IT’S BEEN 14 years since the superpowered Parr family arrived in theaters as “The Incredibles,” and in the intervening time, entire sprawling superhero universes have been launched by Marvel and Warner Bros. and built out by Fox.
So how does an animated superhero movie play to audiences today, with caped blockbusters jostling shoulder to shoulder throughout the spring and summer seasons?
Judging from the first wave of reviews Monday, Pixar’s “Incredibles 2″ — which is currently receiving an “84” average on Metacritic and a 95 percent certified “fresh” score on Rotten Tomatoes — reaches fresh creative heights, elevating above much of the crowded crime-fighter marketplace.
To catch everyone up, since it has been more than a decade: “Incredibles 2″ returns the spandex-suited nuclear family headed by Bob/Mr. Incredible (voiced by Craig T. Nelson) and Helen/Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), as they also wrestle with the changing lives of their children: the once-shrinking Violet (Sarah Vowell), the kinetic Dash (newly voiced by Huck Milner) and baby Jack-Jack, now demonstrating a dangerous range of powers. Teaming with old super-friend Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson), the Parr family must balance domestic life with their illegal actions as superheroes.
So far, the professional reviewers are hitting many of the same points: Can director Brad Bird recapture the magic of the Oscar-winning first film after all these years? Do superhero morality tales feel as fresh in 2018, even as the tropes are being poked? Does state-of-the-art animation hold its own, compared with the CG effects of live-action superhero films? And does the sequel have anything new to say?
The good news for “Incredibles” fans is that many critics are saying “yes” to all four of those questions.
The Wrap cheers Bird’s ability to again tap the original film’s 2004 mojo, with some upgrades, writing: “The good news is that this continuation is a similarly rousing and savvy adventure that energetically serves up more of what we love — from the sleek retro-futurist designs to the ticklishly severe Eurasian super-clothier Edna Mode — and yet wisely, wittily, reverses the first film’s accommodating traditionalism to make for an even richer, funnier portrait of its tight and in-tights family.”
Similarly, Vulture offers a rave, writing that the sequel is “much like its predecessor, delightful as an animated feature but really, really delightful as a superhero picture. It’s proof that someone (not anyone, mainly Bird) can make a Marvel-type movie that’s fleet and shapely, with action sequences rich in style rather than tumult.”
Vanity Fair raves, too, about the story and action — which now show the Incredible mother leading the way — writing: “Elastigirl/Helen sure is having fun out there as the new front-facing spokeswoman for safe, competent superheroism. Bird gives her a terrifically, uh, elastic chase sequence involving another doomed maglev train, ingeniously employing a vehicle called an Elastibike. Helen then finds herself on an intriguing little investigation, one shadowy and sinister enough that I had to avert my eyes during one scene. Yes, I was scared during a Pixar movie.”
Vanity Fair, though, does add one minor caveat, nothing that the film is a “full-bodied picture, engaging and inventive and rendered with muscle,” even if “it’s almost too slick, too assured, too cute and clever” — a charge that the magazine levels against almost all Pixar movies.
Among the somewhat more muted reviews, Indiewire cheers the heights that the sequel eventually reaches, even if it takes an hour to get there, writing: “There’s a shadow of obligation around ‘Incredibles 2,’ a whiff of this again? that seeps into the opening shots and stinks up the joint for the entire first act.”
But, Indiewire continues, as “the Parrs are pushed out of their comfort zone, Bird settles into his, and ‘Incredibles 2’ finds a groove the filmmaker has been looking for ever since he finished work on the ingenious ‘Ratatouille’ in 2007. Once the menacing and mysterious Screenslaver is introduced, inciting a Spielberg-level monorail chase that reaffirms Bird’s lucid gift for kinetic and character-driven action filmmaking, the movie blasts off and never looks back.”
After that, “the rest of ‘Incredibles 2’ fires on all cylinders, jumping between Elastigirl’s euphoric efforts to save the world and Bob’s exasperated attempts to put out fires at home. … Both plot threads work on their own, and knot into something even stronger — and often exhilarating — as Bird ties them together.”
Entertainment Weekly echoes the appreciation for the action, writing: “These are the best superhero action sequences in our superhero-drowned decade,” with Bird bringing “a snazzy Pop Art kineticism to his heroes’ journey.”
Slate, however, believes the beauty of the action casts other aspects of the movie into a more dubious light, writing: “The action sequences in ‘Incredibles 2,’ which was edited by Stephen Schaffer, are elegantly conceived and fluidly executed, as good as anything we’re likely to see on screen this year, in animation or live action, which only makes the rest of the movie seem that much clunkier by comparison.”
Then there are those critics who flatly state that the sequel just doesn’t measure up to the giddy originality of the first film.
Variety throws some sharp darts, writing: “I wish I could say that ‘Incredibles 2,’ which Bird also wrote and directed, is the great sequel ‘The Incredibles’ deserves. It is not. It’s got a touch of the first film’s let’s-try-it-on spirit, and it’s a perfectly snappy and chucklesome and heartfelt entertainment, with little retro felicities you latch onto, yet something is missing: the thrill of discovery — the crucial sensation that the movie is taking us someplace we haven’t been.”
Variety continues: ” ‘Incredibles 2’ offers a puckishly high-spirited but slightly strenuous replay of the original film’s tale of a superhero family working to prove its relevance.”
And the Associated Press decides that the narrative eventually frays, writing that the movie “kind of loses the thread by the end. A villain is a villain no matter how salient their point, and Mr. Incredible, Elastigirl and their offspring are our heroes and thus we must root for them even while thinking that Screenslaver [with his ideas about a screen-hypnotized culture] might be on to something.”