When The Incredibles first leapt onto cinema screens 14 years ago, it earned its title several times over. Exploring the exploits of a super-enhanced family trying to live a normal life, the movie served up an all-ages superhero story with smarts and heart. Moreover, the savvy Pixar flick successfully predicted two things. Back in 2004, when no one had even heard of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Spider-Man was played by Tobey Maguire and Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy hadn't yet made its mark, The Incredibles pre-empted society's current love of caped crusaders. Indeed, that film began at a time where spandex-clad folks like Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) and Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) are constantly seen, heard and talked about. But it also foresaw the flipside to this obsession, recognising that the public's love of costumed crime-fighters has its limits. In the world of the movie, everyone listing 'saving the world' as their occupation was banned when the world had had enough.
If you've been caught up in superhero fever over the past decade, only to catch a case of superhero fatigue as more and more comic book heroes soar across our screens, you can surely recognise all of the above. In fact, blending fantastical elements with relatable components was one of The Incredibles' greatest super powers. Caped crusaders are just like us, the picture made clear – attempting to juggle their personal and professional lives, battling to achieve their dreams, and fighting for their place. And while long-awaited sequel Incredibles 2 repeats the same basic premise, the franchise's canny ability to combine cartoon antics with cutting societal commentary ensures this is no mere rehash.
Picking up where the first film left off,Incredibles 2 sees its central family — Mr. Incredible aka Bob Parr, Elastigirl aka Helen, and kids Violet (Sarah Vowell), Dash (Huck Milner) and Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile) — trying to fend off burrowing, bank-robbing villain The Underminer, then coping with the aftermath. No one is happy about their efforts, and the fact that people with enhanced abilities are still illegal means a life without crime-fighting awaits. Enter telecommunications company head Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) and his sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener), with a plan to restore the heroes to their former glory. With Elastigirl leading the charge, the siblings have masterminded a rebranding campaign designed to make super folk popular again. And, thanks to body cameras and media appearances, this revolution will be televised.
Drama comes in the form of an incredibly apt nemesis: Screenslaver, who interrupts Elastigirl's broadcasts with mind-controlling signals and raves about humanity's reliance on screens. Accordingly, Incredibles 2 slings statements about today's social media saturation, the valuing of appearances, and the fact that we live in a society where someone is always watching — for better or worse. It's a movie about the power of perception, one that rallies against making, filming or viewing something simply because you can. They're all observations that apply to the picture's specific story, to the broader superhero realm, and just to life in general. Plus, thanks to a subplot following Bob's attempts to hold the fort at home while Helen is off championing the caped crusader cause, the film also has plenty to say about gender equality and the role of women.
Still, none of this would mean anything if returning writer-director Brad Bird didn't pair his story with engaging action, a playful tone and genuine emotion. Although not for people who are sensitive to flashing lights, an early strobe-lit confrontation ranks among the most inventive scenes in a superhero flick — animated or live-action — while an altercation between Jack-Jack and a racoon is just as memorable. Filled with both zippy battles and quiet character moments, Incredibles 2 mostly gets the balance right, even if it does feel a little padded towards the end. Interestingly, Bird (whose CV also includes The Iron Giant, Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol and Tomorrowland) is the only person in Pixar history to assume total control for scripting and helming any of the company's features without any co-writers or co-directors. The result is not only one of Pixar's original standout movies, but its best sequel in nearly a decade.