Incredibles 2 review – sequel outshines the original

Slapstick genius, profound social comment and a monstrously funny infant combine to conjure a magical second outing for the superhero family

Reviewing The Incredibles for the Observer in 2004, I noted that Pixar was reportedly anxious about the film’s “Bergmanesque” opening act in which a family of retired superheroes struggled with the problems of mundane domesticity. I concluded (wrongly, it transpires): “The Incredibles fails to fulfil the remit of a true family film, which is surely to induce in everyone a sense of magical childlike wonderment.”

I realised my error when the film came out on DVD a few months later and promptly became a firm favourite with my then-young children. Yet, contrary as ever, I preferred the appended short Jack-Jack Attack, which followed the mishaps of the babysitter left to tend to the youngest Incredible while the rest of the family were off starring in the main feature.

Now the misunderstood “Supers” are back in a sequel in which Jack-Jack shifts towards centre stage, much like the Minions who increasingly stole the spotlight in the Despicable Me series. This time, it’s Bob, aka Mr Incredible (balefully voiced by Craig T Nelson), who’s left holding the baby while his altogether more glamorous partner Helen, aka Elastigirl (a wonderfully wry Holly Hunter), is out fighting crime. She has been enlisted by a shiny-suited PR guru to help rehabilitate outlawed superheroes via a charm offensive involving runaway trains, political lobbying and a “wicked cool” new bike, the Elasticycle (“It’s torquey!”).

Back at home, Bob is facing his own challenges: helping Dash with his maths homework, nursing Violet through the traumas of her first teen crush and containing Jack-Jack’s emerging powers, which are as scary as those showcased by the monstrous child in that notorious Twilight Zone episode It’s a Good Life. These include multiplication, transformation, immolation, laser-beam eyes and a Poltergeist-style ability to disappear into the fourth dimension. Oh, and he still needs his nappy changing.

With its fab future-retro designs (the architecture and furniture had me drooling) accompanied by Michael Giacchino’s Bond-inflected score, Incredibles 2 has snappy charm to spare. As before, there are plenty of gags aimed specifically at older viewers, such as the burbling news channel that announces that “when it comes to decision-making, people have more faith in a monkey blowing darts than in Congress”. The depiction of the exhausting perils of parenting will strike a chord with many middle-aged audiences, as will Bob’s emasculated confusion at realising that he’s no longer the centre of attention (“I’m Mr Incredible – not Mr Mediocre or Mr So-So”).

There’s a serious movie lurking at the heart of all this hi-tech adventure that takes timely swipes at gender inequality, family stress and the modern triumph of salesmanship over substance.

But it’s the slapstick brilliance of Jack-Jack’s erupting powers that really lifts Incredibles 2, making it that rarest of things – a sequel superior to the original. From early giggles to full-bellied guffaws, Jack-Jack’s antics had me in stitches, recalling the violent slapstick of Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd; a string of superbly executed sight gags that land tangible physical punches. Watching this, I remembered what a bang-up job director Brad Bird made of the action sequences from Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, a film partially shot on Imax cameras to enhance the sheer visceral physicality of its set pieces.

Other Incredibles 2 treats include a returning Frozone (Samuel L Jackson), and a ragtag band of wannabe Supers ranging from the starstruck Voyd (Sophia Bush), whose pan-dimensional abilities echo the brilliant videogame Portal, to the vomitous Reflux (Paul Eiding), who likes to put civilians at their ease by saying: “Medical condition or superpower – you decide!”

As always with Pixar presentations, the main feature comes with a supporting short, in this case the initially bewildering but ultimately life-affirming Bao, a tale of a woman whose cooking comes to life with wish-fulfilling results. Although Chinese-Canadian director Domee Shi’s exquisitely realised film is both touching and tearjerking, it also includes a WTF moment that alarmingly put me in mind of Fruit Chan’s 2004 shocker Dumplings!

Having loved Bird’s 1999 animation The Iron Giant (adapted from Ted Hughes), I confess that my misguided expectations may have prevented me from embracing The Incredibles all those years ago. Yet this boisterous sequel worked its magic and won me over. I may be late to the party, but I now have no hesitation in declaring myself a fully paid-up Incredibles fan.

Watch a trailer for Incredibles 2

Contributor

Mark Kermode, Observer film critic

The GuardianTramp

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