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Incredibles 2

Love for superheroes—and this super family in particular—zings throughout Incredibles 2, an invigorating all-ages adventure that slips in sly commentary about what truly makes a hero.

Fourteen years ago, Disney/Pixar introduced The Incredibles, about a family with extraordinary powers forced to live incognito. “Supers” are still outlawed when Incredibles 2 begins, fresh on the original’s heels. As the Parr family leaves a school track meet from the previous film, they suit up once tunneling thief Underminer (Pixar regular John Ratzenberger) pops up for a bank heist.

The inventive action sequence that follows highlights the abilities of dad Bob, aka Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson); mom Helen, aka Elastigirl (Holly Hunter); their children; and their pal Lucius, aka Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson). But even though they save lives, authorities are none too happy because of the exorbitant infrastructure damage.

“You’d have preferred we’d do nothing?” asks an incredulous Helen.

Enter Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk of TV’s Better Call Saul). This telecommunications exec and fanguy thinks the heroes simply have an image problem. Most people see the rubble of the aftermath, he says. If they could witness the heroics firsthand, people would be less critical and welcome the Supers back with open arms.

Bob, a muscular behemoth, is ready to hop on board, but Winston says the stretchy and flexible Elastigirl is better from a public relations standpoint. (The glare Helen shoots Bob as he stammers, “Better than me?” is priceless.)

Soon Helen is wearing a body camera and riding a motorcycle designed by Winston’s genius sister, Evelyn (Catherine Keener, Get Out), while Bob stays home with the kids. Meanwhile, a hypnotizing masked villain named Screenslaver surfaces. The villain controls people near any monitor or TV screen, berating them for being passive and waiting for heroes to save them.

Writer-director Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Tomorrowland) once again finds clever ways for the characters’ powers to complement the story—and he gets marvelous support from the animators and voice talent.

Nelson (TV’s Parenthood) is both funny and poignant as Bob, who lifts freight trains but feels out of his depth around math homework. (Adults in my audience chuckled knowingly over his attempts.) He wants to support his wife but grapples with insecurity and their children’s dilemmas. To be fair, infant Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile) is a handful. He exhibits a sudden array of powers including duplication, phasing through walls, and laser eyes. But even before he transforms into a mini torch, this cherubic cutie is a scene stealer.

Young Dash (Huck Milner) doesn’t have a show-stopping moment of super speed this time, but he’s still an amusing bundle of energy.  Teen daughter Violet (Sarah Vowell of NPR’s This American Life), who projects force fields and can turn invisible, finally found the confidence to approach a boy she likes, only to be heartbroken once he seemingly forgets her. (Mild spoiler: It’s no fault of his own.)

But where the previous film hinged on Bob’s desire to be heroic, this one is Helen’s journey. Hunter (TV’s Top of the Lake) again gifts her with feisty determination and independence, bristling at the suggestion that she was in Mr. Incredible’s shadow. But she’s also gleeful over flexing her mind as well as abilities in ways she hasn’t done in years. She’s fierce in action, yet earnest and tender toward her family, the Deavors, and novices like Voyd (Sophia Bush, TV’s Chicago P.D.), a new hero who finds Elastigirl inspiring.

Odenkirk oozes optimism; Keener, sardonic weariness; and Jackson (The Hitman’s Bodyguard) exclaims in surprise and frustration better than anyone. The rest of the voice cast includes Jonathan Banks (Better Call Saul) as Rick Dicker, the family’s gruff handler; Isabella Rossellini (Enemy) as an elegant ambassador and admirer of Elastigirl; and Bird himself as Edna Mode, the pint-sized fashion designer with sky-high attitude.

The film’s 1960’s aesthetic is a visual delight, as is the swingy retro spy score from veteran composer Michael Giacchino (The Incredibles, Up, Coco). The action scenes are taut and suspenseful, and there’s plenty of warm-hearted humor throughout.

Naturally, the Incredibles find their greatest strength in working together. But they also know that being a hero takes more than a costume and superpowers. They’re people who, as one character notes, “do good just because it’s right.”

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