Incredibles 2

Cast: (voiced by) Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, Huckleberry Milner, Bob Odenkirk, Catherine Keener, Samuel L. Jackson

Director: Brad Bird

Writer: Brad Bird


It amazes me that we had to go through two Cars sequels in order to get here. While Pixar seldom wants for praise anytime they release an original title (Coco just being the most recent example), their non Toy Story sequels tend to receive more lukewarm receptions. Even putting Cars aside (I wasn’t a fan of the original to begin with), Monsters University was weak and unnecessary while Finding Dory, despite being quite good, was not the equal of its predecessor. Even then I think most people would still have agreed that if any Pixar movie demanded a sequel, it was The Incredibles. The smash-hit movie about a family with super powers (not unlike The Fantastic Four except… good), the first film felt very much like an origin story, chapter one in the continued adventures of the Parr family, and it was one of those movies that had a little bit of everything. Action, laughter, drama, suspense, heart; while I wouldn’t rank it among the very best of Pixar, it certainly is one of their most watchable and most likable titles. Fourteen years is a long time to wait for a follow up, but from the very first second it feels like no time at all.

The movie picks up immediately where the last one left off, with the Underminer burrowing through the city and robbing every bank on the way while the Parr family work to try and stop him. Mr. Incredible, Elastigirl, Violet and Dash manage to stop the massive drill tank before it crashes into the city hall, but the feds could not be more displeased. As far as they’re concerned, it would’ve been better if the Parr’s had simply let the mole-like baddie go about his business. The banks’ insurance would have covered their losses and there wouldn’t have been nearly as much collateral damage to clear up. Part of what makes these movies work is that the setting is so consistent yet indefinite (vaguely 60s, yet futuristic), it allows the story to be updated for our times without feeling dated. The government, who deems it less costly to let the bad guys get away with it than to let the supers use their abilities for good, decides to scrap the Superhero Relocation Programme, leaving Bob, Helen and the kids to fend for themselves without financial aid or the help of Agent Dicker who had been so good at keeping them hidden from the public (right after he visits Tony, the would-be boyfriend who discovers Violet’s secret identity, and erases his entire memory of her).

There is however at least one person who believes that superheroes should be allowed to serve for the public good and that is business mogul Winston Deavor. A superhero superfan since he was a kid, he wants to work with Mr. Incredible, Elastigirl and Frozone to improve the public’s perception of superheroes and launch a campaign to overturn their criminalisation. Using body cameras and gadgets designed by his tech-savvy sister Evelyn, Winston wants to project their heroic deeds to the world and show them why the world needs superheroes. Mr. Incredible is only too keen to volunteer but Winston and Evelyn feel that his style of super justice is too cost-effective for their purposes and that the safer bet is for Elastigirl to be the face of their movement. Thus, with a brand new outfit and a space-age motorbike, Helen gets to work while Bob is left home to care for the kids. While she works to foil the plan of Screenslaver, a new supervillain who projects hypnotic images on television screens to control people (again, a new story for modern times), Bob finds being a parent to be just as tasking as any threat he’s faced as he tries to help Violet with boy troubles, Dash with his school work, and Jack-Jack with his new emerging powers (plural; Bob learns that his infant son has at least 17 abilities including spontaneous combustion, laser eyes, super strength, telekinesis and the ability to phase through walls).

Throughout his career Brad Bird has always been interested in following the stories of characters who defy social expectations and who manage to overcome their own limitations. A giant robot capable of immeasurable destruction instead turns out to be a compassionate being. A rat from the sewers of Paris dreams of nothing more than cooking gourmet dishes in a Michelin restaurant. Here he plays around with the conventions that the two main characters would (and in the first film, did) traditionally fill by having Elastigirl be the breadwinner who goes out to save the day with Mr. Incredible as the stay-at-home dad. There’s also a message here about how sometimes the most heroic thing a person can do is stay behind and look after what’s important while somebody else rushes into danger, a lesson that the kids find they have to learn as well. The theme of daring to be more than what others say you can be is given greater resonance by the introduction of other superheroes (Voyd, Reflux, et al), a collection of outcasts who were inspired by Elastigirl and company and learned that their abilities don’t only make them special, they make them who they are. It’s not the most profound Pixar movie ever made, but not every animated kids film has to be a tearjerker like Inside Out. Sometimes being inspiring is enough.

What makes Incredibles 2 great is not just how touching or rousing it is, but also what an absolute joy it is to watch. The action, from Elastigirl chasing a runaway train to the whole climax with its expert command over simultaneous activities and creative use of a wide array of variable superpowers, is superbly executed and exquisitely animated. The comedy, including but not limited to Jack-Jack trying out his new powers and Edna Mode’s return, is hilarious. The jazzy, titillating, John-Barry-esque score continues to enliven what is already a thrilling, vibrant film. So many children’s movies content themselves with throwing together a string of interchangeable comedy scenes and hammering their morals in between the spaces that flow and pacing have practically become a lost art. This is a movie that flows. It moves so seamlessly from drama to comedy to action and back again and does it with such panache that the two hours completely breeze by. It takes a director of enormous skill and talent to make a movie that is constantly on the move, that includes so much action, story, and character, and to make it all seem effortless. Bird is such a director and Incredibles 2 was worth the fourteen years it took him to make it happen. Whether the next movie comes out tomorrow, in another fourteen years, or when I’m 150, I’ll be waiting.

★★★★★

Advertisements

Tomorrowland

Cast: Britt Robertson, George Clooney, Hugh Laurie, Raffey Cassidy, Thomas Robinson, Tim McGraw, Kathryn Hahn, Keegan-Michael Key

Director: Brad Bird

Writers: Damon Lindelof, Brad Bird


One of the biggest complaints about Hollywood these days is that there aren’t any more original ideas. According to the Box Office takings for 2015 so far, all ten of the highest grossing films of the year worldwide are sequels, remakes and adaptations. The highest grossing film with an original story, in 13th place (symbolic or what?), is the lacklustre Jupiter Ascending, a film that barely managed to secure a profit. Therefore it is unsurprising that Hollywood continues to produce films based on ideas that have already seen much success in the past, given that original films have proven to be risky moves that do not always pay off. The modest performance of Tomorrowland this past week suggests that audiences have not taken to it and that the trend is therefore set to continue. Even though it isn’t strictly an original story, it did not have a plot or characters to which the audience had already formed an established connection and was therefore a risky move on Disney’s part. I for one think it is a shame that Tomorrowland has not taken off with audiences because I thought it was a breath of fresh air and enjoyed it a great deal.

Tomorrowland is the story of Casey Newton (Britt Robertson), a bright, plucky daughter of an engineer who remains largely optimistic in an increasingly dreary and pessimistic world. Whereas others around her are resigned to how morbid and hopeless the world has become, Casey remains steadfast in viewing these troubles as problems that can and should be solved. She comes across a strange pin that, upon being touched, immediately transports her to another world. It is a magnificent world of scientific wonderments, such as jet packs and holograms, and provides Casey with a living representation of hope and of a better future. She resolves to find out more about this world and sets out on a path that leads her into the company of Frank Walker (George Clooney), a brilliant scientist who has lost his enthusiasm, and Athena (Raffey Cassidy), a mysterious young girl whose answers only lead to more questions. Together they set out on an adventure to find Tomorrowland and to save the world and its future from a foreboding and imminent danger.

What I really enjoyed about this film was that watching it was really like going on an adventure. My unfamiliarity with the story and its characters meant that following Casey in her quest to uncover the truth about Tomorrowland was like setting out on a journey of discovery. I was fascinated with the mystery behind this world and wanted to learn more. The mystery itself is well crafted and is uncovered at just the right pace while still allowing room for good action and fun interactions between the characters. The three main characters are fun and compelling in their own ways and share an interesting dynamic between them. Casey is the optimist of the group and is an enjoyably quirky character who adds much heart to the film. Frank is the pessimist who has lost all faith in humanity but detects a glimmer of hope in Casey’s arrival. Athena is a realist whose spirited and idealistic disposition comes as a surprise given what is revealed about her character. The world that Brad Bird has created is visually stunning (in fact, I’m almost surprised he didn’t make the film in 3D) and invokes a sense of wonder and amazement from the audience. I was thoroughly absorbed.

However I do have one major gripe with this film which occurs in the third act. As the characters learn more about Tomorrowland and the nature of the threat they have to face, the film starts to deliver a message that I felt was pretty forced. I can’t really get into it because spoilers, but the delivery of this message was very blatant and sort of broke the illusion for me. Although I can understand why the writers felt the need to include it and appreciate that it it is an important and a serious message, especially considering that this is a kid’s film, I do think the same message could have been delivered with more subtlety. The way they kept trying to hammer it in drew me out of the film and disrupted my viewing experience of it. I don’t know whether this is something that would bother the rest of the audience but, for me, it was quite a glaring problem that I wasn’t able to ignore.

On the whole Tomorrowland is a very fun and enjoyable family film that deserves a much better reception than the one it has thus far received. The originality is very refreshing for a blockbuster of its size, the story and the characters that it offers are entertaining enough to provide a satisfying experience for the audience, and the world that Brad Bird creates is astonishing to behold. I entreat anyone who is unsure about this film to go and watch it. It is films like this which show that originality is not dead in Hollywood and I sincerely hope that the audience will embrace this film so that we may get others like it.

★★★★