Skip to main content

What if I tell you to un-punch someone, what you do then?

Incredibles 2
(2018)

(SPOILERS) Incredibles 2 may not be as fresh as the first outing – indeed, certain elements of its plotting border on the retread – but it's equally, if not more, inventive as a piece of animation, and proof that, whatever his shortcomings may be philosophically, Brad Bird is a consummately talented director. This is a movie that is consistently very funny, and which is as thrilling as your average MCU affair, but like Finding Dory, you may understandably end up wondering if it shouldn't have revolved around something a little more substantial to justify that fifteen-year gap in reaching the screen. 


It would be fair to say that my favourite Pixar pictures to date have been Brad Bird joints (The IncrediblesRatatouille, although Andrew Stanton's WALL-E takes third) and that I haven't been the greatest advocate of their sequel locomotive of recent years. The Toy Story follow-ups were largely worthwhile (and lauded to the heavens), but I probably break with the trend in considering there to have been no real need for them (and I wasn't that bowled over by the first in the first place). The recent raiding of their crown jewels (Finding Dory, the announced Toy Story 4 because naturally) has rather supported that, and truth be told, you aren't going to find any bucking of the trend with Incredibles 2. Nevertheless, and stirring and repeating as it is the huggable family dynamic theme common to the studio's entire output, the zest and energy on display here ensure it would be churlish to begrudge this addition to the ranks.


The heel-dragging on a sequel was purportedly because Bird couldn't come up with an idea (and it kicking into gear was absolutely nothing to do with Tomorrowland flopping), which might suggest to a cynical view that he eventually just went with what he had (rather like Indy 5 taking years longer than it needed, only to come out not very far from how Lucas wanted it in the first place). We start where we left off, with the Underminer (John Ratzenberger) undermining (and likely to return in the third instalment?); even if the first movie didn't actually come out and say it, it was easy to infer that, through their triumph over Syndrome, superheroes had been accepted once again (despite Dash's deferred winning dash). Not so, as Bird is intent on returning us to the original's status quo pre-learning/character arc, a problem encountered with many a sequel, not least the roundly-lambasted Star Trek Into Darkness (although, here it's narratively rather than emotively). 


Not only is the family's right to be Supers rudely shutdown no sooner than they have worked as a unit, but one of their number is also soon prevailed upon by a super-rich individual to don the mask once more and fight evil - only to be revealed as a purveyor of evil themselves. There's a near repeat too in the villain's end goal – while Syndrome wants to make everyone superheroes such that the term becomes meaningless, Evelyn – I didn't realise Catherine Keener was voicing her, although even without knowing, it very quickly becomes clear the character's a wrong 'un – plans to kill off any chances of superhero acceptance permanently because she thinks everyone would be better off if there were no superheroes, if everyone was the same and so not looking to be saved by anyone. 


It's a solid motive – the dangers of salvationist doctrines in whatever form – but it isn't a very interesting one. On top of which, even given her brother Winston's (Bob Odenkirk) plan to render supers legal once more, it seems like a convoluted way for her to go about things (given she has the hypno-goggles, she didn't need to wait for her brother to act to put her scheme into operation, which is only going to re-affirm the current law anyway).


Bird appears to have built into his villain’s rationale an acknowledgement of the Randian objectivist doctrine he is sometimes accused of endorsing through his films; Supers going about doing their thing unhindered is essentially selfish and causes society as a whole to suffer. It would be better for all – never the goal of the objectivist, since rational self-interest is their ethical god – if there were no Supers. There are flaws in reading an objectivist stance into The Incredibles – if you're seeing the Parrs, and particularly Bob's, behaviour as essentially selfish, then you have to regard any instances of their helping others as essentially selfish, rather than altruistic, and I don't think this behaviour (in either picture) is coded that way – just as there are apparent confirmations – government is very much positioned as removing extraordinary people's (the only ones who count) rights.


Added to which, the villain in both movies resents Supers specifically (in her case it is blaming them for the death of her father), rather than your standard bad guy wanting power or riches, so assumes the same role as government, of holding back the truly talented and special from unfettered achievement. Ultimately, Incredibles 2 reaffirms the need for Supers (they regain full status) so one might argue objectivism wins out (the same as Ratatouille and its genius cooking rat, and Tomorrowland and its utopia for overachievers rekindled).


But I've never been overly convinced by the objectivist charge levelled at Bird, and as Vox points out, it's possible to be engaged by facets of an ethos yet not wholly persuaded by it; "All of his movies grapple with objectivist themes, to be sure, but they also don't conclude that doing what’s best for the self is what’s best for everybody". It doesn't stick any more than the argument of the Screenslaver, the "cover" motivation that people should quit being – per his name – slaves to their TVs (while it's only really identified as such in a newspaper in the original, these movies are set in 1962, doubtless seen by Bird with his rose-tinted spectacles, a tender five at the time, as the USA on the cusp of things turning "bad" and so perfect for visions of halcyon days and nostalgia for an alt-present/potent future that never happened: see also Tomorrowland). Sure, the Screenslaver's screed could be claimed as a serious point about our current addiction to devices, although the delivery is pretty much incidental, but you have to balance that by recognising the movie's utterly awestruck response to technology, in thrall to supercars, supersuits, superbikes or superbaby-handling gizmos. 


Bird touches on a range of different themes and ideas in Incredibles 2, but generally with a commendable lightness of touch. The gender role reversal is the really obvious one – Craig T Nelson's Bob doing Mr Mom, Helen becoming the breadwinner – and under normal circumstances this would probably come across as exactly as redundant and tiresome as that sounds, but both sides are played out for maximum effect and realised scenarios and as such avoid feeling stale. It's that magic Pixar dust.


There's more fun to be had with the Bob side, admittedly, simply because it's funnier – his parental mistakes and mishaps, the developing powers of Jack-Jack, the visit to Edna – and because Nelson's delivery, resigned, weary emasculation personified, is blissful. Helen (Holly Hunter) doesn't really get lighter moments, designated to chase the plot, respond to exposition and engage in the main action; a debate with Evelyn over roles, ostensibly relating to who creates and who sells the creation, is really about the gender hills they have to climb, and it's one of the few times Bird seems to struggle with overstatement, hence its culminating in their mutual laughter like something out of a regrettable Hanna Barbera cartoon. 


The element of big corporations and media manipulation is presented as an aside, but even when it's an ostensibly positive force, DevTech is marked out as a lobby group of dubious ethics in the shameless lengths it goes to to get the law changed; no wonder Helen never feels quite right about their propaganda machine. It's later revealed that DevTech is initiating false flag attacks as a means to further the agenda of one of its founders. As such, the potential of the hypnosis ray as a means of instilling mass-obedience might have been put to more interesting effect than it is. Continuing the corporate theme, Violet observes that Evelyn will probably only serve a fraction of her sentence, being rich, which no one attempts to deny. It's an implicit slap in the face of the presumed objectivist position, and a small dose of present-day cynicism intruding on Bird's idealised world.


Bird continues to display a dizzying mastery of the action sequence, even if some of the actual plot material – such as out-of-control vehicles, at the start, middle and end – isn't that incredible. More impressive is anything involving Jack-Jack's powers, where the gasps and guffaws are often interchangeable, or the fight between Voyd and Violet, one creating voids and the other anticipating her reappearance. There's a confrontation between Helen and "Screenslaver" that unfolds in surprisingly creepy fashion as she first searches his lair. 


And anything involving the league of hypnotised Supers is both amusing and fulfilling the potential of a Pixar movie about superheroes, if occasionally reminiscent of Mystery Men; Reflux, throwing up hot lava, can'’t help but recall Paul Reuben's stinky Spleen. Then there's Screech, who seems vaguely based on Nite Owl in Watchmen, while He-Lectrix suggests Matthew Goode's Adrian Veidt (there's also been discussion both of how Voyd fits as a LGBT character and one also possibly inspired by Kristin Stewart). By far the best confrontation in the movie, however, is Jack-Jack versus a vicious raccoon, which comes across as if Blue Sky abruptly took over the reins for a single sequence. Inevitably, I ended up feeling sorry for the racoon (it's heartening at least to see how much the poster designers took to the wee trash panda). 


Bao, the short film that accompanied Incredibles 2, did nothing for me at all, so much so, I was sent searching for a synopsis after the fact. Now, having been duly dunked in sickly swathes of sentiment, I wish it was more like Little Otik, as I first assumed (predictably, the media have turned a failure to engage with the material as a finger-pointing exercise in cultural insensitivity). Incredibles 2, then, continues the trend of Pixars this decade, that of less tidily constructed, somewhat derivative reinventions of the movies they were producing the decade before. Which is not to say it's a disappointment – far from it – but that they're still going to have to pull something out of a post-Lasseter-era hat to rediscover their full creative potential. Perhaps subscribing to a take-no-prisoners, objectivist policy in a quest of unparalleled product? Perhaps not.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

In a few moments, you will have an experience that will seem completely real. It will be the result of your subconscious fears transformed into your conscious awareness.

Brainstorm (1983)
(SPOILERS) Might Brainstorm have been the next big thing – a ground-breaking, game-changing cinematic spectacle that had as far reaching consequences as Star Wars (special effects) or Avatar (3D) – if only Douglas Trumbull had been allowed to persevere with his patented “Showscan” process (70mm film photographed and projected at 60 frames per second)? I suspect not; one only has to look at the not-so-far-removed experiment of Ang Lee with Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, and how that went down like a bag of cold sick, to doubt that any innovation will necessarily catch on (although Trumbull at least had a narrative hinge on which to turn his “more real than real” imagery, whereas Lee’s pretty much boiled down to “because it was there”). Brainstorm’s story is, though, like its title, possibly too cerebral, too much concerned with the consciousness and touting too little of the cloyingly affirmative that Bruce Rubin inevitably brings to his screenplays. That doesn’t mea…

You keep a horse in the basement?

The ‘Burbs (1989)
(SPOILERS) The ‘Burbs is Joe Dante’s masterpiece. Or at least, his masterpiece that isn’t his bite-the-hand-that-feeds-you masterpiece Gremlins 2: The New Batch, or his high profile masterpiece Gremlins. Unlike those two, the latter of which bolted out of the gate and took audiences by surprise with it’s black wit subverting the expected Spielberg melange, and the first which was roundly shunned by viewers and critics for being absolutely nothing like the first and waving that fact gleefully under their noses, The ‘Burbs took a while to gain its foothold in the Dante pantheon. 

It came out at a time when there had been a good few movies (not least Dante’s) taking a poke at small town Americana, and it was a Tom Hanks movie when Hanks was still a broad strokes comedy guy (Big had just made him big, Turner and Hooch was a few months away; you know you’ve really made it when you co-star with a pooch). It’s true to say that some, as with say The Big Lebowski, “got it” on fi…

You can’t keep the whole world in the dark about what’s going on. Once they know that a five-mile hunk of rock is going to hit the world at 30,000 miles per hour, the people will want to know what the hell we intend to do about it.

Meteor (1979)
(SPOILERS) In which we find Sean Connery – or his agent, whom he got rid of subsequent to this and Cuba – showing how completely out of touch he was by the late 1970s. Hence hitching his cart to the moribund disaster movie genre just as movie entertainment was being rewritten and stolen from under him. He wasn’t alone, of course – pal Michael Caine would appear in both The Swarm and Beyond the Poseidon Adventure during this period – but Meteor’s lack of commercial appeal was only accentuated by how functional and charmless its star is in it. Some have cited Meteor as the worst movie of his career (Christopher Bray in his book on the actor), but its sin is not one of being outright terrible, rather of being terminally dull.

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

I mean, I am just a dumb bunny, but, we are good at multiplying.

Zootropolis (2016)
(SPOILERS) The key to Zootropolis’ (or Zootopia as our American cousins refer to it; the European title change being nothing to do with U2, but down to a Danish zoo, it seems, which still doesn’t explain the German title, though) creative success isn’t so much the conceit of its much-vaunted allegory regarding prejudice and equality, or – conversely – the fun to be had riffing on animal stereotypes (simultaneously clever and obvious), or even the appealing central duo voiced by Ginnifier Goodwin (as first rabbit cop Judy Hopps) and Jason Bateman (fox hustler Nick Wilde). It’s coming armed with that rarity for an animation; a well-sustained plot that doesn’t devolve into overblown set pieces or rest on the easy laurels of musical numbers and montages.

So credit’s due to co-directors Byron Howard (Bolt, Tangled) and Rich Moore (of The Simpsons, Futurama, and latterly, the great until it kind of rests on its laurels Wreck-It-Ralph) and Jared Bush (presumably one of the th…

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.

I can't lie to you about your chances, but... you have my sympathies.

"Predalien" The Alien-Predator-verse ranked
Fox got in there with the shared universe thing long before the current trend. Fortunately for us, once they had their taste of it, they concluded it wasn’t for them. But still, the Predator and Alien franchises are now forever interconnected, and it better justifies a ranking if you have more than six entries on it. So please, enjoy this rundown of the “Predalien”-verse. SPOILERS ensue…
11. Alien vs. Predator: Requiem (2007)
An almost wilfully wrongheaded desecration of both series’ legacies that attempts to make up for AVP’s relative prurience by being as transgressive as possible. Chestbursters explode from small children! Predaliens impregnate pregnant mothers! Maternity wards of babies are munched (off-screen admittedly)! It’s as bad taste as possible, and that’s without the aesthetic disconnect of the Predalien itself, the stupidest idea the series has seen (and that includes the newborn), one that was approved/encouraged by ra…

I take Quaaludes 10-15 times a day for my "back pain", Adderall to stay focused, Xanax to take the edge off, part to mellow me out, cocaine to wake me back up again, and morphine... Well, because it's awesome.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Along with Pain & Gain and The Great Gatsby, The Wolf of Wall Street might be viewed as the completion of a loose 2013 trilogy on the subject of success and excess; the American Dream gone awry. It’s the superior picture to its fellows, by turns enthralling, absurd, outrageous and hilarious. This is the fieriest, most deliriously vibrant picture from the director since the millennium turned. Nevertheless, stood in the company of Goodfellas, the Martin Scorsese film from which The Wolf of Wall Street consciously takes many of its cues, it is found wanting.

I was vaguely familiar with the title, not because I knew much about Jordan Belfort but because the script had been in development for such a long time (Ridley Scott was attached at one time). So part of the pleasure of the film is discovering how widely the story diverges from the Wall Street template. “The Wolf of Wall Street” suggests one who towers over the city like a behemoth, rather than a guy …