[June 15, 2018]
The latest installment of The Incredibles is incredibly good. To start with the film’s noisiest aspect, there are four major action sequences, and they’re terrific. I’m not a fan of action sequences; I usually just tune out till they’re over. But the scenes in The Incredibles 2 are so brilliantly executed that I was literally holding my breath. All the ways animation can be superior to live action were exploited brilliantly. The fourth such sequence begins with leaders from all the world’s nations meeting on an enormous ship to sign a treaty, already a promising situation. Then the host proudly announces, “This ship is the largest hydrofoil on the planet,” and you can only say “Oh goody.”
The outer shape of the story is that Elastigirl / Helen Parr (Holly Hunter) must take the lead in crime-fighting, while Mr. Incredible / Bob Parr (Craig T. Nelson) stays home with the kids. It sounds like The Plot That Escaped From 1978. But Elastigirl is a working girl, not because she’s a better superhero than her hubby, but because she’s less destructive. As their advocate says, “Let’s not test the whole ‘insurance will cover everything’ on the first go round.”
For they have found an advocate: Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk), head of a huge telecommunications company, and also their biggest fan. Win Deavor (don’t miss the nudge-nudge name: Endeavor) has brought in the Parrs to tell them that, though superheroes have been illegal for 15 years, he wants to return them to their rightful place. His plan begins with giving the Parrs tiny video cameras designed by his tech-wise sister, Evelyn Deavor (Catherine Keener). If the public sees what rescue work looks like from the superheroes perspective, they’ll be eager for them to return.
Elastigirl is on the job, thwarting bad guys, appearing on TV, and calling home from a swanky motel room to ask Bob how things are going. Bob doesn’t tell her about the chaos, that Violet (Sarah Vowell) has shouted “I hate superheroes and I renounce them!,” Dash (Huck Milner) is baffling his dad with “New Math,” and baby Jack-Jack has suddenly blossomed out with some chaotic powers. (You could count as a 5th action sequence Jack-Jack’s wonderful battle royale with a raccoon.)
But a mysterious bad guy has emerged, the “Screen Slaver.” By using hypnotic patterns on the screens that fill their world, Screen Slaver is able to control people and render them completely passive. “Screens are everywhere. We are controlled by screens,” he says, and later “It’s the brainless desire to replace true experience with simulation,” turning us into “ever passive, ever ravenous consumers.” “We don’t talk; we watch talk shows.” People want “Ease. They will trade quality for ease every time.”
These are some complicated ideas, and extremely verbal in nature, and they go by quickly. You barely have time to grasp what point is being made. (It’s close to the point made in another Pixar movie, Wall-E.) Likewise, in another sequence two characters debate what a “believer” and a “cynic” would say in a situation. Again, it goes by so quickly it’s hard to catch what the characters are meant to communicate.
The funny thing is, untold numbers of parents are going to put The Incredibles 2 on a screen and set their kids in front of it. Will this message self-destruct in five minutes? Not really; the movie is such terrific entertainment that we’ll be staring at the screen with vacant smiles for many years to come.
I don’t think all the Pixar movies have been this rich in detail, but it seems like there are a lot of potentially-significant things that flash by. The midcentury sets are stunning, whether it’s the Safari Court Motel or Win’s super-cool mountaintop home with pushbutton waterfall walls. On a Saturday morning, the kids watch cartoons on TV—that is, 3-D cartoon characters watch vintage-drawn cartoon characters. When Jack-Jack’s super ability to go through walls sends him everywhere inside the house, his giggle is heard moving from one speaker to another all over the movie theater.
Lines of dialogue shoot past that deserve to sink in; Dash says of his superhero power, “It defines who I am.” His mom says “What?” and Dash shrugs, “I heard it on TV.” Bob scrambles a catchphrase from Rocky, “I eat dinner and crap lightning!” Among a crop of new superheroes is an elderly, dumpy guy who calls himself “Reflux.” He tells Elastigirl: “’Medical condition or superpower? You decide.’ That’s a little rhyme I made up to put people at ease.” And gender stereotypes cut both ways, when a TV commercial playing in the background mocks husbands, “So simple, even he can do it.” A line that has a better chance of sinking in comes from the inimitable Edna Mode (Brad Bird): “Done properly, parenting is a heroic act.”
This is a movie so rich in detail and irony that it will bear re-watching; but don’t let the Screen Slaver get you. When it’s over, turn it off and take a walk outside.