Incredibles 2 (2018)

The_Incredibles_2.jpgPleasant surprises abound in Incredibles 2. What is supremely evident is that Brad Bird still has a pulse on quality storytelling just as the overall animation is blessed by the continual technological advancements in the medium.

Here we are picking up right where the previous film left off with the Parrs donning their disguises to face off against the Underminer to save the city. It works seamlessly as an opening gambit even if it has little bearing on the subsequent plot.

Regardless, it plays like a bit of wish fulfillment and yet somehow we must begrudgingly admit the encompassing magic has somehow left the material. We can never get back the unassuming success of The Incredibles now that it returns as a blockbuster juggernaut. Still, what isn’t lost is the retro cool or the equally frosty camaraderie provided by Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson). Then, the long-awaited return of Edna Mode follows which is equally satiating though far too short.

The creme de la creme was witnessing the full extent of Jack Jack’s immeasurable powers. You can tell the Pixar team has a blast exploring his full potentials and they really hit it out of the ballpark to realize the open-endings they left themselves in the original movie.

However, the film also begins its new chapter by introducing a brother and sister power duo, Winston and Evelyn Dever (Bob Odenkirk and Catherine Keener), who are looking to rebrand the superheroes and sway public opinion to get them reinstated.

Since we still live in a world wary of supers, this is a chance to right the ship and allow the Parr family to exhibit their powers without fear of public backlash. Despite everything they’ve been through as a family, what becomes increasingly apparent is how circumstances haven’t changed much. This is where the new chapter really begins.

On the homefront, they agree Ellen will dawn her Elastigirl attire once more as Bob is faced with the harrowing task of taking care of his children. Jack Jack is literally a bouncing fireball of energy. Violet is having boy problems. Dash is struggling with The New Math without his mother’s instruction. All these issues fall on the man of the house now.

Meanwhile, on the outside, Elastigirl must track down a criminal mastermind, The Screenslaver, who is using television screens to mesmerize audiences through some ultra high-tech form of mind control. But as this is a film full of media and PR tactics, it seems convenient this is all part of a broader conspiracy to discredit supers for good. It’s meeting the Deavor’s plan in an equal and opposite direction — with nefarious implications.

Villainy is always a sense of someone with convictions they believe to be true ultimately getting twisted in ominous ways. It’s easy enough to discern who the culprit is but we can hardly hold it against the narrative.

The story culminates at a summit to promote goodwill between benevolent authority (Isabella Rossellini) and the supers. However, as the result of wide-ranging tampering,  any projected trailer-worthy moments from our three favorite superheroes are essentially killed in a dastardly attempt to sink negotiations.

But what it does do is provide a platform for the Parr kids to strut their stuff. It seems fitting the final act belongs to them following their mother’s ascension to the starring role for the bulk of Incredibles 2. It is the best reminder that the series was always a family affair and far from being just another superhero movie, it was a family movie first and last.

Still, I cannot help but feel something is eerily amiss. Yes, if we reach back into our memories from where we left The Incredibles before it does feel gratifying to add another chapter to their story.

But like Finding Dory from only a few years ago, there’s such a big gap between the chapters, a certain amount of detachment sets in, especially since we are expected to pick up right where we left off. Toy Story 3 takes into account the fact we have matured over the last decade and change.

These newer entries seem to take it for granted that we are near the same places we were years ago. Granted, I understand it’s all but necessary with where we left the Parrs. Still, in a young person’s life seismic shifts have occurred and so if Pixar’s stories have not changed, it feels odd since we have changed so much. We are more out of touch with the content. Maybe we have even moved on.

And yet even as these stories operate as if nothing has changed, there are small things that do feel different. It’s nitpicky to admit but we have a new Dash and other slight changes in the original continuity. True, the Supers were all decimated by the threat of Syndrome but there are really no tie-ins to the heroes of old — I’m talking about the supporting crew aside from Mr. Incredible, Elastagirl, and Frozone.

Because we get this new batch of superheroes who in some strange way feel out of place and we have no reason to like or even care about them. Is this overly harsh? Perhaps but it comes from a space of deep affection for what The Incredibles was able to imbibe and so anything else added to the canon is going to come under a lot of scrutiny.

Where it counts The Incredibles 2 is a worthwhile outing with flashes of nostalgia that can easily pass for rediscovered thrills. Filled in by the stellar, fresh animation and Michael Giaccomo’s score, it might be easy to claim contentment.

That doesn’t mean we cannot still hang on to some of our minor qualms. Because if anything they remain as a testament to how special the original installment was and that is not necessarily a bad thing. It just means we can cherish the first film even more.

4/5 Stars

The Incredibles (2004)

 

The_IncrediblesCertain superhero storylines are beginning to overstay their welcome. Spiderman, The Fantastic Four, and even The Avengers spring to mind. The remarkable thing is the fact that this wildly popular genre headlined by numerous wildly popular franchises does not appear to be leaving us anytime soon. And when the prospects of monotonous superhero film after monotonous superhero film get a little too much, it’s rather comforting to return to The Incredibles. Yet again Pixar proved they knew how to craft animated films with great storytelling, but also a depth of character.

Over a decade ago now Brad Bird helmed a project that would introduce us to a very different batch of superheroes. Yes, they began as individuals named Elastigirl and Mr. Incredible, but soon enough they ceased being that. But these weren’t a ragtag alliance like the Avengers or the Guardians of the Galaxy. They were something perhaps more broken and complicated – a family.

Back in the glory days, the superheroes were civil servants held in high regard – one of the foremost of those being Mr. Incredible (voiced by Crag T Nelson), but they soon fell out of favor due to scandal and public controversy. Thus, they drifted into obscurity and their aliases quickly became their real life.

This is where this story gets interesting, as Bob and Ellen Parr, as they are known now, are living life with three kids. Ellen (voiced by Holly Hunter) is happy to give it a go and live the normal everyday existence, but Bob yearns for something more than rush hour traffic and a cramped cubicle in a thankless job. And when he gets a mysterious message with mission impossible-like implications. He is indubitably intrigued.

He begins moonlighting again, sneaking around behind Ellen’s back not wanting to needlessly worry her. He touches bases with his old friend and colleague Edna Mode (Bird himself), who supplies him with a new super suit sans cape. It’s just like old times with the super getting the respect he once garnered from everyone, and his family is happy and healthy. Everything is looking up.

But of course, behind these missions of his is something a little more sinister than he could have ever imagined. Of course, when his wife catches wind of it she expects something completely different – their marriage must be failing. That’s the only possible reason for him sneaking around.

Thus, mother and two stowaways head to a volcanic island smoldering with destructive peril. Mr. Incredible meets his match and is brought low as his past mistakes finally catch up to him. He realizes his weakness and more importantly how much his wife means to him. He could not go on without her. However, his wife and kids do not wallow in their predicament as they try and save the world from the dastardly deeds of the begrudging supervillain Syndrome. It’s in this final showdown that Mr. and Mrs. Incredible are back in their element with their compadre Frozone (Voiced by Samuel L. Jackson). Except now they are joined by their speedy son Dash and their invisible, force-field wielding daughter Violet, who both feel confident in their skin.  A giant mechanical robot is no match for such a crew, especially when they’re a family.

True, these characters have superpowers and special abilities, but then don’t we all in some way, shape, or form? This is a story about the nuclear family when that dynamic is blowing up, and a story about being comfortable in your own skin, in a society that often makes that difficult. So Pixar does the seemingly superhuman yet again by delivering up a popcorn-action-adventure-family film, that still somehow holds up to multiple viewings. It’s retro cool, quotable, and gives its voice actors space to gel. They breathe life into this story, while their contours come alive on screen. It’s a childhood favorite and for a very good reason.

4.5/5 Stars

Broadcast News (1987)

4392b-broadcast_newsI didn’t laugh at James L. Brook’s Broadcast News like I would your typical comedy (This is no Anchorman). However, I did find myself chuckling, in spite of myself, because these characters are humans and as humans, they are screw ups, petty people, and have errors in judgment. The humor comes in the everyday occurrences of working with a news station. There is constant chaos paired with egos butting heads and somehow the news still  gets reported.

At such a news station there are three seemingly everyday people who form a triangle of sorts. First off there is Tom Grunick (William Hurt), a handsome anchorman who is often sincere but lacking in the smarts and experience of others. Then, you have Aaron Altman (Albert Brooks), an experienced reporter with a gift for writing and a dream to be an anchorman as well. Finally, caught between the two fellows is manic producer Jane Craig (Holly Hunter) who excels in her career.
Aaron is a longtime friend and partner of Jane who secretly loves her. Tom comes into the picture as the inexperienced one, and it looks like he won’t be going anywhere. However, he gets his chance with a special report and thanks to Jane he hits it out of the park. It so exhilarating and all of a sudden he feels a lot closer too. That’s what Broadcast News does to these people. It makes them feel that much closer and it begins to make it difficult to filter their feelings. That’s how Jane finds herself caught between two men who both seem to love her.
It takes a major layoff to shake up the status quo and it reveals a bit more of the pettiness that exists within the industry (reflected some by Jack Nicholson’s evening anchor). Aaron quits his job, Tom gets promoted to a post in London, and Jane gets the position of her old boss who receives the boot. Aaron is jealous of Tom and his goodbye to Jane is a rather sour one. Jane, on the other hand, has some choice words for Tom when she finds out how he manipulated one of his news reports. That’s the way life is. It might be set up like a perfect love triangle initially, but then no one seems to win in the end.

We come back to the three individuals a few years down the road and they have all moved on with their careers and their personal lives. Not everything is patched up and they hardly have much in common anymore, but they can still talk and continue living their lives as before.

This film did not strike me as laugh out loud funny or remarkably spellbinding, but it was a truthful look at life at a news station. That in itself is a compliment to the film even if it is not altogether extraordinary because it seems genuine. I will certainly always be a fan of two of Brook’s other creations for the small screen, The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Taxi. He has a great breadth of work to be proud of.
3.5/5 Stars