Incredibles 2 review: thrilling, superbly staged superhero eye candy
Dir: Brad Bird; Starring: Holly Hunter, Craig T Nelson, Sarah Vowell, Huck Milner, Eli Fucile, Samuel L Jackson, Bob Odenkirk, Catherine Keener. PG cert, 125 mins.
Here is a sobering thought for anyone who saw The Incredibles during its original theatrical run: if time had been passing in the film world at the same speed as the real one, baby Jack-Jack would now be just about old enough to sit his driving test. (Take comfort in the legal age being a little lower in the United States.)
Back in 2004, Pixar’s crime-fighting Parr clan were anomalies in more ways than one. The first X-Men and Spider-Man trilogies were both in full swing, but the phrase “cinematic universe” was still a twinkle in a marketer’s eye, and the superhero boom had yet to ignite. But in our post-Infinity War world, is there much left for a nuclear family to do?
To answer that question, writer-director Brad Bird has returned to first principles. Incredibles 2 is less a superhero film as we’ve come to know them than a gorgeously curated scrapbook of sharply observed household comedy, sublimely staged action, a pinch of Chuck Jones-era slapstick, and enough modernist eye candy to induce a sugar coma in design buffs.
The film feels less like one great idea than a collection of good ones, but they amount to a more than worthy sequel with a leisurely rhythm and ambitious range. It’s hard to imagine any other summer studio release, animated or otherwise, having the patience to move its characters into a John Lautner-esque futurist dream house, and then spend five minutes drooling over the fixtures and fittings.
But the house matters. In a very real sense it’s the main field of battle in Incredibles 2, which sees the Holly Hunter-voiced Elastigirl, AKA Mrs Incredible, AAKA Helen Parr, return to work solo, while her Herculean husband Bob (Craig T Nelson) tries his hand at stay-at-home fatherhood. (As it transpires the family haven’t aged at all: the film picks up where the original ended, virtually to the minute.)
The parental role swap is done at the behest of Winston and Evelyn Deavor, a brother-sister entrepreneur team voiced by Bob Odenkirk and Catherine Keener, who believe a spell of less destructive, more female-driven derring-do might help overturn the present ban on super-heroics.
And there’s a need for her too, thanks to the arrival of a mysterious villain called the Screenslaver, who bends the public to his will via strobing patterns on hijacked television broadcasts. A cheap shot at topicality is foregone here because mobile phones and tablets don’t appear to exist in the Incredibles timeline: another sign of how loyally the film is wedded to its midcentury aesthetic.
Bird and his animators draw action better than most of their live-action contemporaries can shoot it – although since the first Incredibles film, Bird has shot some notable live-action stuff himself, on Tomorrowland and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.
The centrepiece here is a city-spanning chase scene in which Helen pursues a runaway monorail on her sleek red Elasticycle: it looks like The Dark Knight by way of Mad Men, and moves with a thrilling white-knuckle momentum that CGI only rarely builds up.
That attention to weight and precision can be found everywhere, from a Looney Tunes interlude in which Baby Jack-Jack scraps with a raccoon in the garden, to the hilariously awkward body language of a young would-be superheroine called Voyd (Sophia Bush), who must have surely been modelled on a Twilight-era Kristen Stewart.
The return of Samuel L Jackson’s Frozone and the Edith Head-like costume designer Edna Mode, again voiced by Bird himself, provide jabs of retro-satisfaction in their own way: I didn’t realise how glad I would be to see the latter again until Bob finds himself driving back up her snaking driveway, between pairs of perfectly cubic boxwood trees.
These days, a digital shrub could be any shape under the sun. But from their vantage point at the cutting edge, Pixar knows there is no shame in dwelling on the past.