Toon in: Not quite incredible, but fun nonetheless
By: Matt Brunson
The vigorous embrace of mediocrity above all else grips a 21st-century America that has become too lazy to think for itself (as witnessed by the ascendancy of FOX News and reality T.V.), and writer-director Brad Bird smartly worked this national tragedy into an animated superhero tale that was, well, pretty incredible.
Released in 2004, the Pixar gem The Incredibles focused on a family of superheroes whose members consisted of dad Bob Parr/Mr. Incredible (voiced by Craig T. Nelson), mom Helen/Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), daughter Violet (Sarah Vowell), son Dash (Spencer Fox), and baby Jack-Jack.
The Parrs were presented as the modern American family that was expected to conform to the societal status quo (i.e., blend with the bland) rather than champion its own uniqueness. The domestic conflicts triggered by the clan’s suburban ennui gave way to an acceptance of each person’s individuality and, consequently, an ability to pool their resources as both crime fighters and family members.
That’s pretty heady material for what’s ostensibly a kid flick, but, as Pixar has proven time and again, the company’s greatest works provide relevance and resonance for adults as well. Yet when it comes to the sequels, only the Toy Story follow-ups offer comparable gravitas. Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo and Cars were all followed by further chapters that still provided the entertainment value but eased the brakes on anything more substantial. Surprisingly, that’s the case with Incredibles 2 (three out of four stars) as well. In this outing, arriving a full 14 years after the Oscar-winning original, superheroes are still outlawed and not allowed to engage in feats of derring-do.
The philanthropic Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) hopes to change that, and he and his sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener) elect to showcase Elastigirl performing amazing deeds in an effort to sway the public into again supporting superheroes. (Hunter returns to handle vocal duties, as do all of the primary players except Fox, who’s been replaced by Huck Milner as the voice of Dash.)
While Helen is running around the world performing good deeds, a grouchy and exhausted Bob remains at home looking after the kids. It’s only when a villain known as the Screenslaver gets the upper hand on Elastigirl that Bob and the rest of the brood — with assists from Frozone (returning Samuel L. Jackson) and, of course, the invaluable designer Edna Mode (Bird himself) — must get involved in the fray.
Full of energy and imagination (if a tad overlong), Incredibles 2 is a guaranteed good time at the movies and certain to be one of the summer’s biggest hits. But while it frequently feints in the direction of something more meaningful, it usually backs away and merely lathers on more thrills.
That’s not exactly a debit, but anyone expecting the complexity of its predecessor might be left wanting.
As before, the most satisfying element in the picture is the Parr family itself. The plot thread involving Jack-Jack and his seemingly infinite number of powers devours too much screen time (plus, what fun is a seemingly invincible superhero?), but the attention accorded to the other four family members is once again lovely, with Bob, Helen, Violet and Dash all retaining their standings among Pixar’s very best characters. Forget that Marvel gang: On screen, they’re the true Fantastic Four.
HAWKEYE was noticeably MIA in Avengers: Infinity War, but you can catch his alter ego Jeremy Renner in Tag (two and a half out of four), a hit-and-miss comedy with, perhaps surprisingly, more hits than misses.
The most startling trivial pursuit regarding this film is that it’s based on a true story, one that was featured in a Wall Street Journal article back in 2013 (“It Takes Planning, Caution to Avoid Being ‘It,’” by Russell Adams). The feature was about 10 men who have spent the last few decades taking one month out of every year (February) to play a game of tag, in which the final person tagged during that month has to be “It” for an entire year until the next cycle.
Naturally, attempting to focus on 10 individuals would turn the film version into, well, basically an Avengers movie, so the decision was made to downsize to five guys and one very enthusiastic wife. The plot centers around the fact that one player, the suave Jerry Pierce (Renner), has never once been tagged in all the decades of playing. Thus, the other four gents — game-obsessed Hogie (Ed Helms), corporate smoothie Bob (Jon Hamm), wry Sable (Hannibal Buress) and irresponsible Chilli (Jake Johnson) — have long been determined to nail Jerry. They feel that this is finally the year, as Jerry is getting married and the others — including Hogie’s exuberant wife Anna (Isla Fisher) — believe he might be distracted enough to let down his guard. Fat chance.
Too many comedies these days include a character who’s basically an idiot and allowed to utter supposedly shocking declarations (thanks a lot, Zach Galifianakis) — these guys are never as funny as intended, and that’s again the case here with Johnson’s tiresome Chilli. Yet, Hamm again demonstrates sly comedy chops, Buress is gifted most of the best lines, and Fisher is always a delightful dervish.
The real story is primarily one of friendship, but in this filmic version, the emphasis is naturally on rude pranks and crude one-liners. That’s perfectly fine — the movie is often very funny when it’s going for the throat — but it does render the sentimental final act soggy and not particularly convincing (and the dire fate of one character is brought up and then abandoned in a haste to a happy ending). Overall, though, there are enough bright bits and engaging performances to give Tag a pass.