is, inevitably, a supervillain, and convention requires that it be someone we’ve already met, which means either Winston or Evelyn, or both of them. I figured out which one it was ten seconds after the character made an appearance, and, it turns out, got it right. And of course, the kids have to ride to Mom and Dad’s rescue. There are also a bunch of lesser superhero characters, with amusingly varied powers, who also have to be exploited, then rescued. The final action sequences are, I suppose, sufficiently exciting and fun for the movie to work. But Bob and Jack-Jack are such comic gold, they overshadow the rest of the movie.

But I also like the film’s take on, well, politics, on irrationality and fear and prejudice. Superheroes, in the world of this film, are extraordinarily talented and capable individuals with almost limitless capacities. But they ‘cost too much.’ And must therefore be discriminated against, guarded against, regulated. Much the way immigrants are today. The Incredibles handling of weighty issues of xenophobia and prejudice isn’t remotely heavy-handed. It’s in the background, ever-present but not front-and-center. But it’s still there. So nice to see Pixar take a stand.