It is impossible to calculate the degree to which the world has shifted since The Incredibles came out in 2004. For starters, that was four years PIM—pre-Iron Man—back when the superhero-saturated culture from which we can now never escape was all but unimaginable. And computer animation has improved every bit as dramatically as the culture has changed. That point was driven home the day before I saw Incredibles 2 in Hollywood, when it was announced that John Lasseter was exiting his post as chief creative officer of both Disney Animation and Pixar following allegations of sexual harassment.
But in the world of the Incredibles, not so much as a minute has elapsed since we last broke bread with the super-powered family at its center. They are in the same row with the villainous Underminer that concluded the original picture, and are still dealing with a world that would rather legislate against those with extraordinary powers than deal with the insurance nightmare of allowing them free rein.
In that time, thankfully, the intellectual and psychological rigor and balletic set pieces that writer-director Brad Bird displayed in the original have become even more sharp and complex. Incredibles 2 overflows with ideas—the characters engage in philosophic debates during chase scenes or even while brushing their teeth—while retaining the stylistically spare and refined visuals that made the original film so refreshing. This is the rare sequel that packs constant surprises while still delivering on expectations.
One of the many ways Incredibles 2 feels of the moment—especially after the $41.5 million haul that Oceans 8 pulled in this past weekend put to rest the canard that female leads don’t open event pictures—is that much of the action is on the shoulders of Holly Hunter’s Helen (Elastigirl). In an attempt to market “Supers” internationally and help overturn the law that bans them, a brother and sister team of telecom executives (voiced by Bob Odenkirk and Catherine Keener) enlists Elastigirl to fight crime. They equip her with a camera to record her exploits as well as a high-speed Elasticycle that is as adaptable as she is.
INCREDIBLES 2 ★★★1/2
Meanwhile, back at their comically modernist new home, Craig T. Nelson’s Bob (Mr. Incredible) must navigate boy trouble (courtesy of Sarah Vowell’s Violet), the common core (via newcomer Huck Milner’s speedster Dash) and a baby, Jack-Jack, whose blossoming super powers may be putting theirs to shame. Rest assured: the film is too smart to recycle clueless dad jokes. Truth is, though Bob is lost in any situation where he is required to be normal, he’s actually a pretty good father.
Like Black Panther earlier this year, Incredibles 2 is a reminder of what a collective joy it can be when a filmmaker with a singular vision and purpose makes a film of boundless scope and budget. Brad Bird controls every aspect of this movie with many shades of humor, the ability to address important topics with a light touch, and a gracefully moving camera that responds to the action with the flowing artistry of Ginger Rogers following Fred Astaire in a waltz. The movie is a further showcase for composer and regular Bird collaborator Michael Giacchino, whose score deftly expands on concepts he explored in the original. Like the movie it accompanies, Giancchino’s music glistens with both knowing irony and genuine emotion.
Bao, a touching and creative short film that imaginatively introduces the family themes explored by Incredibles 2, precedes the main event. Overall one is left with the feeling that even without their storied leader and founder at the helm, Pixar’s best days continue to be in front of it.