The Incredibles 2

It has taken 14 long years to get here! Snap comment: It was worth every minute of waiting..

“The Incredibles” is my favorite Pixar film. It was the perfect combination of comic book story, action, humor and best of all, it played like a James Bond film. There were secret identities and an impenetrable fortress to penetrate, and the movie had a score that any 007 adventure would be proud to claim as it’s own. The movie was family friendly and it played with the notions of family, middle age, and a sense of nostalgia for the whole time it ran. It was a two hour movie that crammed in all the best stuff you cab imagine and it had a shiny retro style to it that any kid of the 1960s would recognize as part of their personal heritage. The conclusion of the movie promised that we would be seeing further adventures, even if it lacked the “James Bond will Return” sign off that has finished the Bond films for 50 years. So that begs the question, why did it take so long to get a sequel out?

Well first you have to figure out what happens with “The Underminer”, the character who appears at the end of the original. Once you wrap that up, there is the question of what status the “Supers” are going to have, since the original limitations that forced them underground in the first place are still on the books. Also, to keep things fresh and not simply repeat the same story line, you will need new characters,both villains and supers. Don’t forget that you also have “Jack Jack” to take care of. We know he has a variety of surprises in store for his family, if you took a year to develop each of the potential powers that Jack Jack has to fruition, and write them into the story with at least one gag for each, well that would take a decade at least.

As usual, I will not be summarizing the whole story for you, that’s not how I roll on this blog. I will say that there is a little domestic problem that is similar to the storyline in Mr, Mom, but that the movie uses this to drive characters rather than to simply generate jokes. Mr. Incredible has to be worn down in some ways to make him vulnerable, and nothing like three uncooperative children will do that faster. Elastigirl has the main plot line to follow and it is she who must initially confront the new threats.

Frozone gets a slightly bigger opportunity to participate in this adventure, and even though it is a PG film, and Samuel Jackson is voicing the character, we get by without all the usual Jacksonisms. When the final confrontation is taking place, Lucius, Helen and Bob, patiently wait their turns on stage. It is the kids who get to drive the action in the last third of the story and boy do they get to do some fun stuff. Violet takes charge and needs to be both quick and smart about the decisions she makes. Dash is impetuous which leads to trouble but also a great deal of fun, especially concerning the Incredimobile. After having so many superheros in The Marvel and D.C. universes end up having battles, the confrontations in this film have to be unique and for the most part they are. There are several new supers who have a role to play in the story and they muct both be overcome and included in the final wrap up.

Let’s face it, Edna Mode is everyone’s favorite character from the first film. She steals the scenes she is in, and we are all waiting on pins and needles for her inclusion in this story. While remaining true to the character, Edna seems to harbor a little warmth beneath those bangs and the vocal delivery of  director Brad Bird again steals every moment the character is near the screen. If there is ever a spin-off story planned for extending this franchise, this is the character that needs to be exploited. She is so arch and clever and brilliant, I’m sure we could follow a story with her much more effectively than we could with any Minions.

The most successful humor in the story comes from Jack Jack, and it may be the scene that everybody remembers years from now. The Super Baby confrontation with a lowly but determined racoon is worth the price of admission in itself. It is not just a series of gags, which it does have, the story manages to make these two non speaking characters more interesting than the villain/super conflicts in the rest of the story.

The look of the design in this film can still be attributed to googie architecture and retro cartoons from the 1960s. Helen has a motorcycle to die for but the car is the thing I will remember. The other supers are welcome echos of comic books past. When Elistigirl confronts the “Screenslaver” the animation is adjusted to highlight all the angles and color contrasts and it makes an amazing sequence which looks very different from the rest of the film but fits in perfectly.

Bob Odenkirk sounds just smarmy enough to raise suspicions while in the end turning out to be just as smart as we thought another character was. Catherine Keener may get stereotyped as a mesmerizing character if she plays one more part like this. They are welcome additions to the film and they add personality to characters that could easily just be tropes in the vocal cords of someone else. As far as I’m concerned, Michael Giacchino, should have his name inscribed on the Oscar that he was not even nominated for fourteen years ago. His music work here uses some of the same themes but it plays so organically with the new story and the returning characters, that it all feels fresh.

I really am looking forward to going back and seeing this movie again. Pixar has had a couple of weak enties in the last few years but along with “Coco” from last year, they seem to be on a new winning streak. Let’s hope it lasts long enough to get us to “The Incredibles 3”.

Tomorrowland

This movie is a mess. It has a dozen different strands of ideas that it wants to follow, it’s tone is all over the place, and the rules of the story seem inconsistent. The idea of making a Disney attraction into a film is not of course new, but as a whole “land” is involved this time, I think maybe the stitching required to get it all to hold together is just more obvious this time out. George Clooney is a movie star that can’t really open a film on his own without a strong premise, and he is invisible from this movie for most of the first hour.

Director Brad Bird has made some of my favorite films over the last fifteen years. He is capable of telling a coherent story but this one is just not quite there. You can see the ideas right there in front of you, tantalizing us with the notion that there is something deep and worthwhile in this experience. It just does not come together. It reminded me several times of the movie “Toys” with Robin Williams. There are things to look at, there are good performers giving it their all, but the premise is too fuzzy in the end to be anything more than mildly likable when it is all over. I ended up wanting to see the movie that they tell this story around, rather than the book ends that make up this structure. I think even the story of Casey, the young protagonist played by Britt Roberston, would have worked a bit better. At the end, the conventional issues all undermine the creativity of the imagination that the promise of “Tomorrowland” is supposed to hold.

The opening section that tells the back story of Clooney’s Frank Walker was excellent. The setting at the New York World’s Fair in 1964 is picture perfect. The Fair contained all sorts of advanced gizmos and concepts and a few of them are illustrated here. We never see the “Carrousel  of Progress” but the song makes an appearance and promises us a great big beautiful tomorrow. Raffey Cassidy is an interesting young actress who may very well have been cast because of her resemblance to Angela Cartwright of “the Sound of Music” but more importantly Penny from “Lost in Space”. Baby boomers will see her freckles and the dress she wears in those early scenes and think immediately of the time period being evoked. Casting here went a long way in setting the scene, I think even more than all the special effects. The kid who plays young Frank is also very well cast to give a sense of those hopeful, early sixties dreamers of the New Frontier. His answer as to why he made the jetpack he has brought to the Inventions Hall at the Fair is a great encapsulation of America’s can do spirit. The contrast with the heroine’s project, to keep the launch pad at Cape Canaveral from closing down, is a little heavy handed but it is clear. We stopped being dreamers.

So I’m settling down for an uplifting movie about how we lost our way and might get it back again, when evil robots try to kill the pretty little science terrorist, and then they disintegrate three police officers out of nowhere and do it with a creepy mechanical smile. Wow, this is a PG rated family film? It features the same kinds of blue guts splattered we saw in “The World”s End” only from humans rather than robots. Watch out for the sudden car accident that also runs over a little girl. Nothing says family entertainment like that. Suddenly our whimsical fantasy film has become an action picture complete with a pint sized Terminator to lead us to the resolution. By the time Clooney comes back to the screen, the film feels completely different. The pursuit of the two science dreamers across different dimensions includes dismemberment of the  robot pursuers in several grim but amusing booby traps. Then it is followed up by a Coke joke. The story meanders around trying to show us background material, but this is one of the few times I can think of where an exposition laden conversation between the two leads might have helped the movie move forward rather than slowing it down.

When story returns to Tomorrowland, it is never clear why things there have gotten as bleak as the other dimension we occupy. The macguffin that is referred to is incompletely explained and the visionary technologies that exist seem to be put to no better use than tracking kids down to kill them. Yep, that’s the joy of Tomorrowland. At the very end of the story, the characters try to redeem all we have experienced with a renewed promise, but they have not explained how the same problem cannot occur again or why a new set of dreamers will make any difference. Hugh Laurie’s Governor Nix asks at one point how we managed to have the dual problems of obesity and starvation simultaneously? It’s a pretty reasonable dilemma, I’ve got another one for you, How are we supposed to expect the future to be a place for our dreams, when it is trying to kill us at the same time?