All apologies, but I no longer possess an adorable, insightful 6-year-old to lend perspective towards the family-oriented movies reviewed here. I was actually going to borrow my little niece for this movie, but her daddy won’t let her catch a late-night showtime, so it was just me and the 12-year-old, who actually fell asleep during Despicable Me 2 despite a rare caffeine infusion. What I can tell you from an adult perspective is that this sequel is an even more unnecessary second installment than last month’s Monsters University.
While I’d like to be able to report that Despicable Me 2, while very cute and playful, doesn’t suffer from sequelitis, that would be an absolute lie on my part. This second edition of Gru & Co. is nothing but an uninspired and unimaginative rehash of the first movie, and it’s not the sort of replay that should delight. I loved the first movie, but I was gritting my teeth throughout this sequel. The filmmakers seem to believe that simply amplifying the gimmicks that worked for the first film will mean audiences will be satisfied, and that may well work in terms of box-office success at the hands of a pliable, undiscriminating audience who only want to park their kids in a dark room where they’ll shut their damn mouths and watch the pretty yellow things clutter the screen for over an hour.
What producers of family films seem to forget is that, when successful, these movies play on an endless repeat on living room DVD players for years, so by the time a sequel rolls around, audiences (like it or not) have nearly every detail memorized. For filmmakers to simply reproduce the first movie with a couple of changes is infuriating. Instead of an anarchic ride, the sequel simply feels like an excuse to make more money. Which it is, of course. Also, this new installment exists as a slapsticky sea of school-bus yellow Minions, so forget about story. Obviously, an engrossing plot would be totally superfluous at this point.
In Despicable Me 2, gone is the refreshing concept of a “gleefully anarchic” supervillain, Gru (Steve Carell), who found himself falling in love with three adorable orphans — Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier), and Agnes (Elsie Fisher) — who are still dominating his life, by the way. Other than pulling a Dwayne Johnson by dressing up as a fairy princess to make his little girls happy, Gru is boring now (he spends his days dreaming up disastrous jelly recipes), but that’s not the main problem. Instead, the overriding issue with this movie is that the Minions have taken over the franchise and completely transformed themselves from a cute, eraser-shaped running gag into an ubiquitous annoyance that dominates the entirety of the film with renditions of “YMCA” and the like. In the first movie, a small amount of Minions went a long way. In the sequel, they’re running the show to ill effect.
Carrell is back as Gru, and Carell’s still a delight even if his character isn’t as fun this time around the block. Kristen Wiig likewise returns but as a different character; in the first movie, she voiced the Miss Hannigan-like orphan dominator, and now she pops in as a super secret agent named Lucy, who recruits Gru for the Anti-Villain League; and she has the warmies for him too. Meanwhile, Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand) has had enough of Gru’s non-villainness, so he makes a grand departure, and Gru himself half-heartedly investigates the heist of a transformation serum at the hands of an active supervillain, El Macho (Benjamin Bratt), whose Latino character is written in an appallingly racist manner. So there’s a tacked-on subplot of romance and mother-seeking on behalf of the orphans, and then the screenwriters decided that was enough to support a nearly nonexistent tale.
Admittedly, Despicable Me looks good from a technical standpoint, and the voicework is excellent with Carell and Brand taking top honors once again, but this sequel adds nothing to the original. It exists simply as reason to revisit some likable characters and give parents a reason to kick up their feet while inhaling artery-clogging theater popcorn. That might be enough for some of you, but I’m sad that Universal and Illumination decided that pimping the Minions (after all, they’ll look great underneath your Christmas tree) took priority over the spirit of inventiveness that dominated the first film.
In the end, we find out that the Minions are getting their own spin-off movie. Surprise, surprise.
Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She and her little black heart can be found at Celebitchy.