Thu, 26 Jul 2018
PIXAR once held an undisputed monopoly on quality feature-length animation (rivalled only, perhaps, by Japanese giants
Studio Ghibli), yet they’ve recently struggled to get a look-in in a decidedly more crowded field, with parent company Disney and traditional rivals DreamWorks revealing themselves as able, even worthy competitors.
Predictably, the stumbling colossus has elected to retreat into The Old Ways – while Toy Story 4 is due out in 2019, 2004’s The Incredibles is also being given the sequel treatment, arriving slap-bang in the middle of summer.
If, indeed, Incredibles 2 storms the box office, it’ll make for one of the quainter blockbusters of the year. Though we’re (probably) witnessing the apex of superhero cinema, the retrograde, tongue-in-cheek tone of the first movie sets it distinctly at odds with the contemporary genre, which prides itself on its complex plotting and populist savvy; the sequel, in other words, had a lot of homework to catch up on before it could deliver another helping of family-friendly, tacky-yet-epic thrills.
But it works. Mostly.
Where Pixar is concerned, warm, digestible moral lessons have always taken precedence over real-world socio-political concerns, yet the studio has resolved, this time round, to take a stand – Mr Incredible (voiced by Craig T Nelson), Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) and the kids now come packaged with a Big Important Message about gender and family relations.
Skirting continuity issues (it’s been almost 15 years since we last encountered the Incredibles, potentially placing the older sprogs in their late-20s), the film picks up right on the heels of the last one.
Superheroes are officially shunned (à la X-Men), denied proper support by politicos concerned by the clean-up costs incurred over the course of their battles with the forces of evil and the Incredibles are finding it hard to make ends meet.
Soon, they are approached by the Deavors, a wealthy brother-sister duo (Bob Odenkirk and Catherine Keener), who are (ostensibly) determined to put a positive spin on caped crusaders.
The good news: they want Elastigirl to be their mascot. The bad news: that means Mr Incredible is going to have to settle into the role of stay-at-home dad, grappling with life out of the limelight and with his own masculine woes. What’s more, the villainous Screenslaver (Bill Cash) is afoot, and baby Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile) is having MONSTROUS teething troubles …
Rather than lampooning Marvel – an enticing potential niche, but one fraught with legal and thematic danger, Incredibles 2 sticks to what the franchise has always done best.
Its whacky CGI sheen, rendered gorgeously by state-of-the-art tech, recalls the mid-20th century heyday of the comic book, when superheroes weren’t taken all that seriously by anyone over the age of 14.
For this critic’s money, parachuting Elastigirl into the driver’s seat is a much cannier move than anything we’ve yet to see from the box office robber barons of ‘serious’ super-cinema – there’s stuff you can do with family animation that you simply can’t with, say, the DC Cinematic Universe.
The Deavors pick her over Mr Incredible due to the latter being an insurance liability; the eventual plot twist, while expected, serves as a similarly snarky comment on genre excesses.
Regrettably, some of the first film’s standouts are side-lined here – Samuel L Jackson’s Frozone gets the closest thing to a bit-part, and it’s far from clear whether the movie fully capitalises upon the ‘Mr Incredible-doing-the-modern-dad-thing’ vis-à-vis the younger Incredibles.
Still, like even the stalest Pixar entries, it bridges the generational divide like few other so-called ‘family’ flicks, and is guaranteed to bring a smile to your face.