‘The Incredibles 2’ succeeds but lacks the superpowers of the first

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Helen (voice of Holly Hunter) is back in action as Elastigirl, leaving Bob (Craig T. Nelson) to parent solo in “The Incredibles 2.” | DISNEY•PIXAR

Wham bang pow!

It’s been 14 years since we last spotted the sensationally entertaining “The Incredibles,” and yet original cast members Holly Hunter, Craig T. Nelson, Samuel T. Jackson, Sarah Vowell, et al., manage to look and sound exactly as they did back in 2004.

That’s because they’re not just superheroes. They’re CARTOON SUPERHEROES.

Writer-director Brad Bird’s long-anticipated second chapter in the story of America’s favorite superhero family is a nifty blend of loudly chaotic amusement-ride type action pieces and domestic comedy-drama — all of it popping with Pixar-vibrant colors.

As Pixar sequels go, “The Incredibles 2” doesn’t reach the heights of the two “Toy Story” follow-ups or “Finding Dory,” but it’s better than “Cars 2” or “Monsters University.” It’s a solid double and that’s just fine, but I’ll admit to a feeling of mild disappointment it wasn’t a grand slam, given the greatness of the first adventure and the grand and creative mind of Mr. Bird.

At times the action sequences feel repetitive; on three different occasions, the Incredibles team up to stop a giant, destructive runaway vehicle. And the plot machinations keep Holly Hunter’s Helen Parr/Elastigirl apart from the rest of the family for a good chunk of the story — and that’s a disappointment, because for all their satirical jabs and jazzy-cool mid-20th century vibe, the “Incredibles” movies are foremost about a nuclear unit of a loving mother and father, a rebellious teenage daughter, a wiseacre adolescent son and a baby with a whole lot of personality.

Sure, they can do all sorts of, well, incredible things — but they’re also dealing with the same challenges and setbacks and communication gaps and day-to-day problems faced by non-superhero families the world over. It’s more interesting when they take on THOSE opponents as a complete unit.

But there’s plenty to smile about and cheer for as well, from the universally wonderful voice performances from the outstanding cast to the absolutely gorgeous animation to the ways in which various family members put aside their squabbles and rise to the occasion when one of their own is at risk.

“The Incredibles 2” picks up right after the events of the first movie. Bob and Helen Parr (Craig T. Nelson and Holly Hunter) and their children — 14-year-old Violet (Sarah Vowell), 10-year-old Dash (Huckleberry Milner) and the baby Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile) — are living an outwardly quiet life under the Superhero Relocation Program. (A worldwide ban on “supers” is in effect.)

When a villain called the Underminer starts ripping up the city from underground (hey, he’s the Underminer!), the Incredibles see no choice but to spring into action — which leads to a meeting with Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) and his sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener), a billionaire business duo determined to eliminate the ban on supers and restore the Incredibles and their peers to respected, invaluable members of the global community.

Helen/Elastigirl becomes the face (and action star) of the movement, while Bob/Mr. Incredible stays home with the kids and tries to juggle Violet’s door-slamming teen resentment, Dash’s struggles with math homework and Jack-Jack’s newly discovered superpowers, which appear to be more impressive and more daunting than the gifts of the other family members put together.

(In one strange and wickedly funny and mildly disturbing sequence, “The Incredibles 2” earns its PG rating when Jack-Jack gets into a prolonged battle with a nasty raccoon. Yes, a baby capable of transforming itself into a demonic creature fights a garbage-picking raccoon in a Pixar movie, and it kinda freaked me out.)

There’s something dated about the storyline involving a bumbling stay-at-home dad who quickly resents the mom who’s out there earning and getting all the glory — but then again, the Incredibles’ adventures are set in a kind of parallel-universe early 1960s, when such an arrangement would have been highly unusual. (The score and the sets and the cars in “Incredibles 2” give off a 1962 feel. Other elements are straight out of present day, or even the future. It makes for a fantastic anachronistic mash-up.)

Samuel L. Jackson (very funny) returns as Lucius Best/Frozone, who has a knack for showing up at the right time and also gets a tremendous kick out of seeing his best pal Bob overmatched by a teenage girl, an adolescent boy and an infant. There’s also a whole new set of superheroes from around the world — an endearing bunch of wonderfully different misfits who have been living as outcasts but now have cause for hope, thanks in great part to THEIR heroes, the Incredibles.

Just when things are looking up for the superheroes of the world, a new villain called “The Screenslaver” emerges — infecting the minds of all who look into a computer or TV screen when the Screenslaver is in command. Things get a little tedious when the Screenslaver controls Elastigirl (among others) and turns her against her family, but “Incredibles 2” regains its momentum in the final sequences and leaves us feeling good about this family and good about a world in which Bob, Helen, Violet, Dash and Jack-Jack are free to don the uniforms and answer the call to action whenever danger appears.

Well. We better keep our eye on Jack-Jack. He’s a wild one.


Disney•Pixar presents a film written and directed by Brad Bird. Rated PG (for action sequences and some brief mild language). Running time: 118 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters.

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