Film Review – Despicable Me 2
Despicable Me 2 returns to the world of Gru (Steve Carell), the brilliant criminal mastermind turned hero/father. The gang’s all back with him: his adoptive kids Edith (Dana Gaier), Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), and Agnes (Elsie Kate Fisher), his mad scientist partner Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand), and, yes, the gibberish-speaking-unidentifiable-species known as the Minions. The first Despicable Me (2010) worked due to its spin of the hero/villain dynamic, the cuteness of the kids and the Minions, and because it is simply an enjoyable family entertainment. The benefit for most sequels is that they are not burdened with having to establish a world. Instead, they have the freedom to take the story anywhere they like, because we’re already connected with the characters. Here, we see a plot that is bigger in scope, but I’m not sure it hits the same plateau the first one did.
The reason for that is because the film doesn’t share the same level of heart as the original. What drew me in with the first was the connection between a villain trying to spread evil and the orphan trio he developed strong feelings toward. There’s some of that here, for sure, especially with how Gru tries to be both father and mother to the kids. One early scene has him settling for desperate measures when the fairy godmother he hired for Agnes’s birthday fails to show up. However, Edith, Margo, and Agnes take more of a backseat role this time, relegated to being supporting characters that occasionally do or say something funny or preciously cute. Agnes of course steals the scenes she’s in, and easily has the most quotable lines. But none of the three are involved with the main plot threads, whereas in the first one they were the main plot thread.
Speaking of story, another issue involves the filmmakers (directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud, screenwriters Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio, story writer Sergio Pablos) falling for the trap that “bigger is better.” There is too much going on; the screenplay is stuffed with enough material to fill another movie. The main conflict involves Gru being hired by the Anti-Villains League (AVL), a super secret agency meant to prevent global crime. The AVL recruits Gru to help discover the baddy responsible for recent robberies around the world, and bring them into custody. But there’s so much more than that. We also have the kids trying to help Gru find a girlfriend, Gru’s budding relationship with his AVL partner Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig), Gru trying to stop Margo from falling in love with her newest crush Antonio Perez (Moises Arias), his growing suspicion of Antonio’s father Eduardo (Benjamin Bratt), and the discovery that the Minions are mysteriously being kidnapped. Oh, and there’s also a killer chicken on the loose. We’re going to need Cliffs Notes just to keep up with how much is going on here.
But I don’t want to sound like the old curmudgeon who didn’t find anything to enjoy, because really, there’s a lot to like here. Despite the bloated plot, the pace skips along quite nicely; there is never a section where it lagged. The animation from Illumination Entertainment has creativity bursting out of its ears, from character designs to certain camera angles. For those that like 3D, we are given some nice visual tricks. During certain scenes, the 3D enhances the depth of field, but the filmmakers aren’t afraid to occasionally have something come straight out of the screen.
Above all, what makes this a success is the comedy. There are plenty of laughs, enough to satisfy both children and adults. We get a balance of both crude humor and sly wit. That’s probably the best you can ask for when one of the main weapons featured is called a Fart Gun. The best new addition is from Kristin Wiig (who actually played a different character in the first film). Lucy is dorky and nerdy and a little bit of a neurotic, but she’s hilarious and makes a perfect fit for Gru’s deadly pessimism. It’s no surprise that the Minions are set to have their own movie; they’re such a rowdy and happy bunch that you want to hang out with them all the time. Each has their own unique personality, but at the same time, they’re so weird and different that they can do mundane activities and make it look amusing.
If you liked Despicable Me, then chances are you’re going to like Despicable Me 2. The emotion that made the first one such a hit is unfortunately missing in this installment, but there is enough action and laughs for the entire family to walk out feeling satisfied. The action scenes might get a little too hectic, and there’s also that questionable element of how different ethnic cultures are depicted, but I don’t think it gets to the point of being offensive. It’s bright, fun, and exists with good intentions. Hard to hate on something like that.