Review: ‘Incredibles 2’ is a four-star spectacle, as Pixar’s superhero family shines again

(Disney | Pixar | The Associated Press) This image released by Disney Pixar shows characters, from left, Bob/Mr. Incredible, voiced by Craig T. Nelson; Helen/Elastigirl, voiced by Holly Hunter; Dash, voiced by Huck Milner; Jack Jack and Violet, voiced by Sarah Vowell, in "Incredibles 2," in theaters on June 15.

A lot has happened to superheroes since “The Incredibles,” Pixar Animation Studios’ retro-cool story of crimefighters having to hide their talents and adjust to suburban life, burst onto screens in 2004.

The entirety of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has played out, from Iron Man’s first flight to Thanos’ universe-changing finger snap. DC Comics has been through two Batmans (Christian Bale and Ben Affleck), introduced an amazing Wonder Woman and pulled the Justice League together.

Now comes “Incredibles 2,” reuniting us with Mr. Incredible (voiced by Craig T. Nelson), Elastigirl (voiced by Holly Hunter) and their superpowered children, and they haven’t aged a day. That’s good, because we could use them now more than ever.

Returning writer-director Brad Bird — who followed the siren song of live-action filmmaking through “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol” and “Tomorrowland” — kicks off where “The Incredibles” ended, with the still-outlawed supers challenged by a subterranean criminal, The Underminer (voiced by Pixar’s good-luck charm, John Ratzenberger). Our supers save Municiberg, but the collateral damage puts them in the crosshairs of the law.

The government program that had put the supers into hiding has been canceled, so Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl — under their secret identities, Bob and Helen Parr — and their children, Violet (voiced by Sarah Vowell), Dash (voiced by Huck Milner) and baby Jack-Jack, must start their lives over again. Through their friend Lucius Best (voiced by Samuel L. Jackson), aka Frozone, the Parrs get an offer from tech tycoon Winston Deavor (voiced by Bob Odenkirk) to restore the supers’ reputation.

Winston wants to mount a public-relations campaign to make superheroes popular again and overturn the law that banned them. Backed by his inventor sister, Evelyn (voiced by Catherine Keener), he suggests the first step in the campaign should revolve around Elastigirl cleaning up crime in the big city, New Urbem.

Putting Elastigirl in the lead is especially tough on Bob, who swallows his ego as he takes the unfamiliar position of stay-at-home dad. He soon discovers it’s hard to punch through such troubles as Violet’s first crush, Dash’s New Math homework and Jack-Jack’s wide range of uncontrolled powers. Of course, Bob calls on an old ally, the imperious designer Edna Mode (voiced by Bird), to help in a pinch.

Bird returns to the retro-modern 1960s look of the first movie — think “The Jetsons” meet early James Bond movies in Seattle’s Space Needle — and every space, surface and object looks methodically thought-out and designed. He even shows his inspirations; when the TV is on in the Parr house, it’s tuned to “The Outer Limits” or “Jonny Quest,” when not being hijacked by a hypnotic new villain, the Screenslaver.

The action is as plentiful and as creative as in any superhero movie, proving the line between “live-action” and “animation” is practically nonexistent. Bird and Pixar’s design team create a wealth of new supers, each waiting for the chance to be heroic and overcome the cynics who, as one character puts it, can’t believe that people do good without expecting anything in return. (That’s as overtly political as Bird’s script gets, but the words land with a punch.)

The focus of “Incredibles 2” remains, as with the first movie, on the strength of the Parr family. Bird doesn’t bring the tears like many Pixar films do — the accompanying short film “Bao,” about a Chinese-Canadian mother with empty-nest syndrome, takes care of that — but he tests the Parrs’ bonds repeatedly, as they take on bad guys and the struggles of parenting and do a super job at both.

★★★★<br>Incredibles 2<br>Pixar’s superhero family is back, dealing with diapers and diabolical villains, in this super sequel.<br>Where • Theaters everywhere.<br>When • Opens Friday, June 15.<br>Rating • PG for action sequences and some brief mild language.<br>Running time • 118 minutes, plus a 5-minute short, “Bao.”