Three years removed from his dastardly (fine, his despicable) ways, reformed super-villain Gru returns to the big screen to do, well, what exactly? Prove that he’s actually reformed? (He is.) Continue working on his parenting technique? (By borrowing from Parenthood.) Adopt a few more Annie-styled orphans? (Thankfully, no.)
In Despicable Me 2, Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) and his kiddos (voiced by Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier, and Elsie Fisher) are indeed back for more cuddly and only slightly villainous hijinks, as the former supreme bad guy is drafted into service with the Anti-Villain League alongside an alluring new partner, both bent on bringing down another scary-yet-PG-appropriate meanie.
Parenthood suits Gru. Sort of. Softened up by the love of his girls, the former super-villain now invests his time in planning parties for the little ones, trying to shake the lingering feeling that they need a mother, and setting the Minions and his sidekick (Dr. Nefario, again voiced by Russell Brand) on a new quest to make the best jams (and jellies!) the world has ever tasted.
It’s working out okay, and surprisingly so, but the (very funny) arrival of Anti-Villain League agent Lucy Wilde (voiced by Kristen Wiig) threatens to derail all that adorable domesticity.
Lucy, a self-professed fan of Gru’s previous villain work, and her employer have a task for Gru – they need his help in tracking down a bad guy who has stolen a serum that turns its takers into little purple rage monsters (purposeful emphasis here on the little). Eventually convinced to help, Gru embarks on an undercover operation with Lucy that sets them up in the local mall, a setting that at least provides some comedic fodder and interesting stuff to look at while the rest of the production just limps along.
While the first film found its humor (and even its alliterative twin, “heart”) in a relatively simple premise, its sequel tries to make that same plotline work in terms of romantic entanglement. Basically, we know that Gru has been reformed (that was, again, the entire point of the first film), but now we’re expected to follow along with the next step in his emotional maturation, via a weirdly chemistry-free flirtation with his new partner. Does this sound a bit heavy for a kid’s film? It’s not, at least not in practice, but it’s also just not all that interesting. Both the charm and the plots points of the first film are simply recycled here, and the result is something that’s noticeably less inventive, less sweet, and not as smart as its predecessor.
However uninspired the plot of Despicable Me 2 may be, and no matter how devoid of its original charm it is, it’s also a film that will undoubtedly captivate children. Children like familiarity and fart jokes and bright colors – and Despicable Me 2 has all of that in spades. And, fortunately for its entire audience, at least there are plenty of Minions around.
While we’ve long known that the Minions are getting their own spinoff, Despicable Me 2 makes no bones about making that next step in the franchise feel both obvious and necessary. No longer relegated to providing wacky background amusement, the Minions are front and center throughout the latest film, and are important both in terms of providing some genuine laughs and some actual plot movement.
Sure, we still don’t know all of their names, but we’re at least aware that it’s Stuart who seems to be sort of into cross-dressing and Kevin who is always in the thick of the action. (We think. It could be Bob. Maybe it’s Bob.)
The Upside: Proves that it’s possible for the Minions to carry their own movie, some nifty gadgets and twists on the spy genre, probably crazy entertaining to children.
The Downside: Emotional stakes that are too slapped-together to care about, an archenemy that’s difficult to be afraid of, a rehashed plotline that is nowhere near as charming as the original.
On the Side: Most of the main Minions (including Kevin and Stuart, naturally) are voiced by co-director Pierre Coffin, who will next branch out (sort of) to direct Minions alongside newly-installed co-director Kyle Balda.