I’ve argued that The Incredibles, which came out in 2004, could have served as our last superhero movie, considering it was at once an ingenious celebration and sendup of the genre. So if we didn’t really need any more superhero movies after The Incredibles, do we need Incredibles 2?
Yes—if for no other reason than to delight in the hilarious and knowing sequences of Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) playing Mr. Mom. Picking up not long after the events of the first film, Incredibles 2 finds Bob Parr on the sidelines while wife Helen (Holly Hunter), aka Elastigirl, serves as the face of a tech company’s public-relations campaign to reinstate superheroes in the public sphere. (It turns out Mr. Incredible’s destructive methods are a harder sell.) And so Incredibles 2, written and directed by original filmmaker Brad Bird, consists of two parallel narratives: Elastigirl fighting crime in a snazzy, camera-equipped suit and Mr. Incredible dealing with math homework, middle-school emotions, and a combustible (in more ways than one) toddler. Together, they add up to a joyous and cathartic riff on working parenthood in this multitasking millennium.
Among the pleasures of the domestic scenes this time around are expanded roles for the kids, especially Dash (Huck Milner), whose quick feet are no help with new math, and Violet (Sarah Vowell), whose burgeoning romantic woes make her want to both emotionally and physically disappear. (Vowell’s bored/beleaguered drawl couldn’t be more perfect.) As for Jack Jack (Eli Fucile), the movie leans on his rotating wheel of unexpected powers a bit too heavily by its climax, but an early dustup the toddler has with a feisty backyard raccoon is a miniature bit of Looney Tunes genius.
It’s Bob, trying to juggle all this, who most resonated with me, perhaps because I’ve partly been in his predicament. Undone by all the domestic duties he can’t fulfill in the course of single day, Bob has a breakdown scene in which the thousand-yard-stare the animators achieve and the broken gulps that Nelson manages combine for a quintessential snapshot of the overwhelmed parent.
On the less relatable front are Elastigirl’s adventures, where Bird and his team get to exercise their retro-futurist imaginations amidst expertly conceived action sequences. One of Elastigirl’s first assignments involves stopping a runaway monorail train, and it’s with a giddy enthusiasm that she discovers that her new motorcycle can split in half, allowing her to stretch across vast spaces while driving. It’s a great concept that makes for some thrilling superhero gymnastics. Later, she has an encounter with the movie’s villain—Screenslaver—in a strobe-lit cage, and for a few moments the flashing lights and contorting shapes transform Incredibles 2 into a psychedelic, experimental short.
I wish Elastigirl’s adventures had led to a greater sense of personal discovery, as Mr. Incredible’s mission did for him in the first film. (You know Hunter would have been capable of digging that deep with her vocal performance.) And it’s too bad that Screenslaver’s identity is fairly obvious early on. Yet for a sequel to a film that should have ended superhero sagas altogether, those are minor quibbles. I guess it’s OK if we have more of them, maybe even an Incredibles 3.