Sunday, June 24, 2018

Not so Incredible (many fucking spoilers)

Image result for incredibles 2
Lotta spoilers.
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More than anything else, what made THE INCREDIBLES not only my favorite Pixar movie of all time, but my favorite superhero movie of all time, was the incredible loving detail Brad Bird lavished on their universe. That movie was layered, and then layered again, and again, and again, with setting, atmosphere, and above all else, history. Everything was dual purpose; every scene not only established what was happening in the present but what had happened in the past that led up to this present. The world that the Incredibles lived in was astonishingly rich and nuanced, you BELIEVED in that world. It had a vibrant, pulsing present rooted in a credible, wonderfully detailed history. And the ultimate reveal -- that Syndrome, the main villain was, actually, Buddy the long ago rejected wannabe boy sidekick -- blew it all wide open, blasted the top off, the doors off, the everything off. "You got me monologuing!" Oh my God, it was brilliant. It was transcendent. It was a moment that Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Englehart, Alan Moore, and Geoff Johns could only look at with slack jawed admiration.

Everything in the first INCREDIBLES worked. Edna Mode was utterly hilarious, yet at the same time, her hilarious and brilliant 'no capes' vignette added another layer to the setting's history. The scenes with Bob Parr's job at the insurance company were just amazing. There are, in fact, no moments where that movie drags, no sequences, however brief, that don't work. You almost never get an artifact that is absolutely perfect, but the first INCREDIBLES movie comes goddam close. It is one shining moment after another, and it's not all nostalgia or deconstruction. It takes the tropes and memes of superhero comics and does something that is not only a tribute and a pastiche, but that is new and innovative at the same time.

INCREDIBLES 2 -- eh. Not so much.

Don't get me wrong. I liked INCREDIBLES 2. Once it finally came on, after 14 years, seemingly endless sequels of lesser Pixar movies, a five minute pre-feature in which the aggravatingly aging cast assured us over and over that they understood 14 years had been a long time to wait, they had to make sure they got it right, but they got it right, and we'd see, it was worth the wait, the next thing on our screens was going to be INCREDIBLES 2, and then, after another interminably agonizing 12 or 15 minutes of some stupid fucking piece of shit about a DUMPLING BABY, yes, once the movie finally started rolling, sure, I enjoyed it.

But was it something we should have had to wait 14 years for? Fuck no. This was the kind of sequel that gets slapped together in 18 months to cash in on a craze, the kind of thing that gets tucked in to the 25 Year Anniversary Blu Ray as a special extra. This was far from perfect, nothing all that special at all. It was, as most Hollywood sequels are, mostly a rehash and a recycle. Where the end of INCREDIBLES strongly indicated that whether the world was ready for the return of supers or not, the Incredibles would now be fighting crime as a family -- in this movie, which starts up the second the last one ended -- we find out, nah, not so much. Yeah, the family fights the Underminer as a team, but that's the last time we'll see those cool team theme costumes for a long, long time. Instead, it's back undercover, with the same old arguments -- obey the idiotic law, or be true to ourselves and actually help people -- that fueled the first one. But in this one, they're just more background blather, like Alan Grant whining "This is where you play God" in JURASSIC PARK III, except instead of it being a tossed off one liner to establish characterization (yeah, Dr. Grant is still a dick with all the sense of wonder of the coupon day lawyer), it's the whole thematic subtext, yet again. And this time around, it's just fucking boring, because we're ready to move on.

Yeah, instead of Bob and Julian running around as outlaw heroes listening to police radios, this time it's Elastigirl doing the solo outlaw hero thing, with the backing of a billionaire super worshipper. But everything in this movie lacks the panache of the first film. Where Syndrome was pretty awesome, Screenslaver is just lame, especially in the areas of origin and motivation. The new supers who inevitably get brainwashed to be villains are even more like characters stolen from some kid's Champions RPG. The best parts of the movie comes right at the start -- the whole family battling Underminer -- and that ends inconclusively. It has to, of course, because if the Incredibles had won, they'd be showered with praise, instead of being condemned for all the damage they did without even capturing the villain -- but still, it seemed forced, and because the last movie ended with the Underminer, we couldn't even get an Easter egg with this one where they finally capture him.

The brief sequence with Edna seemed shoehorned in and pointless, and the one element of the film that should have been the most delightful -- Jack Jack's powers -- ended up being just a futile and endlessly extended rehash of the scenes where Jack Jack kicked Syndrome's ass in the first movie.

Halfwitted head fakes towards a feminist sub-theme with Helen being the breadwinner and Bob having to stay home with the kids went nowhere we hadn't already seen a billion times before a billion other places, and accomplished nothing, and about the only thing in the movie that really struck a strong chord with me was the chillingly casual introduction of mind control/memory erasure into the Incredibles universe, with apparently both the government and the heroes just kind of casually accepting that, yeah, if we need to protect someone's secrets, we'll just fuck around with your brain -- no warrant, no due process, just hook the kid up and remove all knowledge that might be inconvenient to our agenda. What the hell kind of hero is Bob Parr, really, if he just shrugs and say "Yeah, if you knew all the times they've had to do that... whew!" It's like, holy shit, the government is just casually mind wiping people and we're fine with that because it benefits us. Seriously, Brad Bird, what the fuck?

(I know, I know... erasing people's memories is a constant subtheme in Silver Age superhero comics, like humanoid robots that can't be distinguished from real people, and size changing technology, and satellite headquarters, and all the other silly stuff. I'm an expert on this stuff, and I love most of it, but when Professor X or Dr. Strange erases the memories of people simply because it would be inconvenient to them, their teams, or the government for people to know what actually just happened, they're wrong, and we all know it, and while the MEN IN BLACK are creepy, amoral government agents with agendas, the Incredibles are supposed to be moral and ethical heroes who shouldn't countenance this shit.)

But mostly what makes INCREDIBLES 2 so vapid and lackluster is that unlike the first film, there are no layers here. No history. No attempt to root anything happening in this movie with a detailed, nuanced backdrop. It's just a mediocre issue of Marvel Team Up or something out of an authorized Incredibles coloring book. The animation is great, sure, and it's fun to watch and listen to the various characters, but there's no kind of arc. Nothing changes from the start of this movie to the end -- when the world changes back, and supers are legal again, well, emotionally, that's the same ending we got when the whole family puts their masks on at the end of the first film. There's no real progress. As with the comics the Incredibles are drawn from, we get, at best, the illusion of change.

After being disappointed by THE IRON GIANT and really really disappointed by TOMORROWLAND, I've pretty much reached the conclusion that Brad Bird had one really good movie in him. So I guess I'll just be grateful for the first INCREDIBLES, and stop expecting anything even as good, much less better, ever again, from anyone.

Or, at least, from Mr. Bird, anyway.

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