Movie Review: Animated Fantasy/Adventure – Incredibles 2

Directed by Brad Bird

Written by Brad Bird

Featuring the Voices of Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Catherine Keener, and Bob Odenkirk

 

Movie Review: Animated Fantasy/Adventure – Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman

Written by Phil Lord, and Rodney Rothman

Featuring the Voices of Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, and Mahershala Ali

 

Ring Announcer:
LAYYYYY-DEEEEES and GEEEEEN-TLE-MEN…
INTRODUCING…
Your title match for the night…
The BATTLE of the CARTOOOOON SUPERHEROES!!!!

In the red corner… from the winners of 15 Academy Awards and 46 nominations, with total grosses in excess of 13, count ‘em, 13 billion dollars worldwide…the undisputed champs of feature-length animated movies for over 20 years, The Kings of CGI TKOs… The Titans of Toons… the mighty PIX-ARRRRRR STUUUUU-DIOS with their latest blockbuster release…

INCRED-I-BUUUUULS TWOOOOOOO.

And from the blue corner… your challenger… with global box-office receipts topping a whopping 17.5 billion dollars, the champions of live action superhero mega blockbusters, the Defeaters of DC, the Stans of Stan, MARRRRR-VEL STUUUUU-DIOS, weighing in with their first major computer animated release, the Academy Award winning best animated film of 2018…

SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIIIIIDER-VERSE…

And now… Let’s get ready to RUM-BULLLLLLL…

 

With apologies to Michael Buffer, here are my reviews of two of the biggest animated features of 2018, both about superheroes and both entertaining. But which is the best movie?

It wasn’t long ago that Pixar Animation Studios was the undisputed champion of feature-length animated movies. With subversive wit, uproarious sight gags that rival the golden age of Warner Brothers, and cutting-edge digital animation that becomes more dazzling with every film, Pixar’s best films bridge the gap between children and adults in ways few films have ever managed, creating “family entertainments” that truly live up to that title. The studio peaked in the 2000s with a series of astonishingly inventive films like Finding Nemo, Monsters University, Wall-E, Up, the ingenious Ratatouille, and 2010’s riveting Toy Story 3. But an overreliance on sequels and a series of uninspired scripts tarnished their reputation in the 2010s. That reputation recovered briefly in 2015 with their greatest film, Inside Out, and 2017’s charming Coco, but the dependence on sequels continues.

The studio’s latest release, Incredibles 2, reunites the superhero Parr family – super strong Bob Parr (Craig T. Nelson), aka Mr. Incredible; his body-stretching wife, Helen (Holly Hunter), aka Elastigirl; occasionally invisible, purple force field-creating teenage daughter Violet; and super speedy son, Dash – with long-time family friend Lucius aka Frozone (Samuel Jackson) from the 2004 Oscar winning smash, The Incredibles. That film, while briskly entertaining and brimming with visual invention and clever, fast-paced action sequences, wasn’t quite on the same level as the studio’s other classics from that decade. Its best gags involved the ingenious use of the family’s superpowers, particularly Elastigirl’s, to escape from and fight the bad guys and the hilarious collisions of the superhero life with the daily banalities of family life. But its story, kiped from early James Bond movies, particularly You Only Live Twice, lacked surprises, real suspense, and the usual Pixar heart.

Incredibles 2 picks up where the first film left off, at the cliffhanger moment when the burrowing villain, the Underminer, wreaks havoc on the city of Municiberg with his underground boring machine, upturning sidewalks and buildings, plowing through bridges, and hurtling automobiles in an attempt to rob the city’s bank, this only moments after the Incredibles have defeated superhero wannabe Syndrome and his giant wrecking ball/spider hybrid. The family and Frozone manage to save the lives of citizens, but not without a cost. The Underminer has escaped and the super fight, as these things tend to do, has left the city in ruins, leaving a super bill and angry politicians to go with it. The backlash eliminates any chance of the supers being legalized once again, so Frozone and the family are forced back into hiding and the mundane suburban lives that are unnatural to them.

Stranded in a motel, the family is contacted through Frozone by an enthusiastic businessman (Bob Odenkirk) and his disheveled computer programmer sister (Catherine Keener), who promise they can return the world’s supers to the public’s once-favorable eyes, forcing the governments of the world to legalize the supers and their powers and allowing them to come out of hiding. They want Helen, sans her overly destructive husband, to be the new face of superheroes. They film her saving lives, send the footage to news outlets and create a new wave of public favorability for the once-banished heroes. Predictably, it’s all a front for a nefarious plot, and it’s a particularly lazy story for the studio that gave us Ratatouie and Inside Out, but the kids at whom these films are most squarely aimed won’t care and, as in the first film, adults will find diversion in the film’s cheeky humor, particularly in the scenes of now stay-at-home dad, Bob, dealing with the crises of parenting and most enjoyably, the newly discovered powers of family infant Jack-Jack, who’s angry fight with a pissed-off racoon is a comic highlight.

There are other great gags as well. My favorite is when the empty sweater of the boyfriend-rejected, invisible Violet trudges dejectedly to the fridge for some ice cream. You’ve never seen such a sad sweater. And there’s the expected appearance of the first film’s wonderful Edith Head parody, superhero suit designer and scene stealer, Edna Mode. She’s easily the funniest character in both films and it would have been fun to see more of her. She’s voiced hysterically by director Brad Bird and consistent with all the studio’s films, the voice acting is stellar throughout, particularly that of leads Nelson and Hunter, who invest all of their talents in these likable and memorable characters. But the visual gags aren’t as rapid-fire as in the first film. The action scenes are less inventive, seemingly repeating those from the first film, and the general air of creativity seems dialed down. Like most sequels, this one’s a retread with little new to offer.

Despite that, Incredibles 2 is solid fun and vastly superior to recent Pixar sequels like the dreary-dull Finding Dory, and the slight, at best, Cars 3, but it remains a sequel and not the original product the studio so desperately needs to shore up its damaged reputation. One more sequel, Toy Story 4, is planned for a June release, and that’s not necessarily bad news. The Toy Story franchise is the one Pixar franchise that has produced top-notch sequels. Following that, the studio promises a series of original films, and that’s the best hope we have that we may soon see a return to its glory days. But for now, it’s decidedly evident that Pixar’s reign as the king of cutting-edge full-length animated movies has been usurped.

The latest film to prove that point is Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, a film that dazzles with flashy invention and generous splashes of subversive meta-humor that’s entirely in-synch with the times. Spider-Verse is the first movie I’ve ever seen with an epilepsy warning in the opening titles and it’s not hard to see why. Nearly every frame of this movie pops with color and frenetic movement, employing a type of herky-jerky animation that takes some getting used to, but the film works carefully to create a modern comic-book-urban mise en scéne for its teenage protagonist to inhabit. These early sequences carefully and authentically emulate real comic books using multiple panels within a given page, or rather, frame; Batman style BAMS and POWS that splash across the screen; and even faux newsprint pixels that imitate traditional comic book paper. Many films, both live and animated have strived to accurately create a comic book look, but rarely so effectively, save perhaps, MTV’s brilliant 90’s animated version of Sam Keith’s “The Maxx”.

Later in the film, we get a dizzying variety of animation styles including classic Warner Brothers, 40s noir, and anime; and it’s an inventive story that necessitates such varied styles. That story, which allegedly maintains continuity with the studio’s recent live-action Spider-Man films, follows Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) a bright African American teen who’s bored with school and doesn’t relate to his by-the-book cop father who looks down on the city’s arachnid superhero for stealing the thunder of hardworking cops. Instead, Miles connects with his less formal uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali) who takes him to the underground subway tracks to spray-paint graffiti. One night, while visiting the subway on his own, he’s bitten by a strange spider and witnesses a wild conflict between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin, who’s in the employ of the evil crime boss, Kingpin (Liev Schreiber). The larger-than-life bad guy is in the process of firing up, for unclear reasons, a giant supercollider, which may destroy the city and perhaps the world. To Mile’s shock, Spider-Man is killed and with his dying words informs him that he must take his place.

Confused and terrified by the changes happening in his body, Miles is ill-prepared for his life as a superhero. But he soon gets help from and unexpected ally… Spider-Man (Jake Johnson). Not the dead Spider-Man, but a Spider-Man from a parallel universe, the universe with the Toby McGuire Spider-Man. But, as in real life, time has passed in his corner of the multi-verse since he first upside-down kissed Mary Jane Watson. He’s gotten old, sports a paunch, and has abandoned his tights for the comfier older man’s alternative, sweatpants. Kingpin’s supercollider has apparently opened a rift between the universes and the two are soon joined by a wide assortment of alternate spider-people, each a hero in their own universe. Together they must team up to aid the ill-prepared Miles to defeat the evil crime boss and close the time rift forever.

If one wants to decide a battle between these two films on purely commercial terms, Incredibles 2 is the clear winner, having grossed a spit-take-worthy $1.24 billion worldwide, compared to Spider-Verse’s relatively paltry, but still respectable, $363 million. But in terms of artistic merit, I have to give this one to the Marvel film. It’s fresher, smarter, more contemporary, and more in-tune to the modern world. If it goes on a bit too long and features one too many tear-jerker moments, Its message of believing in oneself and its endless imagination are the kinds of things that once made Pixar the king of the animated hill. It’s a most worthy entry in Marvel’s impressive Spider-Man catalogue and the current champ in cartoon superheroes.

 

Ring Announcer:

And the winner by unanimous decision is… Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verrrrrrrrrse!

Ratings:

Incredibles 2  78/100

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse  86/100

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