In a culture saturated with heroes, the greatness of “Incredibles 2” is made more incredible

By Steve Pulaski

The Incredibles is both one of Pixar’s most appreciated properties and one of the studio’s most difficult franchises. The first film challenged the industrious company to animate human beings, something they only very recently mastered. This long-awaited sequel has the daunting task of competing with a more dynamic playing field of superhero epics to serve as points of comparison, while nonetheless having its theatrical release in America bookended by Avengers: Infinity War and Ant-Man and the Wasp, as if to assure there’s no lull between superhero blockbusters. Almost needless to say at this point, especially after the pleasant surprises of both Monsters University and Finding Dory, Pixar succeeds yet again with a sequel that’s a total blast.

Amidst a saturated market and an entirely new generation of moviegoers with different demands, Incredibles 2 is a callback to what superhero movies used to be as well as the beloved first installment that started it all. Remaining in place is writer/director Brad Bird, who shows he’s still one of the most talented individuals when it comes to shooting and choreographing an action sequence. In maintaining tonal consistency, retaining focus on inclusions such as an intriguing villain and strong commentary, and uniting it all under a spirited assortment of characters, Incredibles 2 does what was ostensibly impossible and makes itself feel like no time has passed at all — while, better yet, proving the wait was absolutely worth it.

The film picks up moments after the first film, with the family face-to-face with The Underminer. The fight leaves the entire city in shambles, and authorities blame Mr. Incredible (voiced by Craig T. Nelson) and Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) for exercising their superhuman powers as opposed to letting the laws and authorities in place govern the land. In a fit of defending both his powers and his family’s actions, Mr. Incredible incites a combative discourse by saying the job of those with physical gifts is to assist those who do not have them, in a move that furthers the film’s Randian politics. The family manages to get bailed out by Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) and his sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener), who want Elastigirl to be the face of crimefighting in hopes the selfless actions of superheros will be legalized once again.

With his wife out saving the world from a tech-savvy supervillain, Mr. Incredible reassumes the suburban dad role of Bob Parr for his three children. His teenage daughter, Violet (Sarah Vowell), is optimistic about her date with the cute neighborhood boy, Tony (Michael Bird), until she’s given every reason not to be thanks to the inadvertent actions of her father. The rambunctious Dash (Huck Milner) embraces the intricacies of the family’s safehouse, which is one of Winston’s many lavish mansions, and little Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile) is finally coming into powers of his own. All of these things compound on Mr. Incredible’s sanity, as he gradually grows more sleep-deprived between figuring out how to contain Jack-Jack’s abilities and learning the “new” way Dash is being taught math in school. As a result, he enlists in the help of his pal Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) and Edna (Brad Bird) while allowing his wife to get acclimated with her new job.

Incredibles 2 is thematically meaty much like its predecessor. Where the first film took a look at the constrictive nature of suburban living that was partly used as a guise for why the family had to retire their superpowers, this film examines the difficulty both Bob and Helen have in distinguishing when to be parents and when to be superheroes. The two juggle the weighty responsibilities both roles bring, and added into the mix are their children growing and learning how to adapt to a world that doesn’t want their contributions. Intertwined in the screenplay are themes of public perception of superheros, enhanced by the musings of Winston, who in one scene talks about the media’s unbiased reporting being biased in its very nature simply in regards to the footage it chooses to show of any given story.

I’m afraid by saying this I’m making Incredibles 2 sound loftier than it actually is. The real treat is seeing how whip-snap and engaging Bird makes this spectacle. Much like the original film, its follow-up comes brimful with glorious action sequences that show just how far Pixar’s animation has come in 14 years. Similar to Monsters University, this sequel comes boasting improved lighting and visuals with great dimensions. The opening minutes rank among one of the densest and most visually exciting sequences Pixar has ever committed to doing, and even if the final may be a tad too cacophonous, it’s truly unbelievable how visceral Bird is when it comes to staging some nonlinear violence.

There’s a sequence involving Elastigirl rescuing a runaway train that is excessive in the best possible way, especially as we see her stretch her torso and motorcycle as she grinds on the sides of buildings and billboards in her order to stick a landing. Mr. Incredible’s dual-threat strength and quickness allow for a different kind of flexibility when faced with peril, and any scene Frozone is in comes equipped with some uniquely interesting ways in which ice can steer even The Underminer off course. All of this adds up to one of the reasons The Incredibles is so universally loved: it’s contagiously fun. The way in which Bird delivers the action recalls the posters and paratext of the series with its noirish look and sleek presentation of outlined characters as opposed to the rubbery appearance many CGI-ed humans produce. The black and red colors clash like heroes and villains, exploding with a synergy that only animation can effectively house.

Even if you find the politics of Incredibles 2 a bit shaky or disagreeable, you can’t deny that with the abundance of animated commodities American cinema sees every year, that its themes go beyond the tiresome ideals such as “be yourself” or “the golden rule” ideology. As someone who tries to see animated films outside of “DDI” (DreamWorks, Disney-Pixar, and Illumination) any given year, the space between Pixar and its second-tier competitors has yet again been stretched further. It’s not because the animation is so great, although it very much is, but because with each technological innovation, another thoughtful story seems to follow suit.

Grade: A-