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Only villains work alone in 'Incredibles 2' 

It takes a village.

click to enlarge SUPERHERO/CAREGIVER: With superhero Elastigirl making headlines, Mr. Incredible plays demigod of the domicile.
  • SUPERHERO/CAREGIVER: With superhero Elastigirl making headlines, Mr. Incredible plays demigod of the domicile.

Despite the 14-year hiatus since its predecessor was released, "Incredibles 2" begins right where the last movie left off — with the Parr family donning their outfits to take on the villainous Underminer (John Ratzenberger). However, the destruction their efforts wreak upon the city reminds everyone why "supers" were outlawed in the first place. To turn public opinion around, telecommunications billionaire Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) enlists Helen Parr/Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) as part of a PR campaign, essentially funding her career as a hero. Meanwhile, her husband Bob/Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) is left with the domestic duties, overseeing the care of adolescent daughter Violet (Sarah Vowell), son Dash (Huck Milner) and infant Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile), the latter exhibiting a range of powers that makes parenting a nightmare.

Bob, used to being the center of public attention, chafes under this arrangement at first but gradually comes to recognize the value of hands-on fatherhood. Meanwhile, Elastigirl's work brings her into confrontation with the Screenslaver. A techno-hypnotist capable of hijacking people's minds through any electronic screen, the Screenslaver views the very existence of supers as part and parcel of the same cultural trends that leave people passively consuming life rather than experiencing it firsthand. The Screenslaver, instead, wants people to rely upon themselves rather than mercurial supers and thus unleashes a campaign of terror, one that threatens not only the Parr family, but all people with powers.

Despite the immense competition, "Incredibles 2" proves itself the best superhero film on the market. While Marvel movies are rife with cross-references, regularly interrupting narrative with franchise building, and DC films have replaced character, continuity and clarity with CGI nonsense, "Incredibles 2" successfully combines humor with heroics without descending into triviality and bathos, and also explores the realistic consequences of a superhero lifestyle without indulging in gritty nihilism. Too, director Brad Bird's action sequences put the viewer right in the midst of a motorcycle chase through city streets or arcing dizzyingly over skyscraper rooftops. Many superhero films offer fight scenes consisting of little more than prolonged beat-downs, but "Incredibles 2" actually employs the various powers its characters possess for some truly creative sequences.

Sometimes, though, the various themes of the movie trip over each other. Various superhuman characters in the movie speak warmly of Elastigirl's recent work as having motivated them to stop hiding their abilities — to come out of the closet, as it were. The movie wants us to celebrate this, even as it gives us the perfect argument to the contrary. After all, Screenslaver's motivation stems from the growing visibility of heroes, which renders their very presence part of a vicious dialectic that inevitably entails large-scale property damage as heroes and villains fight it out in the public square. But for a movie about the superhuman ubermensch, "Incredibles 2" commits itself to a vision of equality. Elastigirl, for the first time in her marriage, revels in the chance to play first fiddle and reveal her fantastic abilities and intelligence. As the buff strongman, Mr. Incredible often enjoyed the limelight at the expense of his wife, and for much of the film he still believes that he should be the one out there doing hero stuff. However, he comes to recognize and appreciate his wife's own abilities, and for the man who famously stated at the beginning of the first movie that he always worked alone, he also comes to value his "village," the family and friends who help him get through difficult times.

In the end, though, Screenslaver is right — superheroes are a distraction from the lives we should be living. As St. Thérèse of Lisieux said, "To ecstasy, I prefer the monotony of sacrifice." Even in a universe filled with spandex-clad demigods, society is maintained, and more lives are saved, by the daily grind of folks just doing unglamorous jobs. Batman can punch real good, but Edward Jenner gave us the smallpox vaccine. It's something worth remembering as you go to see this latest Pixar offering, shown up on a bright, shining screen that will hypnotize you for two hours of excitement and fun.

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