Movie Reviews: ‘Incredibles 2’ works best when focusing on family

Photo: Disney/Pixar via AP

 

Fourteen years ago the idea of superheroes with personal lives was novel. The Parrs, the extraordinary nearest-and-dearest at the heart of “The Incredibles,” fought against evil but did so as a family. It felt like a new twist on both the family comedy and superhero movies.

Cut to today, The Iron Man Age, and such stories aren’t so fresh. “The Avengers” aren’t blood relations but behave as though they are, bickering and bonding in ways that seem familiar to any family, dysfunctional or not. The release of “The Incredibles 2” raises a question; Will this clan of superheroes seems as special as they once did?

The new film, helmed by returning director Brad Bird, picks up where the last one left off. A villain named The Underminer (John Ratzenberger) and his giant drill are wreaking havoc, threatening to destroy The City of Metroville.

Despite a ban on superheroes—in an echo from “Avengers: Age of Ultron” they’ve been outlawed because of the collateral damage caused by their enthusiastic crime-fighting—the Parrs, Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) daughter Violet (Sarah Vowell), son Dash (Huck Milner) and ally Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson), step in to stop the baddie and his evil screwing machine.

Their efforts put an end to The Underminer but, true to form, leave a path of destruction behind. Arrested and ordered to stop fighting crime, they are given a chance at a comeback when tech wizard and superhero fanboy Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) devises a plan to revamp the public’s opinion of them. He launches a public relations campaign and, aided by some real life heroics on the part of Elastigirl, rehabilitates the Incredibles’s dented reputation.

As Elastigirl earns headlines Mr. Incredible a.k.a. Bob stays home minding the kids and trying to figure out how to cope with the newfound superpowers of infant Jack-Jack, the family’s newest member.

Just as it looks like the Incredibles can finally come out of retirement Screenslaver, a new supervillain, reveals a mass hypnosis technology that will turn the public against all superheroes.

“Incredibles 2” is a fantastic looking movie. Advances in CGI since the first film allow for bigger and wilder, more cinematic action scenes and director Bird mixes-and-matches a variety of influences from silent movies on up to modern day blockbusters to engage the eye. There’s plenty of action of the sort we’re used to in recent live action superhero adventures and therein lies the problem. We’re used to it now and even though Bird stages some inventive work it feels, in a summer of superhero overload, like more of the same.

The emphasis on family is still there, woven into the script. The Parrs may be “supers” but they are a family with all the problems that go along with that. When “Incredibles 2” focuses on family it works best.

The character work is strong, with each character’s special power echoing their place within the family unit. Or instance, Elastigirl, the over-extended mother, is extraordinarily flexible, able to multitask with ease. Violet is a shy teen whose power is the ability to disappear and build force fields. It’s a clever way to mix the genres, family drama and superhero action, but the family side feels under developed in favour of action set pieces.

As a sequel “Incredibles 2” doesn’t feel as fresh as it did the first time around but should please fans with the superpower of patience that have waited fourteen years for the continuation of the story.

TAG: 2 ½ STARS

It can be tough to stay in touch with friends after college. People scatter, get married, have kids, don’t answer the phone as much. In real life Joe Tombari and his pals figured out a unique way to stay connected, an elaborate game of tag that has kept them in touch—literally—for more than two decades. “The best thing about the game,” he told “The Guardian,” “is that it has kept us in touch over all these years—it forces us to meet and has formed a strong bond between us, almost like brothers.”

A new film starring Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm, Jake Johnson, Isla Fisher, Annabelle Wallis, Leslie Bibb, Ed Helms, Hannibal Buress, and Rashida Jones takes Tombari’s game to an extreme.

For one month of each of the last thirty years Hoagie (Helms), Jerry (Renner), Bob (Hamm), Chili (Johnson) and Kevin (Buress) go to war, playing a game of tag with no rules and no prisoners. The last ‘it” of the season lives in shame for the rest of the year.

The latest game overlaps with the wedding of alpha dog Jerry, the only undefeated player. “He’s the best who ever played,” says Hoagie, “and now he wants to retire and make us all look like fools.” The old friends rally to put an end to Jerry’s winning streak.

The movie takes the real life premise and pushes it to extremes. These competitive fools will stop at nothing—including physical harm—to win. It’s a funny idea that does deliver some laughs but ultimately becomes a one-joke premise tarted up with some mild action, a dollop of psychological warfare, some raunchy humour and even a simulated war crime played for yuks.

The bromantic chemistry between the guys is good—and Buress with his non-sequitirs and deadpan delivery steals the show—but the film works best before it overindulges in elaborate set pieces. Hoagie disguised as a woman in an attempt to take Jerry by surprise is funny. Jerry’s booby-trapped forest, à la “Apocalypse Now,” pushes the story too far from the core—a friendly movie about male bonding—and into the realm of the ridiculous.

The movie finishes with clips of Tombari and his pals playing the real-life game and suggests that a documentary might have been just as entertaining as the narrative film.

BEAST: 4 STARS

For film fans “Beast” will seem both familiar and unsettlingly surprising, sometimes in the same scene. Cinemaniacs will recognize the story’s backbone, a woman who finds love with a serial killer, as echoes of films like “Badlands” and “Kalifornia.” What they may not expect is the nervy filmmaking and unexpected twists from first-time director Michael Pearce.

Loosely based on 1960s era serial sex offender Edward Paisnel, “Beast’s” dark story is set in a small community on the sun-dappled Jersey Islands. In recent weeks three teens have been killed and a fourth is missing from the tight-knit local town.

Twenty-seven-year old Moll (Jessie Buckley) lives at home, very much under the thumb of her controlling mother (Geraldine James). Troubled by an act of violence in her past she rebels on the night of her birthday party, sneaking out to go dancing in town. On the way home she is assaulted by a guy she met at the dance, but is rescued by Pascal (Johnny Flynn) who scares off the attacker with a hunting rifle. He drives her home and the two forge a bond.

In Pascal she finds someone unlike anyone she has ever met. Just as they move in together he becomes the prime suspect in the local murders, forcing Moll to choose between the family she has always known and the man she loves. “Are you protecting Pascal because you think he’s innocent,” asks a police officer, “or are you doing it as another way to get even with the world?“

We’ve seen bad-boys-and-the-women-who-love-them stories before, but “Beast” is set apart by the dynamics of the relationship between Moll and Pascal. The star-crossed pair have chemistry to burn and, as far as the violence goes, suffice to say the beastly behaviour here is gender nonspecific.

The journey to the film’s dark heart is a tense one, packed with interesting character work from the ensemble cast and bleak thrills, but it wouldn’t work without the leads performance. Buckley is a revelation. In her hands Moll is complex, fighting against any kind of outside control, from her family, the police, the community or even Pascal. Disturbed and disturbing, we rarely see a character simultaneously embody so much ferocity and ambiguity.

“Beast” deals in opacity. Less interested in the murders than the atmosphere they create in Moll and Pascal’s lives and the community as a whole, it’s a throwback to the psychological thrillers of Nicolas Roeg where interesting human behaviour and foreboding atmosphere trumps all.

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