Belated "Incredibles 2" Is A Rock Solid Sequel

The veneer of infallibility raised by writer-director Brad Bird’s first four features came cascading down with 2015’s “Tomorrowland.” What was a silky smooth ride from “The Iron Giant” to “The Incredibles” followed by “Ratatouille” and “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” quickly became a sinkhole, evinced by an apathetic critical reception and a chilly box office. Fortuitously, a follow-up to 2004’s “The Incredibles” was already in the works. Would it see Bird back to his wheelhouse?

In a word, sure. But “Incredibles 2” is more than a successful soft reset for Bird’s career. It’s a compelling, convivial look at how far Pixar Animation Studios has come – and how far their sequels still have to go.

The Parr family’s return is Pixar’s best non-Toy Story sequel to date, the project making the studio’s current original-versus-sequel dichotomy plainly clear. The company’s brawniest storytelling talent is toiling on the originals (see: last year’s dazzling “Coco”) while the sequels (like 2016’s inert “Finding Dory”) are only as good as the material allows – usually not very. Blessedly, the five familial superhumans that comprise The Incredibles seem like a wellspring of stories worth telling; if their second movie is any indication, they’ve only just begun.

“Incredibles 2” is set immediately after the events of its predecessor. Craig T. Nelson and Holly Hunter return to voice Bob (Mr. Incredible) and Helen (Elastigirl) Parr. Sarah Vowell reprises their glum teenage daughter Violet, Huck Milner steps in to voice speedy middle child Dash, and, amazingly, original Jack-Jack voice actor Eli Fucile (then a toddler, now a 16-year-old) finds unused elements of his previous performance repurposed. Composited with dialogue from a few other diaper-clad youngsters, Jack-Jack is the same hysterically funny baby boy, but for one big but not immediately noticeable change that affects the film at large.

The animation is resplendent. Look closely and the lush environs and delightfully detailed character models put to shame the rubbery, texture-challenged visuals of the last go-round. Bird and his animators have mostly stayed true to that movie’s look but upgraded it in every way imaginable. The upshot is an immaculate sensory experience that gives a shine to a comfortably routine narrative.

Fresh off their defeat of Syndrome (with the help of compatriot Frozone, voiced by Samuel L. Jackson) and a subsequent encounter with would-be supervillain the Underminer, the Parrs look to relocate – again – and settle back into family life, as mandated by the government. But a wealthy brother-sister team of business tycoons, Winston (Bob Odenkirk) and Evelyn (Catherine Keener) Deavor, lure Bob and Helen back into the world of crimefighting with the promise of making superheroes legal again.

To the chagrin of Bob, the Deavors want Elastigirl as their bellwether, leaving the self-proclaimed head of the household to actually stay home head up the household.

Helen’s madcap skirmishes with a mysterious bad guy dubbed the Screenslaver are buoyant enough, but the most fun is had at home with Bob and Jack-Jack. The baby’s increasingly beserk superpowers are good for at least a dozen big laughs, his faceoff with a mischievous raccoon providing for some truly inspired physical comedy.

The bliss of Jack-Jack and his Magic 8-Ball powers is the quintessence of “Incredibles 2” and the foundry for so many of the grins and giggles it’s sure to elicit. In fashioning a no-frills story wherein in his wonderful characters are free to play, Brad Bird has rediscovered what “Tomorrowland” was so sorely missing: simplicity. “Incredibles 2” is stealthily elementary, building on its predecessor but refreshingly unconcerned with one-upping it.

With audiences now inundated by superhero movies in a way they weren’t in 2004, this is vital. Yet never is the film so basic as to lose adult moviegoers, or so mature as to disorient kids. While not upper-echelon Pixar, the result is something of a magic trick: a bona fide for-all-ages romp. It’s also what so many sequels, a mold trending darker and darker, neglect to be: joyful.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★★ 1/2 out of ★★★★★ (Good)

Release Date: June 15, 2018
Studio: Disney•Pixar
Director: Brad Bird
Screenwriter: Brad Bird
Starring: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, Samuel L. Jackson, Huck Milner, Eli Fucile, Brad Bird, Bob Odenkirk, Catherine Keener, Jonathan Banks, Sophia Bush, Isabella Rossellini
MPAA Rating: PG (for action sequences and some brief mild language)