‘Incredibles 2’ Combines Smart Invention and Spectacular Thrills

Incredibles 2” is a film of pure joy. There is almost not a single frame that lacks energy, cheer and the endless creative potential offered by animation. It is a superhero epic and a family drama, a personal film and a visual feast. Since the original premiered 14 years ago, director Brad Bird has directed everything from another Pixar classic (Ratatouille), to a Tom Cruise action vehicle (Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol), to a clunky George Clooney fantasy tear-jerker (Tomorrowland). “The Incredibles 2” combines everything he has learned along the way, providing an experience that is dazzling and also full of heart. Super powers and super villains, it’s all part of a beautiful fable about the hassles of being parents and siblings.

Literally picking up where the last movie ended, the Incredibles are facing off with the Underminer (voice of John Ratzenberger). It is the final, big battle before the family is forced to put away the costumes in light of the government declaring super heroes to be illegal. They simply cause too much damage. The Parr family, Bob a.k.a Mr. Incredible (voice of Craig T. Nelson), Helen a.k.a Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), Violet (Sarah Vowell),  Dash (Huck Milner) and little Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile), pack up and temporarily move into a hotel. Unsure of what the future holds, there is a bright spot when a tycoon named Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) contacts the Parrs, determined to prove super heroes are a necessity. He and his sister, Evelyn (Catherine Keener), offer Elastigirl a chance to shine by fighting crime with the Deavors as sponsors (Mr. Incredible is simply too famous for being destructive). She can become the face of what’s good and useful about super heroes. Elastigirl agrees, leaving Mr. Incredible to temporarily handle parenting duties on his own. It is harder than it looks, even after moving into a beautiful new home supplied by their new friends. Not to worry, old buddy Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) is around to help out. But as Elastigirl goes on death-defying patrols of the city, with a grand villainous scheme bubbling beneath the surface, Mr. Incredible faces a major new challenge: Jack-Jack suddenly develops powers of his own, and they are wild.

In a time of recycled gimmicks and stale imagery, “Incredibles 2” is a visual experience of exhilarating richness. You can go to this movie simply for the benefit of gazing at it. Animation allows for the frame to be used in ways live action simply can’t accomplish, at least convincingly. The action scenes have a breathtaking grandeur mixed with satire. Elastigirl will swoop through the city in widescreen shots of great scope and atmosphere, one scene where she stops a train wreck is better than anything in a Marvel movie this year (even the very good ones). There is a fantastic fight scene between Elastigirl and a villain in a strobing room where the digital animation suddenly takes on the look of drawn animation. Other sequences are examples of action as beautiful design, not just violence for its own sake. Some moments are full of great hilarity, like when the Underminer uses a giant suction hose to scoop money from a bank vault. The film has layers of cinematic architecture that are wondrous, from the mix of 1940s vintage and modern electronics to the lavish home Deavor gives the Incredibles. Waterfalls cascade from the ceilings, small pools open on the floor and fireplaces pop out from the ground. Bird has created a film of complete immersion. Kids of course will simply be having fun on the scale of devouring endless streams of candy.

Because Bird is a strong storyteller, “Incredibles 2” reaches beyond mere children’s entertainment. The super hero material is an intelligent way of exploring themes of family and relationships. Bird goes for a fresh angle and makes Elastigirl the actual action hero, while placing Mr. Incredible in the role of single father. The working parent versus home parent dynamic is written with wit and smart humor. But the great show stealer is Jack-Jack. When his powers erupt, and they are many, ranging from eye lasers to pyrotechnics, he becomes a hilarious allegory for the rigors of raising an infant. Mr. Incredible develops bags under his eyes, he doesn’t realize Violet is having boy problems (which are made worse by her secret identity) and makes a goofy, embarrassing move at a diner to try and give her a hand. When Mr. Incredible seeks help with Jack-Jack from costume-maker extraordinaire Edna Mode (voiced by Bird himself), it actually becomes quite an endearing moment, especially after she designs a special suit for Jack-Jack complete with edible foam. The characters are always the center of the story, giving the film a human touch.

“Incredibles 2” may just be the best super hero movie in a year saturated with costumed characters. Bird revels in satirizing the genre itself. At a boat party Elastigirl meets fellow heroes like Voyd (Sophia Bush), a mumbling fan who can indeed create voids, and Reflux (Paul Eiding), an elderly caped one who gets his name from somehow turning acid reflux into a lava-like power. Bird takes all the standards of comic book lore, from a cool car for The Incredibles to a slick motorcycle for Elastigirl, but turning them into lighthearted, vivacious parody. When the main super villain is revealed it is so simple and yet makes more sense than the usual plots Iron Man or Superman tackle.

“Incredibles 2” begs to be seen multiple times. Children will be delighted but adults might be the audience members who get more out of its visual inventiveness, inside jokes, wicked satire and commentary on parenting. When Violet approaches a boy at school the writing has such lighthearted honesty that it might feel like a flashback for some viewers. But the action is epic and the villains truly diabolical. This is a movie that has it all.

Incredibles 2” releases June 15 in theaters nationwide.