Incredibles 2 essentially begins at the precise point its exemplary predecessor ends. The Parr family, super-powered individuals who have largely refrained from costumed heroism because of legal prohibitions, spring into action against the villainous Underminer (voiced by John Ratzenberger), who has burrowed up from beneath the street, in a manner reminiscent of the Mole Man. The close of The Incredibles implied that vigilantes were allowed to once again do their thing, but that’s emphatically not the case, and the opening of the sequel suggests why that may be the case. The battle in the heart of Metroville leaves a lot of destruction behind with little to show for it. The bad guy got away, and, as the authorities explain to the sullen superheroes, the bank the Underminer robbed was fully insured. The do-gooders’ intervention compounded the mayhem and exacted no justice.
As in our world, though, superheroes have fans. One of them is wealthy industrialist Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk), who believes a strong PR campaign can bring superheroes back into the good graces of the law. He enlists Helen Parr, a.k.a. Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), to suit up again, equipped with a body camera created by his sister, electronics whiz Evelyn Deavor (Catherine Keener), believing that Elastigirl’s heroics will be better appreciated by the citizenry if they can see the adventures literally from her point of view. That leaves Bob Parr, a.k.a. Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), at home with the offspring, Violet (Sara Vowell), Dash (Huckleberry Milner), and baby Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile), whose cornucopia of unpredictable powers are just starting to manifest. Helen gets the spotlight, and Bob faces his own challenges as Mr. Mom, from Violet’s boyfriend woes to Dash’s new math homework to Jack-Jack’s tussles with wildlife.
Writer-director Brad Bird returns for Incredibles 2, his first animated effort since Ratatouille, released in 2007. Although Pixar has gotten into the franchise biz and had incentive to revisit the Incredibles characters no matter what, rendering this computer world without Bird’s involvement is inconceivable. It is such a clear, boisterously vivid expression of Bird’s fascinations, including society’s chronic undervaluing of excellence and the unique brand of nostalgic futurism that swirled like gnats around his 2015 bomb, Tomorrowland. Presumably anyone could have dropped these figures into a suitably imaginative tale and had a shot at creating an entertaining diversion (and, in truth, Bird’s primary plot is a little uninspired, especially in a revelation of villainy so predictable, I suspect even a good chunk of youthful target audience will see it coming). But Bird brings to Incredibles 2 its soul, resounding with charm and sincerity.
Just as importantly, Bird demonstrates an enviable command of the pure mechanics of cinema. His well-established deftness with action sequences in solidly in place, but he elevates it further with a stunning visual sense. The infinite pliability of computer animation leads to Bird washing the screen in lush, rich colors, as if the entirety of the film takes place during a perfect sunset. In collaboration with cinematographer Mahyar Abousaeedi (a Pixar veteran), Bird gives Incredibles 2 a look unseen outside of Roger Deakins’s dreams. The music by Michael Giacchino is a constant reward, and the voice cast is exceptional, especially Hunter and Nelson. Sequel or not, animation or not, Bird is not coasting, and his team is equally committed.
The film is funny, thrilling, smart, and warm. It lacks the snap of invention that made the first outing with the Parr clan a clear Pixar peak, but that’s to be expected. The excitable readings of its embedded politics impose more weight on Incredibles 2 than is actually there. In way that mirrors the Marvel movies that exploded betwixt its two installments, Bird’s new film has little agenda beyond entertaining. In fulfilling that mission, it is indeed super.