For those who are unacquainted with this franchise, the Parrs, aka The Incredibles, are a family of super heros who have been shamed into hiding because of the collateral damage caused by their crime fighting exploits. There is, of course, no keeping them back, and in this latest release, Mr Parr is forced to guard the kids (I do not use this verb lightly), leaving most of the action to his spouse, whose own special powers are summarised in her alias.
Flexigirl, indeed, is the star of the show and – political correctness aside – it is easy to see why she was preferred over her lumbering husband. Unlike flesh and bone actors, hyper-plasticity is a defining characteristic of cartoon characters and in The Incredibles 2 there is no formal limit to what the feminine lead can do.
It his hard to exaggerate the brilliance and inventiveness on display here, and the action sequences – to reiterate one of the movie’s less inspired jokes – are truly incredible, but for this reviewer one of the film’s greatest pleasures lies in the descriptive care it lavishes on everyday objects. To take just two examples from the trailer, the oily crispiness of the nems are beautifully rendered, as are Dash’s sodden breakfast pancakes piled high on his plate and oozing corn syrup.
The domestic scenes offer some of the movie’s best moments, not least because these latter are the quietest ones, but the Parrs are nothing if not hyperactive, and even when they are not being action heroes they cannot keep in place.
Not surprisingly they never seem to cook anything, but strung out on energy drinks and pepped up on GM breakfast cereals and steroid-enhanced beef, they are understandably desperate to work off all that bad junk food energy.
However, notwithstanding the film’s basic premise, it is not so much action that they crave as escape from the numbing monotony of everyday life. If we are to consider the Parrs as a fictional stand-in for the average American family, they are the ultimate consumer junkies, addicted to external stimuli for their enjoyment of life, and sunk in despondency when left to their own devices.
Stuck at home with the baby, Mr Not-So-Incredible becomes a doughy lump of inertness, ashen-faced and exhausted, his bleary eyes reflecting all too well the gnawing ennui at the heart of modern America.
The diagnosis of the movie’s producers is that the poor man is in desperate need of entertainment, and the remedy they prescribe resembles an extended bout of electroshock treatment. Watching The Incredibles 2 feels like a frantic “funride” through our cerebral cortex, and Flexigirl herself looks like a supercharged neuron, flailing stems and branches firing off this way and that as she careens between skyscrapers and swoops over rush-hour traffic.
The action in the movie could not get any faster or more furious without the entire thing exploding or spiralling out of control, and there is no lack of fireballs or high-impact collisions, but the only real limit, perhaps, is the capacity of its audience to keep watching, and one wonders how long will it be before the eye-popping action in such movies stretches optical stalks to breaking point.¹
Perhaps my own response was conditioned by the fact that I had just returned from a hike in the mountains and was still under the spell of their silence, but was I alone – an hour or so into the movie, – in feeling almost afflicted by the pyrotechnics on screen, as though, – despite all the fun they provided, – Flexigirl’s whiplike arms and legs, like Baudelaire’s “lash of pleasure,” now dispensed something closer to pain?
1) There are limits, surely, to what the human nervous system can take, and I wonder if David Foster Wallace was entirely off the mark when he imagined a movie of tomorrow so entertaining it proves lethal to its audience – not lethal in the literal sense, but fatally damaging, as he saw it, to our ability to think and to feel as autonomous human beings