"INCREDIBLES 2" — 3 stars — Voices of Holly Hunter, Craig T. Nelson, Sarah Vowell, Huck Milner, Samuel L. Jackson, John Ratzenberger; PG (action sequences and some brief mild language); in general release
"Incredibles 2" is exactly what you would expect it to be. It's a fun, well-made return to one of Pixar's most beloved franchises that is great entertainment for the whole family — not quite as good as the original, but easily superior to the majority of family films on the release calendar.
It's been 14 years since the first film, but "Incredibles 2" picks up right in the aftermath of Brad Bird's 2004 original, with the superpowered Parr family, led by Bob (AKA Mr. Incredible, voiced by Craig T. Nelson) and his wife Helen (Elastigirl, Holly Hunter), fighting a goofy subterranean villain called The Underminer (frequent Pixar talent John Ratzenberger).
Thanks to an excess of collateral damage and a less-than-satisfactory conclusion to the battle, the superhero-driven mayhem reinforces a theme that has been playing out in a number of superhero movies in recent years: Are the triumphant ends worth the destructive means? In the aftermath of the battle, the Parrs are taken into custody and superheroes remain illegal.
Enter Devtech, a tech company run by a superhero advocate named Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk). Winston and his sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener) want to get superheroes back on the right side of public perception, and they have a campaign in mind to pull it off that involves having the heroes wear body cameras so people can see what they are doing firsthand.
Rather than outfit each superhero right away, Winston wants to use Elastigirl to pilot the program, since Mr. Incredible's MO shows a tendency to be a bit too destructive. Helen effectively becomes the family breadwinner while Bob stays home to take care of Violet (Sarah Vowell), Dash (Huck Milner) and baby Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile).
So "Incredibles 2" splits its narrative into two threads as Helen heads out to both fight crime and redeem superherokind and Bob struggles with the daily ins and outs of homemaking. For Helen, the challenge comes in the form of The Screen Slaver, a mysterious villain who uses technology to hypnotize an unsuspecting public. For Bob, the challenge lies in managing Violet's preteen romance and the curious emerging powers of Jack-Jack.
The production mirrors what fans will remember from the original film, with stylish animation, bright colors, constant wit and an energetic vibe — plus return visits from familiar faces such as Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson). The Incredibles live in a fun world that juxtaposes modern technology against a kind of retro Dick Tracy styling, pulled together with a brassy soundtrack from Michael Giacchino.
The showy elements mask a fairly routine plot that offers a few twists — albeit predictable. It also mines a number of themes — police accountability, domestic gender roles, cultural dependence on technology — without getting too preachy. All in all, the results are a fun new installment that will keep audiences happy and hoping that another episode follows — ideally without the 14-year gap.
"Incredibles 2" may not boast the traditional sheen of originality that usually marks Pixar's brand new movies (though "original" is one of many glowing terms that can be used to describe "Bao," the moving short that precedes the feature). But it's a welcome return, and returning fans and families will no doubt be happy with the results.
"Incredibles 2" is rated PG for action sequences and some brief mild language; running time: 118 minutes.