When it comes to action sequences, Brad Bird may just be the best director in Pixar’s stable, which is high praise. He has been away from animation for more than a decade now, having forayed into live action with the accomplished Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and the tiresome Tomorrowland, whose well-deserved critical and financial flop seems to have ushered him back to his roots. The result is Incredibles 2, a snappy sequel to his 2004 hit that lives up to the original.
The plot picks up mere seconds after the end of The Incredibles, with the Parr family and Frozone (voiced by Samuel L. Jackson) having to fight off The Underminer (voiced by John Ratzenberger). They fail to catch the supervillain, partly because the Parrs are busy arguing over who should watch Jack-Jack and passing the baby amongst themselves. However, they do catch the eye of Winston and Evelyn Deavor (voiced by Bob Odenkirk and Catherine Keener), brother-and-sister telecom moguls who want to fund a political effort to make superheroes legal again. They decide that Helen (voiced by Holly Hunter) is the nonthreatening female face that the movement needs. She gets sent out just in time to respond to a new threat in The Screenslaver, a masked baddie who can hypnotize people into obeying his orders via their TV and computer screens.
Bird carries off the action sequences with a lightness of touch that might not be possible in live-action, as when Helen uses her custom-built motorcycle to chase after a runaway monorail car full of VIPs. The fight sequence against The Screenslaver, when he lures her into a chamber with monitors on the walls and ceiling and forces her to fight blind, is a bravura sequence that would do any filmmaker proud. The same goes for an ingenious sequence late when Violet (voiced by Sarah Vowell) has to defend herself from a zombified superheroine who can throw punches at her from other dimensions.
It’s a shame that the movie can’t advance any of the ideas and characters from the original. The subplot with Bob (voiced by Craig T. Nelson) suffering blows to his male ego when he takes on the job of househusband never comes to a head, and the friendship that develops between Helen and Evelyn is full of fascinating stuff that never jells. The Deavors’ activism is a missed opportunity for political commentary, and the villain’s anti-superhero stance blows its chance to dissect why we’re so drawn to stories about superheroes.
For all that, an astonishing amount of this movie still works. The comic business with Bob at home is funny stuff, especially when he finds Jack-Jack in possession of superpowers that give a raccoon in the backyard the scare of its life. Fashion designer Edna Mode (voiced by Bird himself) is given limited screen time here, but the character makes the most of it, designing baby clothes for an infant that can turn into a demon, shoot laser beams from his eyes, and set himself on fire. Violet’s courtship with a boy at school (voiced by the director’s son, Michael Bird) who has seen too much of her powers results in some marvelous business, too. All this helps keep Incredibles 2 zipping along in its retro-futuristic way.
The film is accompanied by Domee Shi’s animated short film Bao, about an old Chinese woman in Canada who makes a batch of those steamed pork dumplings, only to have one of them come to life and raise it as a son. This film moved me deeply and also creeped me out, which is not easy to do.
Voices by Craig T. Nelson and Holly Hunter. Written and directed by Brad Bird. Rated PG.