Review: The Incredibles 2

The Incredibles 2 is great fun for all ages, reinforcing Pixar’s strengths when it comes to making what are ostensibly children’s films that adults can enjoy.

Picking up where the first film left off, the family of superheroes save the day but are punished by the authorities, until billionaire Winston (Bob Odenkirk) offers Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) a chance to re-enter the world of superheroics and stop a sinister supervillain. Mr Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) meanwhile becomes a stay at home dad, juggling teenage angst, tricky maths homework and a baby more powerful than the rest of the family put together.

What I enjoyed about the first film was that it never pandered down to kids, and was a sparkily animated and fun superhero romp crossed with a spy film. This time around, it feels like a family comedy plus a superhero film mixed with a conspiracy whodunnit, and it’s remarkable that it manages to balance these elements so well.

Director and writer Brad Bird returns after filling the same roles in the original, and after a brief sojourn into live action with the excellent Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol. His handle on action and comedy is clear to see even through the special effects, while quieter, talkier scenes maintain your attention.

This series started around the time superhero films were gearing up (pre Marvel Cinematic Universe and Nolan Batman films), and from the start was clearly doing something quite different. Having started before the trend and picking up during it, Bird and Pixar make the movie more about the characters and the family than the superheroics, almost backgrounded here.

I particularly enjoyed the role reversal of the two leads, with its emphasis on mocking the traditional family roles, and on the importance of parents and partners sharing the load. Add this familial complexity to the struggles of the kids (from the mundane teen romance to the insane growing pains of the baby), and you get the sense that future films would only build on the strong central aspect of interesting characters – what Pixar does best.

Even though there’s been a 14 year gap, it doesn’t seem like it at all – everything bombs on! What is apparent is the improvement in special effects, with everything that much more impressively rendered. The characters have been updated too, but each still looks quirky and cartoony (even those in the background), so there’s no photorealism. A balance is struck between this exaggerated representation of the humans with the very sharply rendered settings and physical effects, which make the world feel real.download

The film’s writing and humour deftly balances amusing kids and keeping adults interested (particularly in the travails of the family’s youngest, Jack Jack, who presents the horrors of a baby with unlimited powers). But these scenes are so cleverly, wittily done that you can’t help but laugh – there’s no sense of pandering to one age group here.

Going back to visuals, these at times meet with more adult themes at play. The first movie was quite stark (references to suicide and the deaths of other heroes), and this does feel tamer, except perhaps Elastgirl’s investigation of the Gotham style villain, which takes on a Batman like gothic, creepy mystery feel in a couple of scenes.

To be frank, the villain is interesting but not very threatening, though given their endgame, I guess that was the point, while the mundane issues that the two older children face (teen romance and maths homework) – while making for some amusing hapless dad scenes – mean that the kids have little to do and are overshadowed by the larger than life madness of their baby brother.

Michael Giacchino provides another rip-roaring soundtrack by resurrecting his great 50s style score from the original. All brass and drums, it fits very well with the retro futurist feel and look of the city and world the family lives in. The voice actors are impressive, many returning from the original, with Craig T Nelson as Mr Incredible and Holly Hunter as Elastigirl bringing strong, distinctive voices that seem to fit perfectly with the character animations.

This speaks to the strength of their work and that of the animators to sync it all up, Nelson excellent as the perma tired struggling dad and Hunter as the mum loving her freedom crime fighting. Samuel L Jackson also returns as Frozone – it’s so noticeably him that it does detract from the character a bit, but who doesn’t always appreciate hearing his exasperated, shouty tones!

Bob Odenkirk’s Winston is a character that unnervingly almost looks like its performer, again a great feat of animation – this is intelligent casting however that cleverly utilises Odenkirk’s chirpy, chatty role as Saul Goodman in Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul as the eager, supportive billionaire champion of heroes.

The surprise package was actress Catherine Keener as Winston’s sister Evelyn, the older performer disappearing quite effectively into a younger role with some quite impressive voice acting – her character forming a sisterly bond with Elastigirl over being overshadowed by men in another of the film’s more knowingly adult aimed scenes. And Bird returns to voice the fashionista costume designer Edna Mode, the director clearly having great fun voicing the diminutive diva again.

I seem to have a good record with Pixar films to review (this is only the second of two)! The Incredibles 2 is well worth your time if you know you like Pixar and you want to see a different angle on superheroes.

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