Incredibles 2

Written and Directed by: Brad Bird

The_Incredibles_2      In a pre-show interview montage shown before screenings of Incredibles 2, writer-director Brad Bird is asked what has happened to his characters since their last film appearance. A smiling Bird assures us, very little, as Incredibles 2 starts ten seconds after the original film ended. Bird’s comment sums up my impression of his sequel: on the one hand its very much in the spirit of the original film, on the other hand it perhaps doesn’t do quite enough to cements its legacy as a standalone work.

Whenever a (non- Toy Story) Pixar sequel comes out, viewers will inevitably rumble about whether it is a truly inspired and justified idea or whether it is a mere money grab. With Incredibles 2 there’s a third explanation that lies between these two poles: it’s a superhero movie. We live in a day and age where Marvel (and other companies who make films about Marvel characters) are having great success producing story after story introducing different heroes and, to a lesser extent, different villains.

The Incredibles (2004) is not a superhero movie in the sense that Iron Man is. It was not created to be part of a complex, ever lasting universe and action-figure industry. Rather, like other Pixar films, it is an attempt to tell a story using a type of character (super heroes, as opposed to toys, bugs, monsters, etc) as a springboard. The impression I got from watching Incredibles 2, however, is that Brad Bird must have gotten into the fact he was now the creator of a superhero universe. Having ended the last film with the introduction of a new supervillain, The Underminer (John Ratzenberger), Bird felt he had another movie, or to put it more aptly, another metaphorical comic book issue, to put out.

The development of the Incredibles as a multi-film superhero universe has some good elements to it. The Underminer makes for a good villain in the Batman/Spiderman tradition. Furthermore, perhaps taking a page from The Avengers’ book, Bird used this movie to bring heroes besides the Incredibles and Frozen out of hiding. These characters are well designed, and the one we get to know a bit, Void, (Sophia Bush) has powers that perfectly straddle the line between being useful and being hopelessly cartoonish.

The downside of the Incredibles becoming a superhero franchise, however, is that the film relies heavily on its internal logic. What do I mean by this? Well, Pixar films are generally defined by being about a unique subset of characters, and their plots are creatively extracted from that source material. The Toy Story Series worked, because each film was based on the foundational question. “What themes should and could a story about toys deal with?” This led to a series of further questions that defined and distinguished the three films: What is it like to have your favourite toy status challenged?/What does it mean not to be real?; How do you deal with abandonment?/ Is immortality in a museum worth it?; and Can your human love you forever?/Is life with preschoolers bearable? Incredibles worked similarly, asking questions about what it means to have powers and to be admired for it. The difference between Incredibles 2 and Incredibles, however, is smaller than that between Toy Story and Toy Story 2. This is because Incredibles 2 was not rooted in the foundational question: “What would it mean to make a movie about superheroes?”. Instead, its foundational question was: “What would it mean to make another movie about the Incredibles?”.

Furthermore, the villain of Incredibles (I won’t be specific in case you haven’t seen it yet) has an origin story rooted, again, in the question of “What kind of characters could exist in a superhero movie?.” While this logic applies somewhat to the villain- origin story in Incredibles 2, the latter villainous motive feels a tad more forced: it is a motive that can’t be (or at least wasn’t) expressed as smoothly and succinctly as the motive in Incredibles. Further more, while the revelation of the villain in Incredibles is a clever, witty reveal, the equivalent moment in Incredibles 2 can be sensed from a mile away (the only surprise for me was the number of villains not their identity).

Another notable element of Incredibles 2 is its gender politics. The film casts Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) as opposed to her husband Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) in the central action roll. Mr. Incredible meanwhile is left to care for superhero kids Violet, Dash and Jack-Jack (Sarah Vowell, Huck Milner and Eli Fucile). Elastigirl is given the opportunity to go on missions after a billionaire hero-fan Winston Deaver (Bob Odenkirk) decides, she as the less reckless of the two, would be the best option for rehabilitating the reputation of heroes. For a moment this idea seems to develop into a deeper theme. At one moment Elastigirl and Winston’s sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener) share a conversation, in which Evelyn bemoans that her brother has been more successful than her, despite his reliance on her invention skills (a joint critique of patriarchy and capitalism). This theme, however, is ultimately left underdeveloped. The Incredibles has an intentionally ambiguous gender politics: on the one hand it depicts a traditional nuclear family, while on the other, hand making clear that Elastigirl had an assertive, Rosie Riveter side to her. Incredibles 2 rocks the boat a bit more, but ultimately stays loyal to this formula. Perhaps this was the wise move given that the series’ premise is that a family can thrive as a Fantastic 4-like-super-team despite its mild dysfunctions.

Incredibles 2 is dynamic and full of funny moments. It also manages to be better than most superhero movies in that it is not too reliant on action. When it is action rich, the action is humorous, or at least creative. Perhaps this Pixar sequel does not enrich its universe with characters comparable to Jessie, Lotso Huggin Bear or even Emperor Zurg, but even as Incredibles 2 doesn’t sore to new heights, it doesn’t disappoint either—dah-lings.

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The Big Sick (2017)

Directed by: Michael Showalter Written by Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani.

The_Big_SickThe premise of The Big Sick is simple. It’s the story of Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani), a Pakistani-American comedian, who falls for Emily, a white psychology graduate student (Zoe Kazan). They break up, only for them to be reunited when Emily goes into a coma that takes up a significant portion of the film.

 

            I was not expecting to enjoy the Big Sick. Romantic comedies, even when funny, often follow a formula. The first third of the film is entertaining, but then one character, usually the man, makes a predictable mistake or displays a predictable flaw, and then spends the rest of the (often now unfunny) film showing that he can redeem himself and (unsurprisingly) win back his love interest.

 

The Big Sick breaks this mould in two important ways. Firstly, it’s based on a true story (I won’t say more since viewers who go into the film knowing nothing about it will be pleasantly surprised by its credits). This solves the predictability problem, as it means audiences can watch The Big Sick, not to see what will happen, but to see how things happen.

 

The second key difference between The Big Sick and other romantic comedies is that its main character doesn’t have a clearcut, over-generalized flaw. He is not “SELFISH,” “A LIAR,” etc. Rather his problems comes from having perfectly reasonable divided loyalties between his (in some ways) conservative Muslim-Pakistani family, and his white girlfriend.

 

The Big Sick keeps audiences interested through showing Kumail as part of three different worlds—his family’s world, his girlfriend’s family’s world, and the comedy world. Of the three, the third is the least entertaining (which is mostly a good thing—the film is funny without having to bring on characters who directly tell jokes). The problem with the comedians is simply that we don’t get to see much of their material, and of that material, only a portion is funny (and half of that humor is the result of Kumail’s roommate’s failed attempts at jokes). The two families, on the other hand, get to explore a range of scenes and jokes. We are not left wondering what problems exist in these families (we are largely told that up front), but instead are allowed to see how the families live in the worlds that these problems partially create.

 

Another of the film’s strengths is its supporting cast. In addition to giving a reasonable amount of screen time to Youtube star Bo Burnham (check him out here), the film prominently features Holly Hunter and Ray Romano in the roles of Emily’s parents. Romano’s character maintains a fairly consistent tone throughout the film. He is always funny, yet still believable in his portrayal of a person dealing with the potential loss of a child. Hunter’s character shows a greater range of emotion (and more outward grief) than Romano’s, but is not without funny moments of her own. Hunter and Romano’s performances perhaps best represent The Big Sick’s success as a romantic comedy—the characters, and the film, are funny sans vulgarity and sombre sans sappiness.

 

Of course there is far more to The Big Sick than I can reasonably comment on—namely the politics of how Kumail’s family is represented. In an interview with Vice, Kumail Nanjiani described the film as a mostly accurate representation of the family life he grew up with, though acknowledged he was taking a risk of perpetuating anti-south Asian stereotypes by depicting a family that practiced arranged marriage.

It can be easy to draw a line between good cinema and accessible cinema, but (if it hasn’t already been said) once a style of thought starts to sound a tad elitist, it’s probably not entirely true. The Big Sick is simply put a really good movie and can be enjoyed by causal movie goers and cinema snobs alike.