‘Incredibles 2’ is incredible looking, thematically confusing

Are people with super powers always heroic?


It is the rare animated feature, and the rarer superhero movie, that will leave the audience thinking, “That was a lot of fun, but I wish there was more of the raccoon.”

Welcome to “Incredibles 2,” writer/director Brad Bird’s often beautifully kinetic sequel to the 2004 Pixar smash, “The Incredibles.” Everything you enjoyed is back: the superpowered Parr family, the retro-future-jet-age design sense, spectacular action sequences and the almighty costume designer Edna Mode. Everything you may have found head-scratching is back as well, namely the muddled ethics and politics. (Very minor spoilers will follow.)

Though 14 years have passed for the audience, “Incredibles 2” takes place seconds after the first one left off, as the Underminer and his massive drill emerge from the pavement. Back in action are Mr. Incredible/Bob (Craig T. Nelson) and Elastigirl/Helen (Holly Hunter), determined to bring superheroes back from legal limbo.

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It doesn’t work — superheroing remains illegal. The Parr parents, along with teenage Violet (Sarah Vowell), 10-year-old Dash (Huckleberry Milner) and Jack-Jack the insanely powerful baby (Eli Fucile) struggle to figure out what comes next.

Enter a new baddie, Screenslaver, whose hypnotic evil is worked through images projected on a screen. Also enter industrialist (read: billionaire private citizen) Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) and his sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener), who want to … actually, here is where it gets a little confusing.

Deavor wants to hire Helen to represent the superhero community (and set up the family with a totally excellent looking new house) and hook up superheroes with bodycams so everyone can see that the good they do outweighs, well, what exactly? The destruction that has legislated superheroes into hiding?

Violet: “What exactly is mom’s new job?”

Bob: “She’s an advocate for superheroes.”

Violet: “But I thought superheroes were still illegal.”

Bob: “Hey … hey, the bus is here!”

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Elsewhere, Helen and Bob are discussing the new gig. “You know it’s crazy, right?” Helen says. “To help my family, I gotta leave it. To fix the law, I gotta break it.”

“You’ve got to, so our kids can have that choice,” Bob says.

Oy vey, Brad Bird.

We have been here before. The politics of the original “Incredibles” were a bit confusing as well, as that film’s main theme seemed to be extraordinary people must be able to express their abilities no matter what, and the little people just have to trust that the extraordinary people will do what’s right.

The original film’s baddie, Syndrome, was essentially a toxic fanboy. God knows that type has become even more powerful in the years since.

And yes, Syndrome was an evil killer, but it was also emphasized that he was an inauthentic hero because he used technology to make himself super, rather than be born with powers. As fun as it was, “The Incredibles” had a eugenic streak that got uglier the more you thought about it.

Like the first film, in “Incredibles 2,” the bad guy uses technology to become a power player — it’s not too much of a spoiler to reveal that those with powers (and there are a whole host of new heroes) fall under Screenslaver’s gaze. Most irritatingly, nobody with powers is a bad guy by choice.

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In “The Incredibles” universe, everyone with powers just naturally becomes a hero, apparently — it’s the politicians who are the bad guys for holding them back. And if there is one thing living in the world has taught us, a whole lot of people with exceptional abilities use them for little but personal gain.

All of this said, with Helen out of the house, Bob alone must deal with both Violet’s adolescence and Jack-Jack, who is displaying new powers by the second, much to the pride and terror of Bob.

This idea (Mom is working so Dad is in charge) is incredibly hacky (not to mention something like 40 years out of date) but yields the best visual gags. The funniest bit is by far Jack-Jack’s tussle with a pesky raccoon — its manic, Looney Tunes energy feels so different than the movie’s other fights that you can almost imagine it as a stand-alone short (this is not a knock — it’s a welcome sequence).

It’s wonderful to see the Edith Head-ish costume designer Edna Mode (voiced brilliantly by Bird himself) back as a potential babysitter for Jack-Jack. Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) also puts in an appearance or two.

The strongest parts of the movie are the superhero fight scenes, and while the novelty is absent, they remain vibrant and action packed. Those who have missed the Parr family punching things, stretching, running really fast and using a baby as a weapon will have an excellent time.

Just don’t think too hard about what it all means. You may find yourself rooting against the Incredibles.



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