Incredibles 2 Too Much Toon, Too Little Tone

Movie review: Incredibles 2

The long-awaited sequel to The Incredibles picks up the Parr family where we left them, but the world and our innocent sense of wonder has changed. Maybe that’s why Brad Bird’s Incredibles 2 feels a little out-of-sync, despite its cinematic skill.

Incredibles 2

3/5

Starring: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Samuel L. Jackson, Sarah Vowell, Huck Milner, Bob Odenkirk, Catherine Keener

Directed by: Brad Bird

Running time: 1 hr 58 mins

Rating: PG

By Katherine Monk

Is it the world that’s changed so much over the last 14 years? Or is it me? Somehow, what was once truly incredible now feels a little, um, ordinary.

It’s a sad thing to grapple with, because underneath it all is a loss of wonder. When the Incredibles came out in 2004, we were still recovering from the effects of 9/11 and dealing with a deep loss of trust. Brad Bird’s movie about a family of superheroes forced to suppress their innate power and deep desire to help others struck a chord. They were good people stuck in a world that seemed desperately afraid of difference, and yet, the more we came to know the Parr family — the more we realized how average these heroic beings really were.

They were just like us, and that was the revelation we clung to as they pushed through the hard times, using their love for each other as their true secret power. It all worked. Even the bad guy had a sharp arc that took him from fan-boy to arch-villain, all for a lack of attention and affection.

This second film picks up exactly where the first left off, but things feel different from the first beat. We’re re-introduced to Tony, the boy who caught Violet’s eye and accidentally saw her unmasked. Now, he’s getting his mind wiped by the avuncular G-man who helps the supers remain anonymous.

This second film picks up exactly where the first left off, but things feel different from the first beat.

We’re also reintroduced to “The Underminer” — a ne’er-do-well with a big tunnel-boring machine — as well as the rest of the Incredible family: Bob (Craig T. Nelson), Helen (Holly Hunter), Violet (Sarah Vowell) and Dash (Huck Milner). Before we have a chance to settle in, we’re in the thick of the action, watching Mr. Incredible, Elastigirl and Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) attempt to save the day — which they do.

Unfortunately, they also cause billions in damages, killing their bid for official superhero recognition. Yet, they find a good friend in Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk), a corporate telco magnate looking to bring Supers back to the forefront of crime fighting and into the limelight once more. Enabled by the tech genius of his sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener), he offers Elastigirl an offer too good to refuse.

Believing she has the best PR optics as a result of her finesse with problem solving — without massive collateral damage — Winston asks Helen to take on the job of Super spokesperson, day-saver and de facto criminal. Supers are still illegal.

It’s a big dilemma for Helen. She has a family and a brand new baby, Jack-Jack, but they also have no source of income. They also have no home. Remember, the house was destroyed and Bob lost his job when he threw his boss through several sheets of drywall. Even Supers need food and shelter, and because Winston is willing to throw in a mid-century mansion for the family to live in, the family reluctantly agrees Mom should go to work.

Bob is the one who hates the idea most of all. He thought he should get the job, being Mr. Incredible, and all. Yet, turns out Bob is a bit of a sexist. He keeps telling Winston she’s wrong “because… you know….” We’re supposed to know what he means. Yet, the joke falls flat because “she’s a woman” doesn’t really work as a punchline anymore.

So much has changed in the real world that many of the things that made the first film so refreshing — from its self-awareness of genre, to its novel fusion of a cartoon form and real world physics, as well as its desire to humanize the hero via the mundane — now feels same-old.

Bird broke new ground and everyone followed suit. And now, even the suit feels worn — because that’s about the only running gag that works. Edna, the super-suit designer with an Edith Head look and a Linda Hunt gaze (voiced by Bird himself), returns to steal every scene she’s in, as well as outfit the new Elastigirl and Jack-Jack, who’s starting to display a wide array of unsettling abilities.

The baby stuff is pure visual lollipop. It always is, because we are programmed to watch babies, and animators can play to their heart’s content without worrying about dialogue. Jack-Jack works as a visual device, but like Edna, he starts to feel more like a running gag than a character.

The baby stuff is pure visual lollipop. It always is, because we are programmed to watch babies, and animators can play to their heart’s content without worrying about dialogue. Jack-Jack works as a visual device, but like Edna, he starts to feel more like a running gag than a character.

Winston and his sister Evelyn also remain a little sketchy as far as character goes. Even the villains feel slightly random, which means the only thing holding this Incredible story together is the stretchy fabric of family dynamics.

Dad is overwhelmed being a diaper-changing, math-tutoring, teen yenta. The kids are starting to form their own identities, and Mom isn’t available to gently prod things along. These are the parts of the film designed to reflect back our own dining room tables at dinner time. Chaos and love and meatloaf.

Yet, in this new luxury setting, with a baby that can travel through different dimensions, the Parr family no longer seems so par. They’re slipping out of reach emotionally, and even their relatable problems — such as the boyfriend who no longer remembers Violet after his mind-wipe — feel shrink-wrapped.

For some reason, we can’t crawl through the cartoon door and into this universe the same way we used to. We’ve grown, either too jaded by experience or too overwhelmed by the images, to fit into this reduction.

For some reason, we can’t crawl through the cartoon door and into this universe the same way we used to. We’ve grown, either too jaded by experience or too overwhelmed by the images, to fit into this reduction.

Bird creates a beautiful nest of an alternate universe, and his frames are nothing short of stunning. The whole screen shimmers. Yet, lost in this cinematic world of good versus evil is a sense of the truly Incredible — not because there’s a shortage of effects, but a shortage of real emotion. Humanity is what made the Incredibles fantastic, and the lack of it is what makes Incredibles 2 fantasy.

@katherinemonk

 

THE EX-PRESS, June 15, 2018

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Review: Incredibles 2

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Incredibles 2 Too Much Toon, Too Little Tone. The long-awaited sequel to The Incredibles picks up the Parr family where we left them, but the world and our innocent sense of wonder has changed. Maybe that’s why Brad Bird’s Incredibles 2 feels a little out-of-sync, despite its cinematic skill. -- Katherine Monk

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