Home > Reviews > THE INCREDIBLES 2 – Michael Giacchino

THE INCREDIBLES 2 – Michael Giacchino

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

14 years ago, in 2004, Michael Giacchino became the first composer to successfully make the transition from video games to movies when he was asked to score a Disney-Pixar animated action adventure super hero film called The Incredibles. Giacchino’s career to that point had been filled with high quality scores for games such as The Lost World, Call of Duty, Secret Weapons Over Normandy, and several entries in the groundbreaking Medal of Honor series, plus work on TV shows like Alias, but The Incredibles was his first film work of any significance. It was a sensation – the combination of jazzy John Barry-style big band arrangements and broad, exciting action music was a breath of fresh air, and essentially launched a career which has seen him become one of the most in-demand and well-loved composers in Hollywood, with his musical fingers in multiple franchise pies comprising Star Wars, Star Trek, Mission Impossible, Planet of the Apes, Jurassic Park, several Marvel super hero movies, and many other Pixar films, including the Oscar-winning Up. Now, after all this time, Giacchino is returning to the place it all started, with his score for the long-awaited sequel The Incredibles 2.

Having defeated the evil Syndrome at the end of the first movie, super heroes Bob Parr/Mr Incredible and his wife Helen/Elastigirl face off against the evil Underminer – who appeared in the final scene of the first film – with the help of their eldest children Violet and Dash, who have super powers of their own, and Bob’s former partner Frozone. However, the collateral damage caused during the battle results in the government shutting down the Superhero Relocation Program which protected them, leaving the Parr family without a home. Things seem to be looking up when the Parrs are approached by multimillionaire Winston Deavor, who wants to use Helen in a publicity campaign to help regain the public’s trust in super heroes. While Helen is away Bob is left to look after their children – a role he both resents, and struggles with, especially when their baby son Jack-Jack begins to demonstrate a variety of uncontrollable super hero powers of his own. However, things come to a head when Helen discovers the existence of a new super villain called the Screenslaver, who turns people into mindless drones by broadcasting hypnotic images through television screens, forcing the entire family to come together once more to defeat the threat. The film was written and directed by Brad Bird and features a stellar voice cast including original members Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, and Samuel L. Jackson, plus newcomers Bob Odenkirk, Catherine Keener, and Jonathan Banks.

As was the case with the first film, Giacchino’s approach to The Incredibles 2 was to blend a full orchestra with a hefty dose of stylish finger-snapping 1960s jazz, John Barry style, full of raspy brass and groovy rhythms. The whole thing comes across as a combination between James Bond and Henry Mancini, made more grandiose with Giacchino’s loud and expansive orchestral lines. Thematically, the score re-visits the main Incredibles theme several times, as well as it’s 5-note offshoot that often acts as a little herald for the group as a whole, but beyond this (and with a couple of clever self-references), the rest of the music is new and unique to this film. Giacchino wrote a sexy, elegant new theme for Elastigirl, who has a much bigger role in the sequel; there’s also a mysterious theme for the Screenslaver super-villain, some fun and bouncy mickey-mousing for the antics of baby Jack-Jack, and some excellent action music heard most prominently during the ‘train chase’ sequence, and during the expansive finale.

In terms of orchestrations, Giacchino and his arrangers regularly augment the orchestra with big band brasses, jazz flutes, electric guitars, marimbas, tapped percussion items such as bongos and tomtoms, and a more contemporary drum kit. The influence of legendary big band arranger Gordon Goodwin – the heir apparent to Billy May – is obvious, as are the frequent and clear references to the composing style of John Barry, either by the way he structures his chord progressions, or in the arrangements.

The statements of the Incredibles Theme and its 5-note variation will clearly be the most recognizable and, for many, enjoyable aspects of the score. The theme opens the score in sultry, sexy fashion in “Episode 2,” and then dominates the subsequent “A Tony Perspective,” although here the theme is often arranged in a soft, gentle, almost shyly romantic manner, to represent young Violet’s self-conscious attraction to her classmate Tony. Later, the theme features prominently in the funky and groovy “Renouncing the Renunciation,” and then again in “World’s Worst Babysitters,” a bold and exciting action piece which features especially intricate brass writing in combination with trilling woodwinds.

Elastigirl’s theme gets three significant workouts in consecutive cues, when she is first hired to work for Winston Deavor, and subsequently is called to action to stop a runaway train. In “This Ain’t My Super-Suit” her theme is arranged for sexy, slithery strings and a laid-back jazz combo, as she ditches her classic red-and-gold super suit for a more sleek and modern all-black number. “Elastigirl is Back” is bold and brassy, with a fulsome arrangement of her theme for wah-wah horns that is upbeat and optimistic. Then, in “Train of Taut,” her theme is re-imagined as an action motif, surrounded by saxophone improvisations and a very prominent percussion undercurrent featuring a drum kit and hi-hat cymbals. However, one of the score’s biggest disappointments is how her theme virtually disappears during the score’s second half, when throwing an occasional statement into the action material could have given her presence much more meaning. Even in cues like “Elastigirl’s Got a Plane to Catch,” where her interventions are integral to the plot, her theme is barely noticeable, playing second fiddle to more generic action-jazz writing and statements of the full Incredibles theme.

The other new main theme is the Screenslaver theme, which first appears in “Ambassador Ambush”. It’s a moody, creepy piece, which comes across as being Herrmanesque in its orchestrations (the harp and marimba underpinned by tremolo strings is reminiscent of Vertigo), but also has a definite John Barry vibe in compositional terms. Barry would often use a small cell of repetitive phrases and gradually increase them in intensity – you can hear this all through his Bond scores, especially the Fort Knox sequence in Goldfinger – and Giacchino does the same thing here. Subsequent cues like “Searching for a Screenslaver” and “Hydrofoiled Again” reprise the Screenslaver theme prominently; the former has some especially prominent percussion writing for snares and timpani, while the latter builds the theme into the core of an action cue, and surrounds it with some very rich and authentic jazz interludes.

A brief new idea to represent baby Jack-Jack appears in two cues, “Rocky vs. Jack-Jack” and “Jack Splat,” and is a perfectly judged-representation of the notion that this adorable little infant keeps manifesting bizarre super-powers that he cannot control. Jack-Jack’s music is wild, wacky, and playful, with flamboyant orchestrations, and more than a little Carl Stalling-esque mickey-mousing. The first cue, which underscores Jack-Jack’s encounter with an increasingly irritated and confused raccoon, is a delightful comedy caper. It’s not easy to make this type of music fun and interesting without it entering the realms of the annoying, but Giacchino succeeds admirably.

The rest of the score is mostly action. The score’s first action set piece is “Consider Yourselves Undermined!” in which the Incredibles take on the Underminer, the super-villain who first appeared at the end of the first movie. There is some wonderful action material here, with both the Incredibles theme and Frozone’s saxophone motif playing in stylish combination with the 7-note Underminer theme, which Giacchino reprises from the Underminer video game in a fun Easter Egg for fans of the franchise. The bold, throaty brass performances and frantic action rhythms here are especially exciting.

Subsequent cues like “Helen of Ploy” and “A Dash of Reality” are fun and funky, with some prominent jazz pianos in the former, and several splashes of the min theme, although it was a little disappointing that Giacchino chose not to revisit the wildly anarchic xylophone writing from the first score’s “100 Mile Dash” in the latter. The film’s big finale comprises the four cues from “A Bridge Too Parr” through to “Looks like I Picked the Wrong Week to Quit Oxygen,” and sees Giacchino going all-out with the jazzy action, bringing together multiple statements of the Incredibles Theme and its 5-note variation alongside a battery of aggressively kinetic orchestral writing. “Together Forever and Deavor” introduces a very cool new idea into the score as a new recurring texture, moving from rolling pianos to flutes to strings as the cue progresses. Cleverly, this motif appears to be a development of the Screenslaver theme as – spoiler alert! – the real villain of the piece is revealed to be Winston Deavor’s tech-savvy sister Evelyn, who has harbored a long-standing grudge against super heroes ever since the death of their parents.

The action continues in “Elastigirl’s Got a Plane to Catch,” which pits the new Deavor motif against several statements of the Incredibles theme, some wonderful bass guitar funk, and whirling woodwinds which become more vibrant as they progress. It’s interesting to compare the action writing in this score to that in the original 2004 Incredibles score; Giacchino’s orchestral confidence has clearly grown enormously in the intervening 14 years: his rhythms and instrumental combinations are denser and more complicated, and his thematic interplay is more well-integrated. As good as the original score was, this one seems to be a much more well-rounded and intelligently crafted work.

The score ends with “Incredits 2,” a wonderfully enjoyable suite of the score’s main themes arranged in a variety of rousing and interesting styles. It begins with a straightforward statement of the Incredibles theme, before moving through a sultry variation of the Elastigirl theme underpinned by harpsichord and racing strings (1:25), some of Jack-Jack’s antics (2:57), a new exotic take on the Incredibles theme (3:42), a rich version of the Screenslaver theme with brass counterpoint (5:13), a ballsy brass version of Frozone’s saxophone theme (6:19), and a big and rousing statement of the full Incredibles theme to finish. British readers will also be interested to note that the percussion interlude around 4:30 reminds me very much of Barry Grey’s fabulous theme for the 1960s puppet action sci-fi TV show Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons!

Rounding out the album is a selection of bonus cues, beginning with four ‘commercial jingles’ for the main superhero characters, which Giacchino wrote in collaboration with the Tony-winning “Hamilton” arranger Alex Lacamoire and director Brad Bird. They are intentionally cheesy – the sort of thing one might have heard on a bad 1970s TV show or Saturday morning cartoon – but as a satirical homage, they are perfect. I’m especially fond of the “Chill or Be Chilled” piece for Frozone, which imagines the character as a sort of super hero version of Shaft. Perhaps a little disappointingly none of the jingle ideas work their way into the score (although the “Pow! Pow! Pow!” of Mr. Incredible’s Theme may appear at the end of “Looks like I Picked the Wrong Week to Quit Oxygen”), which feels like a little bit of a missed opportunity.

If, like me, you like big band jazz and large, swinging orchestras in the Barry/Mancini tradition, then a great deal of The Incredibles 2 will be very entertaining. I thoroughly enjoy it from start to finish. But, looking at it objectively, there are still a few little niggling issues in the finished product which stop it from being genuinely great, as opposed to merely good. The apparent abandonment of Elastigirl’s memorable theme half way through the score is the most frustrating thing. While I like it a lot, and while I appreciate its development into a theme for Evelyn Deavor during the film’s second half, I can imagine that many will find the Screenslaver theme a little under-whelming and perhaps a little predictable. And I can certainly see a situation where the full-on jazz arrangements could annoy some people, especially those who have an aversion to brass when it screams violently. For me, though, I found The Incredibles 2 to be just as enjoyable as its predecessor. That spark of inventiveness is still there, that loving homage to John Barry and James Bond is still there in spades, and the main theme is still as gloriously infectious as it ever was.

Buy the Incredibles 2 soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Episode 2 (0:50)
  • A Tony Perspective (2:08)
  • Consider Yourselves Undermined! (5:12)
  • A Matter of Perception (1:50)
  • Diggin’ the New Digs (1:42)
  • This Ain’t My Super-Suit? (0:57)
  • Elastigirl is Back (1:00)
  • Train of Taut (3:17)
  • Rocky vs. Jack-Jack (1:58)
  • Ambassador Ambush (2:29)
  • Hero Worship (1:08)
  • Searching for a Screenslaver (4:40)
  • Super Legal Again (0:42)
  • Renouncing the Renunciation (1:38)
  • World’s Worst Babysitters (1:33)
  • Helen of Ploy (0:55)
  • A Dash of Reality (2:03)
  • Hydrofoiled Again (3:51)
  • Jack Splat (1:30)
  • A Bridge Too Parr (4:17)
  • Together Forever and Deavor (1:45)
  • Elastigirl’s Got a Plane to Catch (3:00)
  • Looks like I Picked the Wrong Week to Quit Oxygen (1:59)
  • Happily After-Deavor (1:15)
  • Out and a Bout (0:36)
  • Incredits 2 (9:51)
  • Here Comes Elastigirl – Elastigirl’s Theme (written by Michael Giacchino, Alex Lacamoire, and Brad Bird) (1:23)
  • Chill or Be Chilled – Frozone’s Theme (written by Michael Giacchino, Alex Lacamoire, and Brad Bird) (1:40)
  • Pow! Pow! Pow! – Mr. Incredible’s Theme (written by Michael Giacchino, Alex Lacamoire, and Brad Bird) (1:31)
  • Devtchno! (1:53)
  • Chad Tonight Talk Show Theme (written by Daniel Farid, Grace Giacchino, and Michael Giacchino) (0:05)
  • Chad Tonight Newscast Bumper (written by Daniel Farid, Grace Giacchino, and Michael Giacchino) (0:06)
  • Here Comes Elastigirl – Elastigirl’s Theme A Cappella (written by Michael Giacchino, Alex Lacamoire, and Brad Bird, performed by D-Cappella) (Digital Bonus Track) (1:20)
  • Chill or Be Chilled – Frozone’s Theme A Cappella (written by Michael Giacchino, Alex Lacamoire, and Brad Bird, performed by D-Cappella) (Digital Bonus Track) (1:36)
  • Pow! Pow! Pow! – Mr. Incredible’s Theme A Cappella (written by Michael Giacchino, Alex Lacamoire, and Brad Bird, performed by D-Cappella) (Digital Bonus Track) (1:31)
  • The Glory Days A Cappella (written by Michael Giacchino, performed by D-Cappella) (Digital Bonus Track) (1:39)

Running Time: 75 minutes 05 seconds

Walt Disney Records (2018)

Music composed by Michael Giacchino. Conducted by Marshall Bowen. Orchestrations by Gordon Goodwin, Brad Dechter, Jeff Kryka, Norman Ludwin, Cameron Patrick and Ayatey Shabazz. Additional music by Mick Giacchino. Recorded and mixed by Joel Iwataki. Edited by Stephen M. Davis. Album produced by Michael Giacchino.

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