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‘Incredibles 2’ is incredible too

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We’ll start with the obvious: like anyone who loves great animated movies (or really, great movies, no qualifiers), I’m in the bag for Pixar. Ever since their initial outing with 1995’s “Toy Story,” the studio has produced an exceptional collection of high-quality fare (and also the “Cars” sequels) – and everybody has their favorites.

For me, while I’ve loved many of the movies that Pixar has given us over the past 15 years – heck, the 2008-2010 run of “WALL-E,” “Up” and “Toy Story 3” is as good a stretch as any studio has ever put up, animation or otherwise – but for me, the best Pixar movie has always been “The Incredibles.”

As you might imagine, my affection for that film meant that I was both excited and apprehensive when I heard about the impending sequel. To think that they were finally revisiting that story, bringing these characters and that world into a moviegoing culture that has not only accepted, but passionately embraced superheroes, well … would it work?

Oh yes. Yes yes yes. A thousand times yes.

“Incredibles 2” is phenomenal. It recaptures everything that was wonderful about the first film – largely through bringing back just about EVERYONE, from the exceptional voice cast to writer-director Brad Bird, the closest thing to an outright auteur that Pixar has produced. It is whip-smart and razor-sharp, a compelling narrative driven by killer set pieces, clever jokes, fascinating characters and a mesmerizing aesthetic. If you’re going to do a sequel like this, it has to be just right – and “Incredibles 2” is just right.

We pick up right where the previous film leaves off, with the Parr family – super-strong Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson, “Book Club”), stretchy ElastiGirl (Holly Hunter, “The Big Sick”), force field-wielding Violet (Sarah Vowell, “A.C.O.D.”) and speedster Dash (Huck Milner in his feature debut) – getting ready to do battle with the villainous Underminer (John Ratzenberger, “Shifting Gears”). With a little help from old pal Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson, “The Hitman’s Bodyguard”), they manage to slow the Underminer’s efforts, though the villain does get away with the contents of a bank vault.

However, the damage wrought by the fight reignites the government’s strong stance against superheroes, forcing the Parrs to go back into hiding. Unfortunately, the program tasked with helping wayward supers is discontinued; longtime handler Rick Dicker (Jonathan Banks, “The Commuter”) is taken off their case.

All appears to be lost, but then – hope! The Deavors – Winston (Bob Odenkirk, “The Post”) and Evelyn (Catherine Keener, “Nostalgia”) – are the brother-sister owners of a multibillion-dollar telecom corporation; they want to convince the world to allow superheroes to live and operate openly again. To do that, they have a plan – one that involves one of the Incredibles working with them to take on a sinister new villain called the Screenslaver.

Their choice is ElastiGirl, much to Mr. Incredible’s chagrin. He’s left to stay at home and take care of the kids (including baby Jack-Jack) while ElastiGirl gets out and starts saving the day. But between Violet’s boy troubles, Dash’s homework and Jack-Jack’s sudden onset of multiple powers, Mr. Incredible is overwhelmed. The domestic discord is set alongside ElastiGirl’s very public successes, including the Deavors bringing in a new collection of young heroes with their own unique powers.

Still, the Screenslaver has plenty of tricks – tricks that may prove too much for not just ElastiGirl, but the entire family. In the end, it’s going to come down to the Incredibles being, well … incredible.

There’s so much to unpack here. While it’s unlikely that any Pixar movie will unseat “The Incredibles” as my favorite, this movie came remarkably (and unexpectedly) close. It’s a first-rate action movie and one of the best superhero movies of the past decade. It’s better than most of the MCU and lightyears beyond anything DC has farted out. It is smart and self-aware, packed with wit and knowledgeable about various tropes.

Much of the credit has to go to Brad Bird. He moved on from Pixar to some big-budget live-action fare - the fourth “Mission: Impossible” movie and the film “Tomorrowland” – but there’s no question that his greatest strengths are in the animation realm. He brought these characters to life the first time; no one but he would be able to properly continue this story.

It’s the usual Pixar collection of excellent vocal talent. Nelson and Hunter are as good as it gets as Mr. Incredible and ElastiGirl. Vowell and Milner do a great job as well. In a career filled with superhero movie roles, Frozone remains Jackson’s best. Odenkirk and Keener are wonderful as well; Odenkirk’s fanboying is particularly spot-on. Banks and Ratzenberger are awesome in small roles. And Bird brings back costume designer to the super(hero)stars Edna Mode and steals every second of screen time.

“Incredibles 2” has done the seemingly impossible – it lived up to expectations. To recapture the energy of that first amazing movie and update the narrative for a world in which superhero movies have become the backbone of the American cinema would seem to be an unattainable goal … and yet they reach it. The bar could not have been set higher, yet they clear it with ease. It is fun and funny and compelling and action-packed.

It is, in a word … incredible.

[5 out of 5]

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