(On Cable TV, April 2018) It’s never a good sign when you look askance at the screen and wonder why a specific creative choice was made. I’m not here to bury Despicable Me 3, which is more or less in-line with the series (including the Minions spinoff) so far: it’s a serviceable new entry in the franchise, not quite as interesting because it needs to move forward. If the three little girls were the heart of the first film, and the character of Lucy was the comic highlight of the second film, this film feels forced to expand the family a little bit and get an eighties-themed villain. And that’s when the askance glance at creative choices comes in: Gru’s new brother isn’t particularly funny, and neither is former child-star villain Balthazar Bratt. In fact, they’re so perfunctory that it’s easy to feel disappointed when it becomes clear that, yes, this is the direction in which the entire third film will go. The girls are relegated to the background, Lucy doesn’t get much to do and we’re stuck with a pair of new characters that are clearly less interesting than the filmmakers think. Oh, there’s still enough fast-paced comedic action to keep things interesting (although the amount of Minion stuff is appropriately kept in check) but the film suggests that the series is on a path of steadily diminishing returns, creatively speaking. Of course, finances trump creativity in this blockbuster age of film, so you can reliably expect Despicable Me 4 in three to four years. So it goes. No amount of askew glaring will change that.
(Video on Demand, December 2015) It’s practically impossible to comment on Minions without feeling the need to grandstand about the yellow creatures and their forced omnipresence in 2015 pop-culture thanks to hundreds of tie-in products. There’s certainly something to be said about Universal’s craftiness in pushing forward characters that don’t depend on any live actor or even particular voices to exist in seemingly endless franchising opportunities. But that takes us closer to pop-culture commentary than movie reviewing, so let’s focus on the actual film. Minions tells the back-story of the yellow pills seen in the first two Despicable Me movies. From prehistorical unicellular beginning, the minions attach themselves to fearless leaders and do their bidding (although they are conveniently frozen away during WW2). Emerging onto the colorful world in the 1960s, they are smitten by supervillain Scarlett Overkill, but their plans for eternal servitude go awry when the plot gets quite a bit less predictable than you’d think from the first few minutes. Driven by a cheerfully anarchic spirit, Minions bounces from one sight-gag to another, culminating in a spectacular battle around London. Some swinging-sixties spirit makes things interesting, combined to the film’s almost too-extravagant visual design. The minions themselves are engineered for harmless likability, which usually works in the film’s favour. Some of the side-jokes work well: There’s a fairly big and flattering side-role for an unnamed Queen Elizabeth II, for instance, and I’m not sure we’ve seen such a doting husband as Herb Overkill elsewhere in the superhero canon. It all amounts to an adequate family comedy, which is probably what the studio was hoping for: something inconsequential but not actively unpleasant, just enough to motivate a sequel.
(On Cable TV, August 2014) I liked the first Despicable Me without going overboard for it, and much of the same goes for its sequel. While Despicable Me 2 is far too emotionally shallow to be held aloft alongside some of the finest examples of the animated family film genre, it’s amusing and zippy enough to be worth a watch. I suspect that beyond the reformed-bad-boy appeal of protagonist Gru, much of the sequel’s charm hinges upon the character of Lucy (judiciously voiced by Kristen Wiig): as a capable yet endearing character, with combat skills matched with clumsiness and over-eagerness –her non-date with Gru makes for an odd but effective bonding scene. Otherwise, it’s easy to see the overabundance of charm in Despicable Me 2, from the three daughters (as equally adorable as in the first film, if perhaps under-used) to the omnipresent minions that act as comic mascots of the series. The film is bright, colorful and directed with dynamic pacing (I suspect plenty of freeze-frame details). It may not amount to much in the thematic department (even Gru’s romantic baggage is dealt with lightly), but the speed and accumulation of jokes is more than enough to keep the film afloat. Despicable Me 2‘s comic tone seems more controlled than the original, and I was impressed at the film’s success in mastering even the most obvious jokes: There’s a gag about a cat being rejected from abduction that can be seen coming at least two solid seconds in advance –and it still gets a good laugh. I’m not so fond of the ethnic stereotyping or the somewhat linear plot, but the tone of the film doesn’t invite much scrutiny, and it should best be appreciated as a light-hearted comedy without any deep intentions.