Editor's note: Arts Editor Ryah Cooley and Sun Staff Writer Spencer Cole stepped in to write this week's Split Screen while Glen and Anna Starkey were partying away at the Live Oak Music Festival. The Starkeys will be back critiquing movies next week.
From Writer/Director Brad Bird (Ratatouille) comes the sequel Incredibles 2, 14 years after the original film premiered. Everyone's favorite family of superheroes is back in Incredibles 2—but this time Helen (voice of Holly Hunter) is in the spotlight, leaving Bob (voice of Craig T. Nelson) at home with Violet (voice of Sarah Vowell) and Dash (voice of Huck Milner) to navigate the day-to-day heroics of normal life. It's a tough transition for everyone, made tougher by the fact that the family is still unaware of baby Jack-Jack's (voice of Eli Fucile) emerging superpowers. When a new villain hatches a brilliant and dangerous plot, the family and Frozone (voice of Samuel L. Jackson) must find a way to work together again. (118 min.)
Ryah Confession: I either hadn't seen the first Incredibles or had only seen bits and pieces. To remedy that I watched the original a few days before heading to the theater to catch Incredibles 2. My takeaway is essentially the same for both movies: They're cute, fun films that just run way too long for a children's animated movie. And it would have been easy in both cases to compress the storylines down to 90 minutes rather than two hours. That said, there are worse ways to spend an afternoon than watching Incredibles 2. After more damage is done to the city while the Incredibles family is fighting yet another bad guy, the program for supers in hiding is shut down due to pressure from the public and government officials. With no job prospects, Helen and Bob are hard-pressed to find a way to provide for their family, until a wealthy telecommunications tycoon, Winston Deavor (voice of Bob Odenkirk) reaches out to the couple and Frozone about a plan to make supers legal again. But phase one involves starting out on a mission with just Helen, aka Elastigirl, front and center, which brings some friction to her marriage with Bob, aka Mr. Incredible, as he's forced to stay home with the kids while his wife fights crime and brings home the bacon. This issue of a hetero-normative couple switching up their gender roles is glossed over a little bit, and I wish Bird had spent more time here.
Spencer It's been 14 years since the Incredibles first burst onto the scene and delighted audiences with its unique nostalgia-drenched take on what was then just an emerging powerhouse genre in contemporary cinema. That's more than a decade of Avenging, Dark Knightin', Deadpooling, and world-saving that the crime fighting family and the world missed out on during their absence. Hell, when the movie premiered, Tobey Maguire was still Spiderman. Yes, there have been five Spider-Man movies since the first Incredibles came out. I still have trouble believing that even though I just wrote it. Which is why I was all the more impressed with Bird's follow-up for his super-powered family. It should be commended how he and the animation team at Disney's Pixar managed to be true to the original without kowtowing to modern trends. And while the film may be a shade darker than the first iteration, this new installment delivers on just about everything it promises and should leave families entertained until the next chapter arrives in theaters (which hopefully comes sooner than a decade and a half). I agree with Ryah that I would have liked to have seen a deeper exploration of gender roles, but I kind of get that doing so would have made the movie even longer (and at 118 minutes this one is asking a lot of its younger audiences, even with multiple action scenes and an endless array of power displays).
Ryah The new super villain that the Incredibles (well, mainly Helen) are up against this time is the Screen Slaver, a nemesis who uses our enslavement to technology to hypnotize victims using any screen around. In this state, the Screen Slaver can get anyone to do his evil bidding and they won't remember it later. At the same time, the Screen Slaver is very anti-technology and thinks people are overly dependent on it at the expense of actually living life, which seems a bit ironic. The plot twist when the Screen Slaver's identity is actually revealed will be surprising for the kiddos but less so for grown-up viewers. While this latest villain is superdependent on technology, Bird seems to have created a world that is weirdly vintage and modern. There is nary an iPhone in sight, and the paparazzi taking photos of super heroes are using old timey cameras. Meanwhile Evelyn Deavor (voice of Catherine Keener), Winston's inventor sister, is busy designing the latest gadgets for their company. Also, why are Helen and Bob the only supers with kids? And why do we only hear, but never see Frozone's wife, Honey (voice of Kimberly Adair Clark)? Would it have hurt Bird to give a strong female character of color some on-screen time that didn't include nagging her husband? Are we to assume that she is the muggle equivalent of a non-super hero? These are the burning questions I had as I left the theater. Still, Incredibles 2 is a pretty good time, but I'm cheap and would have been perfectly happy getting this flick from RedBox.
Spencer Yeah, the film is certainly not without its missteps, specifically in how it handles Frozone's wife, who really does just feel like a recycled gag from 2004's Incredibles. How hard would it have been to design a character and give her some meaningful screen time besides reducing her to some cheap foil for Jackson's Frozone to briefly interact with? As for the villain reveal, again, to echo Ryah, it's not going to come as a shock to seasoned moviegoers but may catch a few distracted parents, and especially kids, off guard. That being said, I have to hand it to Bird for how he packages an action sequence and his apparent skill at pairing together super powers for battles like a sommelier with fine wine. The folks over at Marvel Studios could learn a lot from these films in terms of crafting fight scenes that, although almost always formulaic, can still be delivered in ways that make them feel fresh. Bird proves that multiple times throughout Incredibles 2 (just watch Elastigirl interact with her bike and try to tell me that's not some cool out-of-the-box thinking for a chase scene involving a human being essentially made of indestructible rubber). I also wanted to take a minute to commend Bird's choice to leave cellphones out of the picture, allowing his film to flex its muscles without pocket-sized distractions. It truly speaks to the traditionalist bent of the series, which seems to draw from 1950s era superhero shows and comics, as much as even earlier, Golden Age science fiction classics. Bird gives audiences a glimpse of how his generation and those before him viewed the future, and while those dreams may be dated, they still come across as new, exciting, and utterly unique, and that's pretty incredible. Δ
This week's Split Screen was written by Arts Editor Ryah Cooley and Sun Staff Writer Spencer Cole. Comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.