Do you remember 2004? For me, aged 28, it’s literally half a lifetime ago.
The biggest film releases were Shrek 2, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Spider-Man 2, and a little movie called The Incredibles, Disney’s first foray into the then relatively uncontested arena of superhero movies.
It told the story of a family, the Parrs – dad Bob (Craig T. Nelson), mum Helen (Holly Hunter), teenage daughter Violet (Sarah Vowell), preteen son Dash (then Spencer Fox, now Huck Milner), and infant son Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile) – who just so happened to have superpowers.
Now, fourteen years on, nineteen Marvel movies later, countless billions at the box office, it all seems a bit quaint. With nineteen Marvel movies under Disney’s belt and more than $6.5 billion at the box office, Pixar has delivered into our hands a sequel, titled simply Incredibles 2. But where does it fit into a world where the superhero movie is the defining genre?
Picking up exactly where The Incredibles left up, with the Parrs launching into battle with The Underminer (Toy Story‘s Hamm, John Ratzenberger), a maniacal Mole-Man-like super-villain equipped with a massive drill. Cue a botched attempt to stop a bank robbery complete with a disproportionate, likely avoidable amount of collateral damage.
And so the Parrs find themselves back at the Safari Motel – their home was destroyed during the original film – with no income – Bob also lost his job, remember – and on the outs with the government; despite the best efforts of their handler, Dicker (previously the late Bud Luckey, to whose memory the film is dedicated; now Breaking Bad‘s Jonathan Banks).
Faced with homelessness, they are approached by slick telecoms billionaire Winston Deaver (another Breaking Bad alum, Bob Odenkirk) and his scatty inventor sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener). The pair are looking for a test case to help reestablish the public’s trust in superheroes and thereby change the law. To do so, they need Helen AKA Elastigirl.
Side note: Which technically means she beats out Captain Marvel as the first female lead in a Disney superhero movie.
Sidelined by the Deavers’ cost-benefit analysis – smashy is more destructive than stretchy – Bob (formerly Mr. Incredible) takes on the role of stay-at-home dad. Meanwhile, Helen is targeted by a mysterious new villain known as Screenslaver, who uses screens to turn heroes and civilians alike into mindless drones, utterly lacking in free will and autonomy.
But that’s enough about Disney.
Drawing on the retro-futuristic charm of Disney’s Tomorrowland, like Jonny Quest and The Jetsons, the film has a vibrancy and detail that illustrates just how far animation has progressed this last decade and a half; even if the Parrs haven’t. Violet is having boy issues, Dash is struggling with New Math, and as for Jack-Jack…
What Incredibles 2 lacks in surprise and originality, it makes up for in sheer visual inventiveness; mostly concerning Jack-Jack’s array of abilities. Teleportation. Self-multiplication. The ability to slip into other dimensions – which, along with the presence of Craig T. Nelson allows for a neat little Poltergeist reference – or turn into a demon. Kids, eh.
Writer-director Brad Bird, returning from the original, brings a vibrancy and dynamism to proceedings – be it a Space Age monorail chase or a sequence involving a face-off between Jack-Jack and a masked intruder, which is, in a word, wild. Michael Giacchino breaks out the band, with a jazzy score that ’60s John Barry would have been proud to put his name to, with just a touch of Adam West’s Batman.
Incredibles 2 is a blast from the past – one that brings back favourites, like droll Teutonic fashion maven Edna Mode (voiced by Bird) and Frozone (the, as always, too-cool Samuel L. Jackson), and a few new ideas, like a coterie of eccentrically-powered superhero groupies – lava-belching (acid) Reflux, anyone? It’s almost everything you might want, but, as fun and witty as this is it all feels a bit, well, Parr for the course.
While the film deftly touches on themes like the manipulation of the media – Winston thinks that un-banning superheroes is all a matter of perception -and marketing versus creativeness – Evelyn makes, Winston sells – even how superheroes reflect our own powerlessness, it ironically just goes to prove the original theme’s thesis (or at least that of its villain) that “When everyone’s super, no one will be.”
Still, they can’t all be Coco, and for a generation of kids that didn’t grow up with The Incredibles, this’ll pass the time nicely until Toy Story 4.