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Review: Incredibles 2 – “The visual beauty of the thing is astonishing”

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Spoiler warning: I don’t discuss the plot of the movie in any detail – not even a synopsis! – but I do talk about who the villain is. If you don’t mind knowing who the villain is because villains in children’s films can be spotted a mile away anyway, read on. But if you do want to be safe just in case, maybe read this after you’ve seen the film.

It’s been a long fourteen years. The year that The Incredibles was released in 2004 I was 15 years old and pondering my college and university prospects as a film student. Now, the year that the simply titled (“Drop the ‘the’”) Incredibles 2 is released I am 29 and a teacher and in charge of the video content output for an ESL franchise in China. I can’t say that The Incredibles was the reason that I pursued film studies but because it was released during that important transition period between childhood school and on-your-way-to-young-adulthood school I always associate the movie with my passion for film as a whole and the beginning of the end of my childhood. Yeah, I’m just as dramatic now as I was fourteen years ago.

Whilst my relationship and excitement surrounding the sequel directly ties in with my personal life and my career fourteen years later, there are audience members the world over making just as equally distinctive emotional connections with the films themselves or with the time period that the original was released. All those memes and posts on social media about how Incredibles 2 is “our” film and not today’s kids’ are there because we’re all projecting our own past experiences and meanings from the period of our lives at the time of the original onto its sequel. We’re proud to do so because The Incredibles is such a standout film, and I am glad to say that its long-awaited sequel is too.

Franchise revivals are a constant recurrence but I’m warbling on about emotions because this one feels special, returning after so many years; like more of a The Force Awakens, Jurassic World, or Toy Story 3 revival buzz than an Independence Day: Resurgence (which could have been GREAT), Superman Returns (well, I like it), or Ghostbusters (okay, not Paul Feig’s best work) resistance. For that special feeling, the revival needs to be of something that was also special – which is why the latter trio’s flopping stung so much.

Nobody is clamouring for a sequel to a film that wasn’t special like, say, Shark Tale (also 2004) because it was visually, emotionally and narratively uninspiring. Let’s take Shrek 2 (again, also 2004), though. I would put both Shrek 2 and The Incredibles somewhere around the same ranking in terms of animated films that I love. They’re both stylistically cool, emotionally layered (unlike onions, which only make people cry) and pretty unique in what they were doing with their genres at the time and how they did it. The Shrek franchise, though, wrung its distinctive premise dry far too quickly by ending its accomplishment with an onslaught of undistinguished sequels, bland spin-off movies, and poor television specials. I feel confident in saying that, had the Shrek franchise stopped after the quite-special Shrek 2 and released a third film in 2018, the goodwill of how great that 2004 sequel was would have basically guaranteed the financial success that Incredibles 2 has had so far and is projected to continue receiving.

Ironic then, that it is ‘sameness’ that I believe is what makes Incredibles 2 pretty awesome. The American golden age, happy-go-lucky style is the same as the first film. The writer and director is the same. The composer is the same. The voice actors (barring the late Bud Luckey as the government agent who relocates exposed supers) are the same. The villain wants to see the downfall of supers again. Boo! There’s an intense scene involving modes of flight transport again. Boo! Elastagirl makes a parachute again. Boo! There’s a train crash sequence. Boo! There is a montage of Bob getting better at something. Boo! There are humorous scenes of Jak-Jak revealing his powers. Boo! Edna Mode goes through the security checks of her super-suit testing room once again. Boo! The sky is blue and the grass is green. Boooo! Something featuring familiar elements is not the same as repeating that which came before it.

I’m going to write that again: something featuring familiar elements is not the same as repeating that which came before it. I am worried that the over-analytic portion of critics or certain entitled audiences that are just upset that they didn’t get what they wanted/envisioned will overlook how those familiar elements are used, explored and given meaning rather than that they are there at all. A common comment I’ve seen on message boards and in reviews thus far (read after I’d seen the film myself) is that the film is good but not as good as the first – which they preface with or go on to state those above, aforementioned (and in my opinion, threadbare) similarities. Seriously, you’re going to complain that Elastagirl makes herself into a parachute in this film? Even though the several times that we see her make herself into a parachute in the sequel are under different circumstances than in the first film therefore we’re seeing the power’s different applications? Also, it’s a super practical and effective use of her elasticity… who cares if she utilizes a totally useful elastic form for Pete’s sake!? If I could make myself into a parachute I’d be doing it every day, and for less noble and more selfish/entertaining purposes than saving my fellow neighbour.

A big complaint is that the film doesn’t jump forward in time and that it kicks off right where The Incredibles ended. I’ll admit that I was disheartened when I learned that we wouldn’t see the Parr parents as aging superheroes in a world where (I had assumed) supers have been legal again for fourteen years. Or that we’d get to see Dash and Violet as young adults, super-ing without parental/legal reins – maybe one of them with a family of their own. Or Jak-Jak navigating through puberty with his innumerable powers. But… I didn’t care about that possible future as soon as the film began, and I didn’t remember that I cared about it until I sat down to write down this review… because Incredibles 2 is a glorious movie from start to end, even if that start is right where The Incredibles left off!

Goodness me, am I glad that Incredibles 2 continues the Parr family’s story right from The Underminer rising up because Brad Bird informs us pretty swiftly that the story of the first film never ended. Bob’s still not allowed to be a superhero but we see how he copes with that in a different way. Violet’s got that date to go on and has to mask her powers this time. Jak-Jak’s still got to actually reveal to his family that he has powers. Dash is… well, Dash-ing the film up (as probably the only character with little-to-no development, though he is still super entertaining). And Helen – I don’t know if you recall… the Parr family’s residence and all of their worldly possessions were destroyed from a PLANE CRASHING ONTO THEIR FRONT PORCH – has got to get a job and combat all of the jealousy/insecurity that manifests in Bob over that fact.

Writer/director Brad Bird deftly reminds us that the world of our Incredifamily is one that has real stakes and repercussions, and that a reset button isn’t so easy. Yeah, the family (and Frozone) saved the day at the end of The Incredibles but they caused oh, so much damage to their city. And then a few weeks later, when The Underminer showed himself after Dash graciously came second in that track race, they not only broke the law again but had a hand in causing further damage to the city and effectively assisting in causing mass personal injuries, messy lawsuits and government payouts that would of course see public opinion of superheroes decline after the thankful applause towards the end of The Incredibles.

How could I have ever wanted a film where we were fourteen years past the drama of supers still being legal and how they will actually turn that opinion around, or of Helen and Bob’s now-even-further strained marriage? Tell you what… the customer isn’t always right because I didn’t get what I thought I wanted to order but I licked clean the plate of the dish that I was given.

That said, it’s not like this film is a festival of familial drama and upset. It never gets as depressing as Up or as distressing as Inside Out but it does offer the audience a taste of problems, worries and mishaps before heaping on some funny, on-point one-liner jokes, excellent facial expression work from the production team and throwaway gags to bring some levity to its heavier notions.

If I haven’t already lost you, I may now. Bob is a main player in this film. He’s not the main character but he is a central figure to the intertwining plots and character developments of almost everyone on the screen. Throughout his hardships I got a real Tim “The Toolman” Taylor vibe from the 90s series, Home Improvement. Bob’s not an accident-prone goofball like Tim but his character, for all of the bad things that happen to him (whether it’ss his fault or not) keeps pushing on through, trying to help his family and friends as best he can. The character of Bob Parr in this film took me right back to the 90s/00s when Tim Taylor, Homer Simpson or the late John Ritter’s Paul Hennessy could really pull on your heartstrings as a caring dad. Robert “Mr Incredible” Parr is very clearly the same man in this film as in The Incredibles but we get to see more of The Dad this time than The Superhero, and I love the movie for it.

And look, this movie has everything. The visual beauty of the thing is astonishing. We know that we’re watching a cartoon but we don’t once feel like we’re watching rendered images that people made on a computer. I love, love, love The Incredibles but there’s no denying that for all the stunning landscapes and certain effects that shined (like the lava waterfall or tropical forestation), there are probably an equal amount of off-looking textures and poor movement effects (I’m looking at you, super-suit external underwear) that just don’t cut it when you watch the 2004 movie nowadays. Fourteen years have done a lot for Pixar’s design and production teams.

The action pieces (though there are fewer than in The Incredibles) are just as exciting and thrill-inducing. And pretty genius at times. There’s a hectic fight and chase sequence backed audibly by the villain giving a monologue about how engrossed we are with living vicariously through machines and entertainment that is completely drowned out by us, the audience, doing that exact thing by paying more attention to the battle unfolding on the screen because OH MY GOD, ELASTAGIRL STRETCHED HER BODY LIKE A FLYING SQUIRREL AND SHE’S FLYING AFTER THE BADDIE, THAT’S SO COOL.

Speaking of the villain. Look, her name is Evelyn Deaver. “Evil endeavour.” She sits in the shadows for half of the film. She speaks barely a word that is positive. The villain uses visual-display technology to conduct her plans and she is one of the heads of a telecommunications conglomerate that just happens to want to help supers out right before a supervillain coincidentally shows up. It is so clearly communicated to us through suspect behaviour and well known tropes that Evelyn is the villain that adults should not be surprised that she is the bad guy when the ‘reveal’ is made. That reveal is for kids who are still learning how storytelling and clues to piece together a picture work. Complaining that the ‘twist’ is not very well hidden is not a good critique of this movie. Don’t look at the aspect of the character that is clearly there for the children. Look at the aspect that is there for the adults. Evelyn Deaver’s message is a damn good one. Don’t criticize the film for having a villain that is ‘essentially the same’ as the first film before you take a proper look at them both. Yes, there are similarities between Evil Endeavour and Syndrome but also think about how the villains in both films actually offer different, really solid and positive messages to audiences and what that says about Brad Bird’s storytelling. Syndrome demonstrates to us that anyone in this world can be super if they want to be. We just have to work hard and never lose sight of our ambition. Evelyn Deavour tells us to get the heck off our phones and computers and to stop watching so much television. Stop living vicariously through entertainment and actually live your life. Sure, maybe they go about their business the wrong way but their messages are good and each character (similar only in the sense that they want to see the downfall of supers) can definitely give you food for thought. It’s an interesting notion to have protagonists struggling with a villain that’s actually right even though they preach their message with incorrect actions.

I genuinely have only two issues with this film. One) I didn’t realize how much that I dislike that Incredibles 2 dropped the ‘the’ in its title until I had to write it so many times throughout this article. Two) Michael Giacchino’s score is once again absolutely fantastic but I don’t recall there being any standout, truly emotion-inducing (positive or negative) pieces a la Mr Incredible’s uplifting training montage or the almost-devastating missile attack sequence in the first film.

I don’t care if this article sounds like an unbiased gush of love. As a director, Brad Bird can do no wrong where animated movies or Mission Impossible is concerned (sorry, Tomorrowland). I have so many more notes that I took in the cinema on the specifics of what I personally love about the movie but I don’t want to just write a checklist of body language expressions, funny/awkward/sad one-liners, heart-stopping moments of action, nostalgic feelings regarding being a teenager and realisations about adulthood. Watch the film, feel some awesome feelings, and then we can talk specifics.

About halfway through Incredibles 2 I realized that I was having more fun and feeling more personally connected with the characters of the film than I have with a superhero outing in the cinema for as long as I can remember since The Incredibles. I mean that, even taking the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole into consideration. Many of those movies are good – great, even – but I haven’t connected as personally with any of those characters or movies as I did with the Parr family this second time around. And when it comes to that seemingly popular opinion of ‘it’s good but not as good as the first’: I don’t think one is better than the other; I think they’re just as good as each other.

Incredibles 2 opens in the UK on 13th July 2018

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