A film review by Craig J. Koban June 28, 2018


2018, PG-13, 118 mins.


Craig T. Nelson as Bob Parr / Mr. Incredible (voice)  /  Holly Hunter as Helen Parr / Elastigirl (voice)  /  Huck Milner as Dashiell Robert Parr / Dash (voice)  /  Sarah Vowell as Violet Parr (voice)  /  Bob Odenkirk as Winston Deavor (voice)  /  Catherine Keener as Evelyn Deavor (voice)  /  Samuel L. Jackson as Lucius Best / Frozone (voice)  /  Brad Bird as Edna Mode (voice)  /  John Ratzenberger as The Underminer (voice)  /  Jonathan Banks as Rick Dicker (voice)  /  Isabella Rossellini as Ambassador (voice)  /  Sophia Bush as Voyd (voice)

Written and directed by Brad Bird




Upon reflection, the super hero movie genre was not at its peak when Brad Bird's THE INCREDIBLES was released back in 2004.  This was years before the first IRON MAN was released and before the Marvel Cinematic Universe was even a pop culture entity.  Hell, THE INCREDIBLES even predated Christopher Nolan's groundbreaking DARK KNIGHT Trilogy, which fundamentally altered the makeup and landscape of the genre in incalculable and influential ways.  Yes, there were super hero films before THE INCREDIBLES, but the massive popularity of the genre was still in its relative infancy during the early 2000s, awaiting for it to truly burst and achieve audience and critical respect in the subsequent years. 

This preamble only serves as a means for me to emphasize how stupendous Bird's second foray into feature film animation was, especially after he made a real seismic splash for himself with 1999's THE IRON GIANT.  THE INCREDIBLES was not only a bravura animated film for Pixar (and still remains one of my personal favorites from the studio), but it emerged as a stunning and shrewdly crafted super hero film that paid respect to comic book mythology of old while satirizing it all the same.  Using a blockbuster sense of scale that would later typify future super hero team up extravaganzas like THE AVENGERS and JUSTICE LEAGUE, but also done with an incredible amount of dry wit and heart, THE INCREDIBLES was a thoroughly thrilling and magnificently executed package, one that seem ripe for endless sequel opportunities.   

Unfortunately for fans, Bird would take 14 years - during which time he dabbled in live action fare like MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - GHOST PROTOCOL and TOMORROWLAND - to see a follow-up entry to successful fruition. 



Rather thankfully, the blandly titled INCREDIBLES 2 joyously bursts with just as much unbridled imagination and style as its predecessor.  The fact that, aesthetically speaking, its animation is a quantum leap jump in terms of overall quality is hardly surprising, seeing as Pixar and other studios have been able to fine tune and perfect computer animation to new heights unheard of in 2004.  Bird's sequel might be the most sumptuously gorgeous animated film released to date, but the key to THE INCREDIBLES success was not just in the area of opulent eye candy; it contained intelligent scripting that played up to super hero conventions while subverting them in chronicling the lives of a costume clad family.  INCREDIBLES 2, much like Bird's previous animated films, matches its visual panache with progressive minded storytelling that respects his characters and the audiences that consume their stories.  The fact that this new installment fails to have the first one's freshness of approach and artistic ingenuity is only inevitable, not to mention that - on paper - it never really traverses down daring new ground for this series or the genre as a whole.  Yet, INCREDIBLES 2 makes up for such creative oversights in wholeheartedly delivering on propulsive super powered infused action, vibrant animation, an endlessly energetic spirit, and, most importantly, characters that we latch on to and care about. 

Unlike other comic book themed sequels, INCREDIBLES 2 doesn't involve any significant time jumping or flash forwarding in its plotting.  Instead, the story takes places immediately after the conclusion of the 2004 film, and during its opening we see the super hero family - Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), Elastigirl (Holly Hunter, and their children Violet (Sarah Vowell) and Dash (Huck Milner), with an assist from family friend Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) - work to save their city from the menace known as The Underminer.  Even though they are successful in eradicating this evildoer, the event leads to some sizeable collateral damage that raised some governmental eyebrows for breaking the country's ban on all "supers."  As a result, the family is forced back into hiding as a typical middle class suburban unit.  Even though they were initially offered protection by government agent Dicker (Jonathan Banks), he feels that he can no longer assist them with keeping their identities a well guarded secret. 

Fate, as it always does, steps in with Winston (Bob Odenkirk), a powerfully affluent super hero fanboy that wants to publicly and financially sponsor the family and return them to the proud stature of respected crime fighting celebrities.  Assisted by his tech genius sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener), Winston wants to take a cautious and patient approach with the clan and wishes to use Elastigirl (the more responsible minded of the parents) to be the new face and spokesperson of his movement.  With Elastigirl now being given renewed super hero duties, Mr. Incredible is forced to assume to role of stay at home dad, tending after his children's needs, including dealing with his baby Jack-Jack's newly acquired powers.  Things get complicated for everyone when a new shadowy super villain known as Screenslaver emerges and uses hypnosis through strobing TV screens to control anyone he wants.  The deeper Elastigirl begins to dig as to the whereabouts and identity of Screensaver the more dark and twisted secrets she uncovers that could threaten her family and city as a whole. 

Again, one of the simple pleasures of INCREDIBLES 2 is in its overall sequel approach, showing Bird atypically deciding to open his new film up precisely where the last one ended.  This serves to maintain visual cohesion with what we saw 14 years ago (nobody has aged and everyone looks the same), but it also helps ground the film's new themes of domestic crisis and parental role reversal.  I especially liked how Bird gives his female protagonist in Elastigirl her time to shine, seeing as she is given the full spotlight to emerge apart from her husband's rather large shadow and become a self-actualized and respected hero all on her own.  For the opening half of INCREDIBLES 2, Bird plays with two facets of the family dynamic: Elastigirl becoming the sole bread winner (in terms of fighting bad guys) whereas Mr. Incredible faces an even larger uphill battle of waging war on the never-ending tedium of staying home to raise his kids.  There's certainly something to be said that this overall plot arc is hardly revelatory (that of a dad struggling to find meaning in being a homemaker while the mother partakes in the more exciting and fulfilling life of leaving home and exploring work...been there, done that), but Bird makes his characters so inviting and winning that you're willing to disregard such narrative contrivances. 

Elastigirl's solo arc also helps serve up the film's most stunningly dynamic action sequences, which involves her racing through the city on her motorcycle - and making some rather ingenious usage of her unique stretching capabilities - as she's trying to stop a runaway elevated train from destroying property and killing citizens.  The greatness of INCREDIBLES 2 lies in Bird's unparalleled confidence in pushing the very boundaries of what's visually possible in not only animated films, but super hero blockbusters altogether.  This tour de force sequence - one among many others - highlights Bird's committed willingness to wow and astound, which gives the film such a propulsive, never look back vitality.  Obviously, the animation on display maintains the first films charmingly vintage facade (the world here looks aesthetically trapped in the idealism of the 50s while maintaining a contemporary edge), but nevertheless represents an astonishing uptake in detail and nuance.  And unlike so many super hero films these days that are drowned in dark nihilism, its still a breath of fresh air to see INCREDIBLES 2 makes its heroes feel colorful and optimistic.   

Of the things that hurt this sequel, running time would be the most glaring one.  Despite the fact that INCREDIBLES 1 was not a short film either, this sequel doesn't maintain the same level of story fluidity and momentum, which sometimes makes it feel longer than it actually is.  One of the other problems is that INCREDIBLES 2 takes a bit too long to actually get to the meat and potatoes of its main story and build to payoffs, something that will make very young children in attendance uncomfortably squirm.  Perhaps my largest qualm with this entry is that its chief villain - especially compared to the deeply personal motives of the one in the first INCREDIBLES - is pretty weak and unmemorable.  Screenslaver possesses potentially intriguing powers of mass mental manipulation, but when this antagonist's true motives are revealed in a would be shocking plot twist it never really packs any sizeable dramatic punch.  Super hero films are usually only as great as their villains, and INCREDIBLES 2 frankly has a lackluster one.   

And maybe INCREDIBLES 2 bares too much of a resemblance in overall scripting to the first one, which unfortunately makes it all unwind with a bit too much predictability.  That's not to say that INCREDIBLES 2 isn't spectacular fun in its own right; as a piece of family entertainment and a solidly action packed super hero epic, it most definitely deserves big screen viewing.  It might not be as cunningly satirical as what came before and never seems too compelled to take calculated risks with the characters and propel them in daring new directions, but INCREDIBLES 2 remains safe sequel comfort food that goes down exceedingly well.  Living up to the 2004 franchise starter would be a Herculean task, to be sure, but witnessing Bird playfully return to this blissful cinematic toy box was mostly worth the long wait.

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