Engaging, witty 'Incredibles 2' can't quite outdo the first super film
"The Incredibles 2" - ★ ★ ★
"Incredibles 2" takes after most live-action superhero movies of late in that it feels about 10 minutes longer than its material ideally requires.
That could easily be remedied by restricting Elastigirl's overused transformations into human parachutes and slingshots to a tight and tidy two times max.
What Brad Bird's sequel to his own 2004 live-action fantasy lacks in snap, it makes up for in crackling pop culture references to midcentury modern art forms: the IncrediMobile (a fusion of 007's Aston Martin DB7 and the Caped Crusader's TV Batmobile), the uber-villain's hydrofoil escape boat modeled after the one in 1965's "Thunderball," the 1960s Ken Adams-inspired set designs, the delightfully pop-artsy credits sequences right out of "The Pink Panther," and Michael Giacchino's slinky, jazzed-up music springboarding off his first auspicious score to the original "Incredibles."
Although Bird's sequel arrives 14 years later, the story picks up minutes after the first adventure concludes with the Parr family of "Supers" -- Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), teenager Violet (Sarah Vowell) and 10-year-old Dash (Huckleberry Milner) -- doing their bit to stop the Underminer's giant drill from destroying the city of Municiberg.
Politicians capitalize on public fear over the destruction caused by the climatic battle and legally ban Supers, in effect, scapegoating a group of Americans for political gain.
So, Bob and Helen Parr have two weeks staying in a cheap motel with Violet, Dash and infant son Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile) before they become an unemployed homeless family, twisting Superman's motto "Truth, Justice and the American Way" into "truthfully, the injustice of the American way."
But not so fast.
A super-smooth telecommunications tycoon named Winston Deavor (former Naperville resident Bob Odenkirk) and his high-tech wiz-kid sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener) come to their rescue with a marketing campaign to restore public trust in Supers.
Winston, boasting sharklike features, and Evelyn, exuding feline vibes, seem a little too good to be true. But the timing couldn't be better for Supers such as the Parrs, because a new public menace called the Screenslaver has arrived in Municiberg with the Orwellian ability to hypnotize anyone watching a TV screen.
That's the plot of the action-packed "Incredibles 2," but Bird's story actually concerns the ever-shifting responsibilities of modern parenthood as it puts a female spin on the traditionally male-dominated superhero genre.
The Deavors want Elastigirl (equipped with Hunter's wonderfully crooked smile), not Mr. Incredible, to anchor their Supers campaign.
As Elastigirl stretches her abilities, her egocentric husband suffers an identity crisis by becoming a super Mr. Mom, getting the kids to school, wrestling with New Math, ineptly handling Violet's feelings for a handsome classmate and dealing badly with Jack-Jack's developing mutant powers of a zillion X-Babies.
(Note how Mr. Incredible's brightly colored Spandex wardrobe turns to beige and gray as he evolves into his new domesticated job.)
Samuel L. Jackson reprises his icy Super, Frozone, and Bird brings back his "Q"-like weapons and costumes designer Edna Marie in small, yet crucial roles.
The sharp retro design of "The Incredibles" scored a major stylistic triumph for Pixar in the same way that "One Hundred and One Dalmatians" (inspired by British cartoonist Ronald Searle) did for Walt Disney in 1961.
"Incredibles 2" may be engaging, smart and witty, but to say it's as impressive as the original? That's a stretch.
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Starring: Holly Hunter, Craig T. Nelson, Samuel L. Jackson, Sarah Vowel, Huckleberry Milner, Bob Odenkirk, Catherine Keener
Directed by: Brad Bird
Other: A Walt Disney Pictures release. Rated PG. 112 minutes