Combustible Celluloid
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With: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, Huck Milner, Samuel L. Jackson, Brad Bird, Jonathan Banks, Bob Odenkirk, Catherine Keener, Sophia Bush, Phil LaMarr, Isabella Rossellini, Bill Wise, John Ratzenberger, LaTanya Richardson Jackson, Michael Bird, Barry Bostwick
Written by: Brad Bird
Directed by: Brad Bird
MPAA Rating: PG for action sequences and some brief mild language
Running Time: 118
Date: 06/15/2018

Incredibles 2 (2018)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Hero Sum Game

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Pixar's output is usually of such extraordinarily high quality that when it announces a sequel to a successful property, it's natural to think of such things as pollutants.

Some of these sequels have felt a little needless (or awful, as with Cars 2), while others have been most welcome. The twentieth Pixar feature film, Incredibles 2 is most definitely in the latter camp.

It comes a whopping fourteen years after 2004's The Incredibles, which exploded on the scene amidst mediocre animated films like Shrek 2 and Shark Tale and showed them how it was done.

The sleek, energizing Incredibles 2 is state-of-the-art, but does not outdo the first. It feels part of the same thread.

The writing and directing are once again credited to that naturally gifted storyteller Brad Bird, who also made the classic The Iron Giant and Ratatouille. (He also returns to voice supersuit designer Edna Mode.)

The new film takes place just after the first one ended, with an attack by the villain the Underminer. In the ensuing battle, the city is greatly damaged, which further stokes the political argument that superheroes are a menace and ought to be illegal.

Things look up when Mr. Incredible (voiced by Craig T. Nelson), Elastigirl (voiced by Holly Hunter), and Frozone (voiced by Samuel L. Jackson) are invited for a meeting.

Winston Deavor (voiced by Bob Odenkirk), a wealthy telecommunications man who wants the superheroes back. He and his inventor sister, Evelyn (voiced by Catherine Keener), have a plan to change the public's perspective on superheroes by installing cameras in their suits and filming their exploits from the inside.

They choose Elastigirl, by herself, to be the first into the field. The ploy works. The public starts to love her. It's most refreshing to see a super-cool, tough, adorable female hero doing her thing.

But Mr. Incredible is stuck at home watching the kids — Violet (voiced by Sarah Vowell), Dash (voiced by Huck Milner), and baby Jack-Jack — and is jealous, dismayed that he was not chosen.

Nevertheless, he finds parenting difficult work, especially when Jack-Jack's powers begin to manifest; as fans already saw in the short cartoon Jack-Jack Attack, which was released in 2005 on the Incredibles DVD.

The sequel offers a playful and clever reversal, asking audiences to reconsider traditional male and female roles, the way they are viewed, and the meanings they are assigned.

While Elastigirl may get to stop a runaway train, chasing it on an electric bike (dazzling!), Mr. Incredible gets equal hero points for climbing out of bed in the middle of the night, brewing some coffee, and learning his son's math homework so he can help with it.

Eventually, all the heroes, including a pack of new ones — Sophia Bush voices the amazing Voyd, who can create portals in space — go to battle against a new baddie, the Screenslaver.

As the movie charges toward its final fight, it's clear that actual things are at stake here. Characters are in danger, and the action always means something. It's never just spectacle.

Not coincidentally, the other great Pixar sequels, 1999's Toy Story 2 and 2010's Toy Story 3, carried the same kind of weight, the same threat of enormous loss.

That, combined with rich characters, is what draws people into today's most powerful, binged-watched television shows. The Marvel Cinematic Universe films have that, and it's also here, in Incredibles 2.

It could be a series, but even if another 14 years are too much to ask, and it all stops here, then thank you, Mr. Bird. It has been incredible.

Note: Incredibles 2 plays with a powerful new Pixar short film, Bao, directed by Domee Shi, about a mother's empty nest syndrome.

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