Incredibles 2 begins in such a way as to make the fourteen year wait for it redundant: the movie kicks off exactly where The Incredibles (2004) finished.
Having bested Syndrome and begun to acclimate to their lives as citizens with powers, the Parr family think all is well, until the Underminer burrows up from the ground, to threaten the city. Helen/Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), Bob/Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), Violet (Sarah Vowell), and Dash (Huck Milner), aided by close friend Lucius Best/Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) try and foil his plot; in the process attracting the attention of both the police (Supers still being illegal), and Winston Deavour (Bob Odenkirk), a telecommunications expert with an eye to re-establish the Supers to the position of greatness they once held.
Winston, with the help of his sister Evelyn (Katherine Keener), use Elastigirl as the centrepiece of their operation; leaving Bob at home to deal with Violet’s relationship troubles, Dash’s homework, and baby Jack-Jack: as well a reinforced inferiority complex. But while Bob frets over children, Helen faces Screenslaver, a tech-genius villain able to hack into any screen and hypnotise those watching it.
And although this new picture replicates a few narrative positions, repeats a couple of beats, and calls back to favourite lines from the first, it’s such a pleasure to assert that Incredibles 2 lives up to its predecessor superbly; but it’s not a Paddington 2 (2017) situation — in which the sequel vastly improves on the former — the movie creates: rather, the two exist as a perfect pairing.
One of the features that made the original film so good as a superhero movie was its villain, Syndrome, and the motivations behind him; Brad Bird’s second movie repeats this with Screenslaver, whose plans and politics at first seem vague and predictable, but morph into something in keeping with Syndrome’s complexity.
Another of the aspects at which both The Incredibles and Incredibles 2 excel is in the staging of action sequences. From the opening with the Underminer; to Helen chasing a high-speed train hurtling in reverse; to a helicopter swirling and swooping between a city’s high-reaching buildings; and ending on a breathless battle at sea: the kinetic, propulsive movements find a brilliant partner in the sharp, crystalline clarity of the editing; all complemented by Michael Giacchino’s wonderful score. But essential to this is the quality of the animation itself.
It’s only possible to stare in open-mouthed amazement at these images. In their best films, Pixar create memorable narratives with the very strongest animation technologies available to them at the time of production. But, even the first Incredibles has its dated moments: some characters look flat in profile, others lack definition. The sequel obviously works with advanced technologies, and the results are glorious. Surfaces, objects, and bodies all look photo-realistic: Frozone’s ice powers are rendered with such swiftness and beauty that it proves difficult not to “ooh” and “aah”, as if watching a fireworks display; there’s a plate of waffles in the movie so lifelike you can almost catch the scent; and the water — as with Pixar’s previous film, Coco — is unbelievably gorgeous.
And, to save the very best until last, Incredibles 2 mines the comic potential of Jack-Jack to brilliant and beautiful lengths. Having a baby on the team with various and varyingly powerful abilities is an honest-to-goodness delight. The scene in which Jack-Jack practises his powers in a tussle with a raccoon is comedic gold dust; and those with Edna Mode are consistently and convulsively hilarious. But the treatment of Jack-Jack is representative of how the film builds on the original, how it manages to create material in-keeping with its rhythms, its exciting movements, its pathos. And what an achievement that is.
Image Credit: Edinburgh International Film Festival