Bao: Per the norm Incredibles 2 opens with a short film, this one entitled Bao. A beautiful little piece concerning an Asian woman who one day cooks up some dumplings for her distant husband. To her shock one of these dumplings gains sentience and so begins a lovely mother/son montage that any parent in the audience will relate to despite the fact it centres on a foodstuff. Without giving anything away, Bao is peak Pixar in using the fantastically whimsical to reveal deeper more complex feelings. Add to the fact that the animation style is gorgeous and nigh on photo real at times, Bao represents another mini triumph for the studio.
A quick flick through Pixar’s original content and you’d be hard pressed to find a more ideal candidate for a sequel than The Incredibles. Focusing on a family of Superheroes, all you’d need is a suitable villain and higher stakes (as per Superhero sequel filmmaking 101) and you’re onto a winner. Instead we got sequels to Finding Nemo and Monster’s Inc of all things whilst the super-powered siblings laid waiting for 14 years. After watching Incredibles 2 though it is clear as to why there was such a wait. There needs to be an emotional and thematic hook to lure the Pixar wizards back, after all The Incredibles may be full of inventive action and comedic banter, but it is a deeply clever look at family dynamics and male disappointment. Incredibles 2, alas, has elements of complexity but doesn’t always justify itself as wholly needed.
In an intriguing move returning writer/director Brad Bird sets this follow up immediately after the events of the first film. United as a Superhero family, they rush into battle as a new villain, The Underminer, attempts to attack the city. What follows is proof that his time shooting some live action (the best Mission Impossible film-Ghost Protocol) has given Bird a new even more confident grasp of action scenes. A fun inventively exciting chase ensues, with Bird still finding the time to build in some nice character interactions throughout. All soundtracked by that wonderful John Barry-esque brass score from Michael Giacchino. However the team soon realise that saving the day is not that easy. The Superhero Act, outlawing heroes of any sort, is still in effect and they find themselves cast out. Bird nicely uses this to push at the tensions within the family. Patriarch Bob (Craig T Nelson) still fights against the unfair restrictions placed on his natural instincts to save people (albeit with the air of self-centred public approval) whilst wife Helen (Holly Hunter) feels like exposure will not help their family.
Into this mix steps brother and sister Winston and Evelyn Deavor, two wealthy siblings with love for superheroes and a plan to bring them back into the spotlight. Bob Odenkirk graces Winston with his usual hyper-verbal smooth talking, whilst Catherine Keener is a droll delight as the technological wizard sister. Their plan centres on Helen aka Elastigirl being back in the public eye in a carefully managed public relations push. This challenges at the masculine insecurities living in Bob, as he has to stay at home and watch the kids whilst his wife is off saving the day. It nicely builds from the male impotence angle that the first film so cleverly played with. Sadly Bird loses concentration on what could have been some perceptive thoughts on marriage dynamics in favour of high octane action and belly laughs.
By far the best parts of the film exist in the Bob watching the kids segment. A beautifully observant glimpse at the usual challenges of raising kids, all stroppy teenagers and energetic quizzical 10 year olds. Most challenging of all is baby Jack Jack, whom now has a bevy of awakening powers much to the surprise of Bob. Bird has huge fun with Jack Jack’s budding uncontrollable powers, lacing in scenes of witty slapstick, especially in a hilarious encounter with a raccoon that killed the crowd I saw this with. This segment is also a chance to hone in on what made the first so damn good, taking everyday family trials and coupling them with superpowers to be both relatable and wittingly wacky.
Alongside this is the more generic experiences of Elastigirl and her crime fighting public relations battle. Although a roadblock emanates in the form of the mysterious Screenslaver, a hypnotist villain whose ultimate reveal is both obvious and flat. The motivations feel a little underwritten with none of the warped hero worship that made Syndrome stand out first time around. Despite the huge action, and the introduction of some fun new heroes Bird cannot quite combine this portion of the film with Bob’s stay at home challenges. The finale is fun and gives children Dash and Violet a chance to shine, yet you sort of feel a little deflated that this is what it has all built to. In some respects both Incredibles films work better as a two parter, with a nice throughline running between the two of them and a solid payoff. Yet the first feels tighter and more focused.
The 2hr runtime is also a little generous. Straining in places to keep the dramatic momentum, with the consistent dialogue heavy scenes likely to cause little ones to squirm a bit. A few characters are also shortchanged, notably Dash who gets little to do besides a plot point about math, and Sam Jackson’s Frozone barely registering above a few cool action beats. Yet despite all this Incredibles 2 is still huge fun. Possibly Pixar’s funniest film so far, with several slapstick set-pieces mining the funny bone for all its worth. It looks terrific too, the retro 50s styling amped to the max and managing to be both simplistic in character design but lovingly characterful. Giacchino’s playful brass heavy score certainly helps cement that old school vibe.
Sadly though, despite being a lot of fun, Incredibles 2 never truly takes off. It is Pixar so of course it straddles the line between adult and child entertainment with skill, and looks amazing. Yet there is an air of forgettable to it, feeling more of the same rather than an evolution. Familiarity is good when the familiar is this damn entertaining but after 14 years I hoped for just a little bit more..well..incredible.
Verdict: Incredibles 2 is a whip smart funny crowd-pleaser full of inventive action and unique retro styling but lacks the deeper themes and originality that made the first one sing.