Wednesday 25 July 2018

Incredibles 2

"I have to succeed, so that she can succeed, so that we can succeed."

Pixar is certainly a very different company to the one that birthed Brad Bird’s ‘The Incredibles’ back in 2004. Though the animation powerhouse continues to deliver widely acclaimed content, their increased reliance on sequels has led to some questioning whether their creative intent is still artistically driven. It’s what makes the prospect of a sequel to ‘The Incredibles’ both intriguing and cautionary, for fear that it might not live up to its 14 year old predecessor.

Immediately following the events of the first film, the Parr family find themselves living in difficult times as super heroes like themselves are still deemed illegal. But the family is then approached by a rich tycoon who wants to shine a positive light on superheroes, and decides to run with Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) as their best bet for good PR. As she fights crime and unravels plots, Mr Incredible (Craig T Nelson) is left to manage familial disputes at home.

One of the most remarkable things about Bird’s 2004 is its ability to multitask. Upon watching ‘The Incredibles’ for the first time you may be amazed at its stunning action sequences, emotionally resonant plot and mature themes. But on revisiting it you uncover the brilliant nuance in each interaction, the seamless way the narrative unfolds and develops with beautiful pacing, the hyper-efficient ways Bird establishes each character and that all important family dynamic that underpins the whole film. Achieving any one of these is difficult, but to execute all of them in such perfect unison as ‘The Incredibles’ is something else.

In many ways Bird’s sequel accomplishes the same task in that it does contain all of those impressive features from the first. The plot is involving and consistently intriguing, as well as highly entertaining. The characters are all well established and superbly developed over the course of the film. Furthermore the general dynamic of the family is still as prevalent as ever, with each character interacting in ways that uniquely benefit the story whilst making them stand out as individuals. It also goes without saying that Bird bestows a sense of kinetic energy to each and every action sequence with masterful effect.

So on that front ‘Incredibles 2’ certainly delivers on what fans of the original likely want in a sequel. What it lacks though is the ability to coordinate each of these elements and convey them simultaneously as the first did. At his best Brad Bird can strike the perfect balance between theme, character and action whilst using all three to complement and further one another. We’ve seen this in ‘The Iron Giant’, ‘Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol’ as well as ‘The Incredibles’ of course. In ‘Incredibles 2’ these elements are present but somewhat out of synch, being developed independently of one another rather than simultaneously.

It’s as if each consecutive scene has a different goal in mind, and though the film weaves them together as best it can, the overall structure and pace of ‘Incredibles 2’ doesn’t lend itself to dual storytelling. Even on its most basic level the narrative can’t quite render the superhero actions of Elastigirl with the domestic duties of Mr Incredible as being truly linked. They each unfold separately and only seem to converge in the third act. One scene can be funny, another can be dramatic and another can be thrilling. But rarely does a scene do more than one of these at a time.

There’s also less nuance to how the characters develop and how the family’s dynamic unfolds. At certain points ‘Incredibles 2’ risk being either too overt or too ambiguous in its characterisation. There were times when I found myself questioning why certain characters were acting the way they did in a particular moment, to a point that even if the overall intention is made more clear in retrospect, the moment at hand can’t quite convey what drives each decision.

Thankfully what isn’t lacking is the amazing talent of the voice cast, with Craig T Nelson and Holly Hunter seamlessly returning to their roles. It’s not just their individual performances that stand out, but their brilliant chemistry is just as terrific. Their interaction creates a grounded, believable relationship that serves as a through line for the entire movie. Pixar also cast this instalments new characters with pitch perfect precision. The ever brilliant Bob Odenkirk and Catherine Keener are (no susprise) still brilliant in their respective roles. Also, as well as losing none of his directing prowess, Bird has lost none of his voice talent as he reprises the role of Edna Mode and brings her to the screen in all her glory once again.

Though the action is thrilling it does lack a sense of escalation that was also perfectly paced in the original. Once again it comes down to the movie struggling to convey multiple ideas at once, as each action sequence is impressive but hardly ever seems to contribute or further the narrative in a truly dynamic way. Even the final conflict only serves to resolve the plot rather than wrapping up any character arcs in a meaningful way. Each characters arc is resolved by that point but only through dialogue rather than action, which makes the super powered scenes feel somewhat obligatory.

Likely to please any fan of its predecessor, ‘Incredibles 2’ isn’t quite as polished or refined, but still possesses all of the charm and entertainment value of Bird’s 2004 film.

Result: 7/10

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