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Review – Ant-Man And The Wasp (Sean’s Take)

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FILM REVIEWANT-MAN AND THE WASP. With Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Pena. Written by Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Paul Rudd, Andrew Barrer, Gabriel Ferrari. Directed by Peyton Reed. Rated PG-13 for some sci-fi action violence. 118 mins.

antman_and_the_wasp_ver2_xlgMy favorite thing about the “Ant-Man” movies is that nobody has to save the world. While the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues “raising the stakes” to diminishing returns with increasingly apocalyptic punch-outs, over here in the insect corner they thankfully still seem content to coast on breezy banter and clever chase sequences. This past May’s “Avengers: Infinity War” was about as miserable a moviegoing experience as I’ve had all year, a bludgeoning conundrum of losing battles and monotonous self-mythologizing with the fate of the universe (yawn) hanging in the balance. Meanwhile, ANT-MAN AND THE WASP is a high-spirited lark of enormous appeal and blessedly little consequence.

Affable everyman Paul Rudd returns as Scott Lang, the bungling burglar with a heart of gold turned shrinking superhero. He’s just served two years under house arrest for his amusing extra-legal shenanigans in the otherwise desultory “Captain America: Civil War” and despite the suspicions of his punctilious parole officer (a very funny Randall Park) it looks like he’ll be a free man in a few days, just so long as Scott steers clear of fugitive scientist Hank Pym (the delightful Michael Douglas) and the doc’s daughter, Hope van Dyne (former Ford model Evangeline Lilly.)

A small pileup of plotlines conspires to keep that from happening, including but not limited to the machinations of a shady tech-pirate-slash-farm-to-table restaurateur played with lip-smacking relish by Walton Goggins, a phase-shifting, dimension-hopping ninja with a grudge (Hannah John-Kamen) and Laurence Fishburne as a prickly former colleague of Pym’s. There’s also the matter of Scott receiving something like a distress signal from the inter-molecular quantum realm where Hank’s wife Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) disappeared three decades ago. Oh yeah, and Lang’s old jailbird buddies (David Dastmalchian, T.I., and the movie-stealing Michael Peña) are running a failing security company that sorely requires some expert assistance.

“You guys are just adding the word ‘quantum’ in front of everything, right?” quips Scott as a way of cutting through the pseudo-scientific gobbledygook deployed here to provide arbitrary timelines and obstacles to the adventure. As with the previous picture, Rudd is one of several credited screenwriters and is presumably responsible for a good deal of the self-deprecating humor that keeps things humming along. He’s got a terrific rapport with Lilly, who spent too much time on the sidelines last time around (for reasons that movie openly admitted were stupid) and here emerges as such a credible, competent hero in her own right that by the opening reel she’s already crime-fighting circles around Rudd’s goofball galoot.

Shot in bright, primary colors by the great cinematographer Dante Spinotti, “Ant-Man and the Wasp” isn’t exactly elegant when spinning out all the various story threads, but returning director Peyton Reed is smart enough to prioritize the chemistry of his cast over assorted plot nonsense. A scene in which Pfeiffer employs unorthodox methods to make Rudd deliver a message is the kind of sublimely silly and strangely moving scene you only get when a filmmaker fully understands how movie stars can provide their own sort of special effects.

Of course, the digital trickery here is also top-notch, with our heroes’ oddball superpowers forcing the action sequences into far more clever contortions than the usual skyscraper-toppling slug-a-thons. From using giant Pez dispensers as weapons to Hot Wheels-sized car chases, the action beats are orchestrated with a level of wit and invention too often lost in the genre’s typical spates of CGI porn. (An extended homage to Dirty Harry in “The Dead Pool” is also a surefire way to warm this cranky critic’s heart.)

Alas, since this is a Marvel movie everything must eventually tie into this summer’s earlier bummer, but thankfully here not until a tacked-on post-credits scene. (Basically, if you bolt out right after the poppy, Partridge Family-scored happy ending you’ll have just seen one of the season’s sweetest treats.) Funny, for a story full of small things getting big and big things getting small, the most satisfying thing about “Ant-Man and the Wasp” is its human-scaled sense of proportion.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 3.5 out of 5.Over the past seventeen years, Sean Burns’ reviews, interviews, and essays have appeared in Philadelphia Weekly, The Improper Bostonian, Metro, The Boston Herald, Nashville Scene, The House Next Door, Time Out New York, EntertainmentTell, Philadelphia City Paper, and RogerEbert.com. He stashes them all at Spliced Personality.

 

 

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Review – Who’s Watching Oliver


FILM REVIEW – WHO’S WATCHING OLIVERWith Russell Geoffrey Banks, Sara Malakul Lane, Margaret Roche, Cecilia Belletti, Champagne Nuttanun. Written by Russell Geoffrey Banks, Raimund Huber, Richie Moore. Directed by Richie Moore. Not Rated. 87 minutes.

art_work1There’s a wide range of horror films out there, and the small, barely-released independent films often go far beyond mainstream Hollywood fare. WHO’S WATCHING OLIVER, available on VOD, is bloody and deeply disturbing. It’s also a film that raises some serious questions instead of simply wallowing in sadism, as in the odious “Saw” series.

If you can imagine Woody Allen directing “Psycho,” you have a sense of what this movie is like. Oliver (Russell Geoffrey Banks, who also co-wrote the script), is living a solitary life in Bangkok, where the film was shot. He’s apparently British and somewhere on the Asperger’s scale. By day he follows a routine where he wanders around with his camera, ending up at an amusement park. By night he’s picking up women and taking them back to his place.

It’s at that point that the movie becomes the stuff of nightmares. Oliver offers his “date” some drugs. When she comes to she’s naked and bound to a table facing a laptop, where Oliver’s Mama (Margaret Roche) eggs her son on to rape and murder. She’s Mrs. Bates times ten. Yet even though Oliver is committing heinous crimes, we understand that the real figure of evil is Mama and that he’s being victimized as well.

Things take a turn toward redemption when he’s approached in the park by Sophia (Sara Malakul Lane), a lovely young woman who seems genuinely interested in the geeky Oliver, breaking the ice by telling him her dreams. The film plays out the situation in unexpected ways and some may object to its final scene, but the filmmakers succeed in crafting a story where you can never be sure where it’s going.

The three principal actors manage to carry out their very difficult roles. Banks takes on a character which we could easily find off-putting, yet finds ways to make him sympathetic, much as Anthony Perkins did with Norman Bates almost sixty years ago. Roche’s turn is a truly monstrous creation, swilling cocktails while being entertained by what she makes her son do. As for Lane, we wonder why this woman would be pursuing Oliver instead of ignoring him, and she slowly reveals aspects of her character that puts her behavior in context.

Richie Moore, a long-time camera operator on other films, makes his feature directing debut here. He is very much in command of his camera, showing what needs to be shown quickly and efficiently. There’s nothing gratuitous, even when shocking, He also has a handle on the pacing for this 87-minute movie, so that the horror scenes and the character moments flow effortlessly.

This is clearly not a movie for everyone, with the nudity, violence, and just plain insanity of the proceedings (using the legal definition of not knowing right from wrong) making it truly disturbing. Yet for those who like their horror films challenging and edgy, “Who’s Watching Oliver” is most definitely worth a look. It’s likely we’ll be hearing from these filmmakers in the future.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 3 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – Sicario: Day of the Soldado


FILM REVIEWSICARIO: DAY OF THE SOLDADOWith Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Isabela Moner, Catherine Keener, Matthew Modine. Written by Taylor Sheridan. Directed by Stefano Sollima. Rated R for strong violence, bloody images, and language. 122 minutes.

sicario_day_of_the_soldadoSICARIO: DAY OF THE SOLDADO, the sequel to 2015’s “Sicario,” is the perfect film for the Trump era. In its opening minutes, it stokes fears about Mexicans illegally crossing the border and Muslim suicide bombers. Then, to make sure all bases are covered, we watch Americans kill and torture Somali pirates in a subplot that quickly vanishes.

Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) is brought in by the Secretary of Defense (Matthew Modine) and an aide (Catherine Keener) to do something to disrupt this invented connection between Mexican drug cartels and Islamic terrorism. His solution is to foment a war among the cartels by kidnapping Isabel (Isabela Moner), the daughter of the biggest kingpin, and making it look like a rival gang did it. He brings in a bunch of mercenaries, including Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), a lawyer whose family Isabel’s father had murdered in the first film.

Italian director Stefano Sollima, making his American feature debut, stages exciting and violent action scenes accompanied by an eerie score by Hildur Guðnadóttir that is more suitable for a horror movie. It’s odious in a way that it feeds into the fear and hate being invoked by our current political leaders. There’s even a subplot about Miguel (Elijah Rodriguez), a teenage American citizen, who is recruited to work for a Mexican crime boss bringing people illegally into the country. See? We can’t even trust the children.

And then something happens in the second half of the film: it gets incoherent. The motivations of characters change for no reason other than the plot requires it, and plot twist upon plot strains our credulity. Without giving anything away, there are several points when viewers paying attention to the plot and not just getting off on the violence will find themselves looking on in disbelief, including the last scene of the movie, which makes no sense at all.

Brolin, who had memorable turns this year in “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Deadpool 2,” plays a much narrower range here. He doesn’t embarrass himself, but his ruthless character is straitjacketed by the screenplay. Del Toro fares slightly better, if only because he gets to show more emotion but he, too, is ultimately taken down by the script. Young actors Moner and Rodriguez will hopefully get other opportunities to show their talents. Poor Moner goes from tough-kid-who-knows-her-father-can-deal-with-anyone-who-gets-in-her-way, to hysterical little girl, to suddenly bonding with a man who –inexplicably – tells her he’s after her father. Even Meryl Streep would have a tough time making that believable.

Screenwriter Taylor Sheridan is no hack, as his scripts for “Hell or High Water” and “Wind River” demonstrated. On the other hand, he’s also responsible for the first “Sicario,” which was similarly a mess. Perhaps that’s the answer. “Sicario: Day of the Soldado” is not only something for audiences to avoid, this is a series that everyone else involved with should walk away from as well.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 2 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – Uncle Drew

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FILM REVIEWUNCLE DREW. With Kyrie Irving, Lil Rel Howery, Shaquille O’Neal, Chris Webber, Reggie Miller. Written by Jay Longino. Directed by Charles Stone III. Rated PG-13 for suggestive material, language, and brief nudity. 103 mins.

uncle_drew_ver13Probably the most entertaining film ever based on a soft drink commercial, UNCLE DREW finds Boston Celtics’ superstar point guard Kyrie Irving reprising his role from a series of viral YouTube shorts promoting Pepsi Max. In these admittedly amusing spots, Irving plays the title character beneath a ton of “Coming to America” old man makeup, giving crowds of unsuspecting, trash-talking young whippersnappers a good what-for on the basketball court. The not inconsiderable pleasure of the Pepsi ads is in watching a doddering codger suddenly spring into action with the grace of a professional athlete. But is that enough to sustain a movie? Surprisingly, sort of.

Comedian Lil Rel Howery – the diminutive scene-stealer who managed to make us root for the TSA in last year’s “Get Out” – stars here as a bumbling, broke basketball coach who just lost his star player a few days before Harlem’s Rucker Park Streetball Tournament. Howery Is still haunted by a high school championship game in which his buzzer-beating shot was blocked by an obnoxious bully played by Nick Kroll, who has continued to torment him throughout adulthood as what girlfriend Tiffany Haddish calls, “The Ghost of White Boy Past.”

Out of options, Howery’s hapless coach enlists Irving’s barbershop legend Uncle Drew, who insists on reuniting his old Rucker team from half-a-century ago, all played by NBA icons underneath mountains of wrinkly latex. What follows is a road trip in Uncle Drew’s funkadelic orange van, blasting slow jams from the seventies while picking up Chris Webber’s born-again Preacher, the legally blind Lights (Reggie Miller) and mute, wheelchair-bound dementia patient Boots (Nate Robinson.) The geriatric squad is rounded out by Shaquille O’Neal’s aptly-named Big Fella, who hasn’t spoken to Drew in decades and isn’t about to start again now. (This is far and away Shaq’s finest big screen performance. The not-talking part helps.)

Director Charles Stone III (who after “Drumline” and “Mr. 3000” is an old pro at underdog stories) grounds the silly shenanigans in a sweetness that can get a bit sticky sometimes. But he keeps the nonprofessional actors in the cast fully committed to their characters with far more consistency and credibility than you’re used to seeing when, say, an athlete hosts “Saturday Night Live.” Irving, in particular, brings a surprising gravity to Drew’s more dramatic moments, even if he does fall back on calling everybody “Youngblood” a few too many times.

“Uncle Drew” invests absolute sincerity in cornball old tropes like: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” and “You don’t stop playing because you get old, you get old because you stop playing.” (My favorite exhortation to teamwork is: “Everybody knows Gladys Knight was nothing without The Pips.”) The guilelessness is almost touching, albeit slightly disingenuous considering the film is spun off from a corporate branding exercise and contains wall-to-wall product placement as far as the eye can see.

But of course what you came to watch is your favorite players clowning around on the court, and in that department “Uncle Drew” delivers. Stone and his one-named cinematographer Crash take advantage of the cast’s prowess in the paint, shooting Harlem Globetrotter-styled slapstick sequences in long, head-to-toe takes so we can fully appreciate their artistry. (There’s also a delightful dance number that goes on for what feels like ever because apparently everyone was having too much fun to stop.) Inside jokes abound involving Webber’s time-out miscount and Shaq’s free throw difficulties, and by the end even WNBA MVP Lisa Leslie gets her turn to play.

“Uncle Drew” will never be mistaken for a masterpiece but as far as branded content goes it’s sunny and good-natured enough to get by. And hey, at least it’s better than “Space Jam.”•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 3 out of 5.Over the past seventeen years, Sean Burns’ reviews, interviews, and essays have appeared in Philadelphia Weekly, The Improper Bostonian, Metro, The Boston Herald, Nashville Scene, The House Next Door, Time Out New York, EntertainmentTell, Philadelphia City Paper, and RogerEbert.com. He stashes them all at Spliced Personality.

Review – Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom


FILM REVIEW – JURASSIC PARK: FALLEN KINGDOMWith Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rafe Spall, James Cromwell, Toby Jones. Written by Derek Connolly & Colin Trevorrow. Directed by J.A. Bayona. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of science-fiction violence and peril. 128 minutes.

jurassic_world_fallen_kingdom_ver3Fair warning: this reviewer is someone who has never been a big fan of this franchise – impressive CGI special effects aside – which makes it surprising that JURASSIC PARK: FALLEN KINGDOM seems much more than an amusement park ride. It raises some interesting questions, all the while providing the requisite thrills from volcanoes, runaway dinosaurs, and duplicitous humans.

It’s several years after the events of “Jurassic World” (2015). The island where the theme park was located is now facing total destruction from a newly-active volcano. Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) is involved in efforts to save the lives of the dinosaurs who will perish. With the help of Eli Mills (Rafe Spall), who handles the financial affairs for Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), she is ready to provide her expertise to those sent to save them. Enlisting Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), she brings her team to the island to join up with mercenaries led by Ken Wheatley (Ted Levine).

The first part of the story is pretty much what you would expect with that set-up, with some great action sequences. Then they up the ante when the volcano erupts, letting the various twists play out against lots of prehistoric violence. At this point, it’s mostly a thrill ride but pay attention to the Senate hearing where Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum, from the original film) is testifying. He points out that just as the nuclear genie couldn’t be put back in the bottle, neither can the genetic experiments that are at the center of this series. In this film, we get to confront where that will lead.

There are numerous twists in the second half, and what makes it work – amidst all the CGI violence – is that the film doesn’t shy away from the ramifications of the technology the series has posited. If one could bring dinosaurs back to life from DNA preserved in amber, would the sole application really be in creating an amusement park?  When Mr. Eversol (Toby Jones) arrives as a businessman who dismisses millions of dollars as something he could make on a slow Tuesday, we enter a world where we discover the unthinkable has not only been thought but is about to become very profitable.

As a summer special effects movie, it is slickly done, with the actors, sets, and CGI creatures meshing seamlessly. Those not wanting to see bad guys chomped on by carnivorous reptiles should give this a pass, but for those less squeamish, there is only one sequence that seemed to this reviewer to cross the line, owing more to Steven Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List” than his original “Jurassic Park.”

In some ways “Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom” ought to have been the culmination of the series, but in Hollywood franchises never die, they merely set up sequels. This film is no different yet, as Ian Malcolm warns the Senate committee, they’ve entered a new world where dinosaurs are no longer mere entertainment: they may end up having the last laugh on humanity. No doubt another film is being planned. Where it will take us is a question that fans of the series will get to debate in the meantime.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 3.5 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

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FILM REVIEWWON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?A documentary directed by Morgan Neville. Featuring Fred Rogers, Joanne Rogers, Francois Scarborough Clemmons, Yo-Yo Ma, Eddie Murphy. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and language. 94 minutes.

wont_you_be_my_neighborEver since it screened at Sundance back in January there’s been a strange phenomenon surrounding WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?, director Morgan Neville’s fine documentary about children’s television pioneer Fred Rogers. People can’t seem to stop crying. A lot of critics spend their entire reviews writing about how they sobbed their way through it, and a colleague sitting next to me during the film’s New England premiere at the Independent Film Festival Boston was so inconsolable afterwards he had to go take a walk around the block before he could even bring himself to talk about the movie.

This is a bit odd, because “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” is not a sad film at all. It’s really kind of a boilerplate bio-doc about the placid Presbyterian minister who from 1968 to 2001 hosted a uniquely gentle and almost comically low-budget public television program that spoke directly to the fears and concerns of its preschool audience. Fred Rogers talked to children as if they were his peers – tackling scary subjects like war, divorce, and death with an unwaveringly steady voice and vast reservoirs of kindness in his eyes. He changed into his trademark cardigan and sneakers at the top of every episode while singing a happy song, a ritual that reassured young viewers we were amongst friends, or at least neighbors.

This is what knocks folks for such a loop during the movie. At our particular moment in history, we’re simply not prepared to receive Fred Rogers’s straightforward sincerity – so heartfelt and direct, devoid of any self-protecting irony. Every time I have turned on my television for the past three years I’ve been greeted by the putrid visage of a blathering orange yam preaching a toxic, semi-literate combination of bullying braggadocio and lachrymose self-pity while the faces of his followers contort with orgiastic abandon, braying a stream of unprintable epithets. The forthright decency of Mister Rogers feels as if it has been beamed in not from our recent past, from a distant planet altogether. If you cry during this film it’s because you’re realizing how much has been lost.

Neville won an Oscar for his wonderful music documentary “20 Feet from Stardom” a few years back, and he’s shrewdly assembled “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” as a highlight reel of footage that will probably feel familiar to public television aficionados but still leaves you with a warm and fuzzy feeling all the same. I’ll never not fall apart watching Rogers’ 1981 interview with 10-year-old quadriplegic Jeff Erlanger, so matter-of-factly accepting disability as just another unfortunate fact of life and chatting with this child as a friend like any other. You simply didn’t see people like Jeff on television back then, and what a gift it was to get to know him.

The show confronted so many topics that were taboo on TV at the time. Rogers began his career talking to kids about Vietnam and Bobby Kennedy’s assassination and then wrapped it up returning to the air shortly after 9/11. “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” never sugarcoated the subjects tackled within these episodes – witness the close-ups on his dead goldfish during that traumatic half-hour – our host always made it plain that the world could often be a frightening and confusing place. But with his cheapo puppets and bargain-basement production values, Mister Rogers also let every viewer know that it was okay to be angry sometimes, and there’s nothing to be ashamed of if you’re feeling sad.

What struck me most about the film was the iron will Fred Rogers must have possessed, his borderline fanatical exercise regimens hinting at the discipline required to see his stubbornly uncommercial and altruistic vision through three decades on the air in a milieu that mainly exists to sell plastic crap to kids.

We revisit the brilliantly subversive moment when Rogers invited his African-American police officer pal Francois Clemmons to soak his feet alongside him in a kiddie pool on a hot day. During an era when riots were breaking out over colored restrooms this was a giant screw-you to Jim Crow, but at the same time, we learn that Rogers put the kibosh on closeted Clemmons hanging out in gay bars. Our host was pragmatic enough to know the show could never survive a sex scandal, and it was going to take the outside world a long time to catch up to the utopia he depicted every week onscreen. We’re still not there yet.

You can’t help but think about this strength of character when the movie gets into the bizarre 2008 campaign by Fox News and other conservative commentators to blame the “softness” of millennials on Mr. Rogers telling them that they were “special.” I’ll never understand how baby boomers – who grew up in an age of unparalleled economic prosperity and job security yet did nothing but trash the planet and leave their children screwed with off-the-charts income inequality and insurmountable debt – can in good conscience keep puffing out their chests and calling everybody pussies just because younger generations don’t like to behave as boorishly in public as they do.

To watch “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” is to be reminded that kindness and grace are what will endure and leave a legacy. It’s easy to laugh at these threadbare sock puppets but impossible to dismiss the tough truths they imparted. Visiting Mister Rogers’ neighborhood every week made growing up a feel little less confusing and frightening for this little kid, and it was a pleasure to return for these ninety-odd minutes.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 4 out of 5.Over the past seventeen years, Sean Burns’ reviews, interviews, and essays have appeared in Philadelphia Weekly, The Improper Bostonian, Metro, The Boston Herald, Nashville Scene, The House Next Door, Time Out New York, EntertainmentTell, Philadelphia City Paper, and RogerEbert.com. He stashes them all at Spliced Personality.

Review – Incredibles 2


FILM REVIEW INCREDIBLES 2With the voices of Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Catherine Keener, Bob Odenkirk, Samuel L. Jackson. Written by and directed by Brad Bird. Rated PG for action sequences and some brief mild language. 118 minutes.

incredibles_two_ver11There was a time when a Pixar film was a sure thing, with cutting-edge computer animation combined with great storytelling and memorable characters. They could make us laugh and they could make us cry, often in the same film. However, with the notable exception of “Toy Story,” there’s something they can’t seem to do, and that’s make great sequels to their past hits.

“Cars 2” may have been the worst film they ever released. “Monsters University” was a letdown from the brilliant “Monsters, Inc.” The “Finding Nemo” sequel, “Finding Dory,” was okay but wasn’t really necessary. The streak continues with INCREDIBLES 2, a movie that has its moments, but coming fourteen years after the original film, probably should have been put aside in favor of developing some new original content.

Part of the problem is that in the years since “The Incredibles” we’ve been inundated with superhero movies. In many ways, “Incredibles 2” looks like they rebooted a script from the Marvel or DC universes. It’s a film that feels like we’ve already seen it – several times.

The story focuses on Winston Deavor (voice of Bob Odenkirk) who has a plan to overturn the ban against superheroes. It involves putting Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) front-and-center, leaving Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) to stay at home with the kids. The evil villain is someone called the Screenslaver, but Elastigirl soon learns that everything is not as it seems.

Coming after this year’s “Black Panther” and “The Avengers: Infinity War,” it’s pretty mundane even with a twist that leads to the superheroes fighting each other. Since this is a sequel, it has to repeat what made the original memorable, and so there are scenes with superhero costume designer Edna Mode (voice of writer/director Brad Bird) even though she’s really irrelevant to the story.

The one element that raises the film above what used to be called a “Gentleman’s C,” is Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile), the family’s baby who starts to exhibit his abilities. The powers that be at Disney/Pixar seem to get that he’s the best part of the movie, as critics were sent a message specifically asking us not to reveal anything about this plot point. Suffice to say, when Jack-Jack is on screen, the film exhibits signs of life that is sorely lacking much of the rest of the time.

“Incredibles 2” is not unwatchable, and viewers with low expectations will likely find it entertaining if overlong. It is, however, the sort of “grind-them-out-like-sausage” movie that one had hoped Pixar would avoid, and makes one worry about their release for next summer. Given the dramatic brilliance of the ending of “Toy Story 3,” is there really a need for “Toy Story 4” except a chance to cash in?•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 2.5 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.