Of all the Pixar or Disney animated films released in the last 20 years, THE INCREDIBLES was easily the one that lent itself best to a franchise. After all, comic book heroes tend to have extendable stories. Still, the 2004 Oscar-winning classic about a family of superheroes didn’t get around to releasing a sequel until this month. In some ways, it would have been wonderful if it hadn’t and left well enough alone. Yet if you’re going to do a sequel, INCREDIBLES 2 is the way to do it. It echoes all the best things from the original and may have even surpassed the terrific action set-pieces from the first.
This sequel picks up right after the end of the original with the expansion of the attack by the Underminer baddie digging up more villainy for the Parr family to fight. Bob Parr/Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) uses all of his he-man strength to thwart the character (voiced by John Ratzenberger) and his family joins in the battle. Helen/Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) extends her talents all over the terrain to help stop the Underminer’s runaway truck, and the kids do what they can too. Violet (Sarah Vowell) creates protective force fields and disappears at will, while Dash (Huck Milner) lives up to his name, rushing about to undermine the Underminer wherever he can.
That first breathlessly exciting scene sets the stage for how the team will interact together, not to mention how the family friend and fellow super Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) will help out where he can. You’d think that such an elaborate and thrilling action sequence would be hard to top, but the movie does so throughout. At times, INCREDIBLES 2 even eclipses similar action that’s been on display in many of the live-action Marvel films that Disney also spearheads.
And even though the Incredibles thwart the Underminer’s destruction, two things go awry. The bad guy escapes, and the superheroes get in trouble for coming out of the woodwork. After all, their ilk has been banned in the world due to their powers being deemed too dangerous. The Parr family retreats to a dingy motel and worries about how they’ll make ends meet. That’s when a telecommunications tycoon named Winston Deavor shows up. As voiced by Bob Odenkirk, you expect him to be supercilious, but instead, he’s actually an honest huckster.
Deavor, and his behind-the-scenes tech genius sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener), plot to create a campaign to bring the supers back and Elastigirl is put at the front and center of it. That sends the overly macho Bob into a flaccid funk, but Helen is thrilled that she can strike one for her contemporaries, her family, and womanhood. This film is feminist and forward-thinking, and it dovetails nicely off of the conversation about superheroes and the patriarchy that WONDER WOMAN started last summer.
Elastigirl’s job is to showcase how vital supers are, and her first battle ends up being with a new villain called the Screenslaver. He not only likes hacking into the world’s computer screens, but he has hypnotizing tricks that turn the viewers into mindless sheep susceptible to all kinds of wrong directions and fake news. (Remind you of any news network out there?) Meanwhile, as Helen takes on the role of breadwinner, Bob becomes a stay-at-home dad. He has his own Herculean tasks to conquer like struggling to take care of baby Jack-Jack who’s developing many different powers and help Dash figure out the new math.
One of the most delightful surprises of the film is that Bob isn’t awful at being a dad. He starts out clueless and afraid, yet manages to get it together and heroically take care of the household. And even when he screws up Violet’s date with a classmate, he manages to work towards fixing his mistake and gaining the forgiveness of his daughter.
All of the characters are deepened this time out, and it’s poignant to see Violet struggle with her first crush at school. Surprisingly, the biggest laughs in the family are delivered courtesy of Jack-Jack. He not only has a wide range of ill-timed powers, but writer-director Brad Bird hands him the funniest sequence in the story as he battles a raccoon in the yard. Watch out, Scrat, from the ICE AGE franchise, you have competition from another intrepid and hungry critter!
Bird manages to mix thorough character development, smart fun, biting satire, and exciting action as you’d expect, and his success here will likely warrant another visit with this delightful family. He also voices the costume designer Edna Mode again for the sequel and her scene is a comic highlight. (Can an Edna Mode short be far in the future? I would imagine not.) If there’s anything that is less than incredible here, it is in the identity of the Screenlaver, but that’s a small quibble. For an industry where some superhero franchises are starting to wear out their welcome, this one proves that it definitively should suit up again.