Sequels occupy an odd place in the pantheon of Hollywood films, often eagerly-anticipated and existentially-dreaded in equal measure.
They are usually, though not always, a response to a film making a cratering impact on the pop culture firmament, and while the studios make them because cash registers will likely ring with the kind of fervour that makes cinematic bean counters salivate, fans flock to them because of an intrinsic, unyielding connection they’ve made with the original film.
Many times this devotion goes cruelly unrewarded, or at least partially so, but in the case of Incredibles 2 – for what I can only imagine is increasing tripping-off-the-tongue-ness, the “The” from the first film, The Incredibles has been kicked to the superhero curb – it has been paid back handsomely, and then some.
Zipping into cinemas some 14 years years after we first met Mr Incredible aka Bob Parr (Craig T. Nelson), Elastigirl aka Helen Parr (Holly Hunter) and their powers-imbued brood, Incredibles 2 is one of those preciously rare sequels that feels as joyously out there and narratively-rich as its predecessor.
In fact, may I be so bold as to say, that Pixar’s latest animated masterpiece takes the very best of the first film, and there was a surfeit of “very best” to help themselves to, and runs and bends and swoops with it in ways that will astonish and delight, and leave you wondering how writer & director Brad Bird got so damn good at what he does.
From its lavish visuals to its brilliantly-rich characters to its ability to juggle some pretty serious issues and superhero chutzpah with comically-stellar observations and exquisitely-good dialogue, Incredibles 2 is a tour de force, proof that sequels don’t have to be just slavish re-imaginings of their predecessor but can be their own lavish, exuberant creation.
In fact, so successful is it in both linking back to what came before, and adding and driving what must be a franchise now – calls for Incredibles 3 are already ricocheting with laser-like intent across the interwebs – that my boyfriend, who somehow managed to miss The Incredibles back in 2004, never felt at a disadvantage for one moment.
That kind of referencing of the original and addition of all new material is an impressive balancing act for anyone, but Bird makes it look easy with the jokes flying thick and fast even as a real threat in the form of the hypnotic screen-stealing Screenslaver emerges to test not only the belief of Elastigirl and Mr Incredible in themselves as superheroes but the bonds of their family – Violet (Sarah Vowell), Dashiell “Dash” Parr (Huck Milner) and baby Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile) who comes into his superhero own this time around with 17, count ’em, powers to unwitting credit.
That kind of substance is what makes Incredibles 2 such a compulsive piece of animated viewing.
Sure there are riotously funny moments aplenty that will leave gasping for breath from laughing so hard and so long – the scene where a newly power-capable Jack-Jack fights off a raccoon intruder to the Parr’s yard is a comic gem, one of the leading candidates for one of the standout movie scenes of the year – and that’s to be expected from the humour-embracing franchise, but it also takes its time, like many Pixar films such as Toy Story, to give us carefully thought-through, provoking musings on gender equality, and the all-too-often lack thereof, and the role of keepers of the peace, whoever they might be, and whether it’s possible for the good guys to go too far in pursuit of doing the right thing.
No prizes for guessing which side of that debate Incredibles 2 comes down on, especially as the superhero-championing billionaire, Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk), who recruits Elastigirl, much to Mr Incredibles regretful, pride-dented chagrin, to build a case for the re-legalisation of Supers as they’re called, is such an unapologetically ardent fan.
But in exploring, and expertly parodying all kinds of superhero conventions, even as it is a love letter to the genre overall – the climactic battle is as kickass as any of its Marvel compatriots, possessed of a gripping, balletic fluidity that will leave you mesmerised and edge-of-your-seat tense – Incredibles 2 asks some very cool questions about the price we’re willing to pay for justice, peace and protection.
In the light of ongoing debates about national security in my home country Australia, and abroad, it’s a timely focus to be fair, the last thing Incredibles 2 is is political in any way.
Besides, it’s main focus is the role of family and how each member can find themselves challenged when the status quo of familial harmony is upended.
If you recall, in some The Incredibles, this came in the form of the Parr children discovering that mum and dad were actually impressively-talented superheroes back in the day.
This revelation, which unfolds in a pretty confronting way when Helen has to make use of Dash’s speed and Violet’s protective powers to save dad Bob, cements the family as the kind of together unit they were struggling to be as dad particularly resented his loss of superhero status, a bonding which is tested again but grows still stronger in the sequel.
This time the testing of the established order comes courtesy of gender role-swapping when Elastigirl is recruited to be the face of Deavor’s superhero PR campaign, necessitating lots of time away from home and meaning that Mr Incredible has to step in and be the best dad possible, even as he nurses his easily-bruised ego.
As he struggles to help Dash with maths, Violet with her boy problems and an off -the-charts funny and substantially more present Jack-Jack who can now shapeshift, cut things up with laser eyes and zip between dimensions (he can only be lured back by a cookie which leads to some highly-amusing scenes), and Elastigirl has to deal with things not being quite as they seem even as she misses her family, Incredibles 2 explores with sensitivity, insight and deft use of humour, how families are shaped and formed by the banal as much as the extraordinary, and how parents have to balance being real people with their role as parents.
In the case of the Parrs this is somewhat blurred leading to all kinds of unique familial interactions, but families are families, and the Parrs are no different, even if their superhero abilities present all kinds of unique challenges.
All these pithily-articulated ruminations on all kinds of pressing issues are neatly-balanced and woven into the fabric of a full speed-ahead narrative, in which you’ll be pleased to know Edna (Brad Bird) plays a small but vitally-important, not to mention scene-stealing role, where there’s action aplenty (in which Frozone, played with appealing brio by Samuel L. Jackson once again), jokes beyond number and the kind of retro-influenced, Bond-esque artwork that made the first film such a pleasure to watch.
Incredibles 2 is proof positive, that you can go back, that sequels can work, especially if you take the time as Bird and Pixar clearly have done, to build on everything that was so good about the first film, extend and parlay into something even better, and to continue to tell the kind of stories that dazzle the senses even as they burrow, Underminer like (yes he’s back too!), into your heart.