Fourteen years after they first burst onto the scene, Pixar’s superhero family is back for a new animated adventure that picks up where the first film left off. Hence, those “supers” are still deemed illegal by US authorities, and must live clandestinely, keeping their extraordinary abilities under wraps.
That rule certainly goes against the grain of what cinema audiences are used to seeing these days, since screens are filled week in, week out with a seemingly endless parade of besuited and caped heroes. The original Incredibles movie certainly made its contribution to that ongoing cultural shift, which has seen comic-strip crusaders act as a sort of imaginative bulwark against our real fears of an increasingly dangerous world. Writer-director Brad Bird, who has returned for Incredibles 2, once more delivers thrillingly choreographed action, but through the movie’s unique domestic scale and resonance, he also suggests that simply getting through everyday family life is a heroic feat in itself.
This time, with their special powers still officially outlawed, the Parr family faces a future in frustrated anonymity, until an approach from a tech magnate determined to bring the supers back to public acceptance gets Helen (brilliantly voiced by Holly Hunter) back in her stretchy Elastigirl suit to take on a terrifying new foe. However, she can only do so while Bob – the former Mr Incredible – (Craig T Nelson), holds the fort at home.
Soon Bob’s realising that helping son Dash with his homework, tip-toeing round daughter Violet’s volatile emotions and keeping baby Jack-Jack entertained are indeed superhuman tasks. So we are presented with zingily fanciful spectacle – Elastigirl battling to save a runaway monorail train packed with passengers – playing off against the recognisably mundane – Bob wrestling manfully with the dilemma of purchasing AA or AAA batteries. It’s not so often, it has to be said, that we watch a superhero movie and see ourselves reflected back again.
Like its predecessor, this is a very distinctive superhero picture, set in a sort of retro-future 1960s, which takes visual cues from that era’s small-screen animation and vintage James Bond movies. Even though it’s a world of landline handsets and old-fashioned TV sets in department store windows, it still somehow feels very connected to the here and now, especially with the appearance of nefarious villain The Screenslaver who threatens mind control over anyone hooked to the cathode-ray tube.
Composer Michael Giacchino reprises his wonderful 007-meets-Vegas-lounge score to ensure that everything bounces along to winning effect, though arguably it does sound somewhat more familiar second time round. But that is just about the only hole you could pick in Incredibles 2, where the thrills and spills are amped up, the vocal performances totally spot-on, and baby Jack-Jack really finds his superhero mojo, to crowdpleasing effect.
Of course, it’s all an enhanced version of what we saw in the original. It’s understandable, of course, but there’s not the same freshness of discovery. For that reason, perhaps it falls a smidgen short of incredible second time around, but it’s well nigh irresistible entertainment all the same.