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Monday, June 18, 2018

The Incredibles 2

For once Pixar's recent sequel trend doesn't just feel like a cash-grab to sell more toys. Here's hoping Toy Story 4 can continue the trend...

The superhero film landscape is now rather different to what it was when the first Incredibles came out - unbelievably, some fourteen years ago. We had a couple of good Spider-man and X-Men films back in 2004 but Batman Begins was still a year away and the juggernaut that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe wasn't even a pipedream. More than just a fabulous entry into Pixar's ever-expanding canon, the Incredibles was a major step forward for superheroes on the big screen.

Not that there weren't great superhero films before it - there had been plenty of damn fine superhero films since Christopher Reeve first brought Superman to vivid, cinematic life way back in 1978 - but more even than Spider-Man 2, which came out earlier that same year, the Incredibles captured comic book superheroics in a way that no film before it had. Indeed, even now, with Marvel Studios pumping out a still-endless stream of superhero films that may annoy superhero-skeptics but are almost always brilliantly received by audiences and critics alike, the Incredibles is still a high point of the genre; mixing family dynamics, humour and wonderfully kinetic superhero action to wonderful effect. And, three failed attempts to brings Marvel's "First Family" to the big screen later, the Incredibles is still, by several million lightyears, the best Fantastic Four film ever made. 

The question, then, is less whether there is still a demand for a sequel to a film that is now older than much of its target audience but whether the Incredibles 2 can come remotely close to capturing the magic of Brad Bird's masterpiece. The answer, inevitably, is no, of course it can't - but that doesn't mean it doesn't make one hell of a go at it.


Picking up immediately where its predecessor left off - itself a bold move considering how much time has passed between the two films in the real world - it quickly becomes clear that for all of the progress they made in the first film, things aren't much better for the Parr family and their fellow superheroes. After their rather less than successful attempt to stop the Underminer, public opinion is once again stacked against the superheroes, with the US government further cracking down on any and all superhero activity. Just as Helen/ Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) and Bob/ Mr. Incredible (Craig T Nelson) have all but given up hope, hanging their costumed identities up for good, a pair of wealthy siblings approaches the superhero family with an offer to rebrand the family and restore their good name. The kicker? They want to start only with Helen, leaving Bob at home to look after his superpowered kids, Violet (Sarah Vowell), Dash (Huck Milner) and baby Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile) - the latter of whom being a sometimes literal explosion of new and unexpected powers. 

With Brad Bird once again on board as writer and director and with almost all of the old cast returning, it's not entirely surprising that the Incredibles 2 follows on so effortlessly from its predecessor. The animation is even better (but considering how much of a gamechanger the original was in terms of animation, not much better) but it's still much the same mix of heart, humour and superhero thrills as before with the same note-perfect cast being joined by a bunch of new, similarly great voices, including Bob Odenkirk and Catherine Keener. It has a new villain in the form of the Screenslaver - a cool-looking and quite powerful threat who can mind-control anyone near an electronic screen but who, intentionally, has none of the personality of the first film's Big Bad, Syndrome.

This all, obviously, points towards the Incredibles 2 being easily the best Pixar sequel outside of the Toy Story franchise and a breezy, heartfelt, funny and beautiful-looking animated superhero extravaganza for fans of all ages (with a killer jazzy score by returning composer, Michael Giacchino, to boot) but by being more of the same, it lands up being slightly less of the same. While the first film felt like a genuine Event, something truly and undeniably special, the Incredibles 2 feels like just another installment in the further adventures of the Parr family. In a way, this is a pretty neat trick in its own way as it only further reflects its serialized comic-book aspirations but it does make the film ever so slightly underwhelming. That its plot and its villain aren't quite as well put-together as those of the first film certainly doesn't help either.

It's odd, basically, that Brad Bird has always claimed that the Incredibles 2 took so long to get off the ground because he needed to wait for the right story to come along when the story that this sequel tells is quite so ordinary. Bird's a brilliantly creative talent (I still stand by Tomorrowland as a flawed but highly underrated film) so it's hard to believe that he couldn't have come up with this particular film as quickly after the end of the Incredibles as the actual story being told here. 

All that said, though, only the hardest of hearts won't be won over by the Incredibles 2. It's worth the price of admission for Jack-Jack and Edna (again voiced by Bird himself) alone - not to mention the hilarity of when the two finally meet - but top to bottom, it's a hard film not to like. It's bright, colourful, funny, exciting, moving and a total treat for the eyes and ears - it's just unfortunately turns out that the Incredibles aren't quite as special the second time around.


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