Note: This review assumes you have seen The Incredibles (2004) and know the major characters from that film. I've tried to keep references to a minimum but a major theme of my review is the collective resonance of the two films. And besides, you're an idiot if you haven't as yet seen what I describe below as...
The Incredibles was a classic of superhero movie-making (note that I don't specify animated because the film, like all true classics, transcends the format it was made in) and I totally respected writer-director Brad "Iron Giant" Bird for saying (despite the original ending with a sequel hook) that he would put on a follow-up only when he had the right ingredients. Despite those claims, I was skeptical, especially in the current climate of superhero franchise glut, whether the eponymous Parr family's adventures would still stand on Parr (ha!) or whether it would be a case of disappointing déjà vu. The initial trailers with focus on the household hijinks between dad Bob Parr and baby Jack-Jack suggested an accent on cloying cuteness. In other words, I was ready to pin on this one a label of The Incredi-Bores or at least The Not-Quite-Incredibles.
Still I felt it bounden to sit through the sequel and ascertain for myself, so I booked my ticket on the inter-web and whizzed off post work to the nearby mall-tiplex. After a surprisingly good cappuccino in one of the restaurants, I took my seat inside the movie hall in bated expectation. There was just one hitch. When a young couple came my side and told me I was occupying one of their seats, I re-checked the ticket and discovered that my inner boob had actually booked for the next day. Since the counterfoil had already been torn off the cinema staff was equally at fault, and they offered me another seat, to which I agreed. Crisis averted, back to the movie.
Incredibles 2 (I-2) is in good measure a mirror image to its predecessor. At the start the family finds itself once more at square one with the ban on "supers" still in place (not helped by the large-scale destruction from their battle with the Underminer). But relief comes in the form of tycoon Winston Deavor and his techie sister Evelyn with a scheme to slowly relaunch and push for legal resurgence of supers. The plan is to first focus on Elastigirl / Helen Parr, regarded as a safer opening choice. Bob / Mr. Incredible, while resentful of being sidelined from numero uno status, elects to take on domestic duties, which includes dealing with son Dash's math homework, daughter Violet's teenage angst and baby Jack-Jack, whose X-Men Academy repertoire of uncontrolled powers poses more issues than your average toddler. Thus what we see is an inversion of the first film where Bob was out superhero-ing while Helen held the home front.
This is of course a nod to the growing attention about gender equality issues in mainstream movies (not that Helen wasn't a badass in The Incredibles) and I-2 has its share of on-the-nose statements about that, but the shift makes for a refreshing change. Let's face it, Mr. Incredible is essentially Captain America with far less charm, a big lug with a massive ego and a 3:1 brawn-to-brain ratio. One of my favorite parts from the original film is when Elastigirl goes in to rescue him from the villain's lair - an episode of stealth, ingenuity and stretch-powered acrobatics that puts to shame any James Bond movie. This is not just equaled here, it is handily bested with multiple thrilling episodes; my favorite is when she rapidly ricochets between multiple helicopters to foil an airborne assassination. Anyone watching this movie can't help but say, "Go Elastigirl Go!" (take my money already for that origin movie, If Brad is up for it).
Bob on the other hand finds domesticity a bigger challenge than he anticipated ("Math is math. Why would they change math?"), his inner man-child sometimes threatening to subsume his paternal responsibility. But he (and the kids) learn to cope and later team up to rescue mom when she falls prey to the villain's nefarious scheme. Sounds familiar? One wee problem with the mirror structure is that you know early on who the villain is, and even the motivation is explicitly spelled out long before the movie makes the official reveal. But you know what, it's okay. You feel so invested with the characters you've come to love, you enjoy the ride even when you know where its going. Judicious trimming would have made it even better, but Jack-Jack's onscreen antics remain on the right side of endearing. The art style retains the defining characteristics of the original film even but with more refined and palpable texture. The scale and fluidity of the action sequences is raised without losing clarity or assailing the audience with ADD cutaways, and composer Michael Giacchino once again serves up a rousing brassy score that supplements the thrills.
By the end of Incredibles 2 I felt as completely entertained as when I saw the first film so many years ago at the cinema, and that my friends is a superheroic feat.