There’s only one franchise that gives Illumination Entertainment its rightfully meaning: Despicable Me. One of the biggest animation series in the world is back to give audiences the much-needed Minion-mayhem they’ve been waiting for in the release of Minions: The Rise of Gru, which I think is the last COVID-delayed 2020 film to come out finally. This franchise has always seen its fair share of highs and lows over the 12 years. I attribute the highs to the enjoyment of the first two movies (2010’s Despicable Me and the 2013 sequel), while it enters the lows around the underwhelming third installment from 2017 and the first spin-off featuring the Minions released in the summer of 2015.
The idea for Universal Pictures to allow these small yellow creatures with goggles to get their own movie was inevitable since they’ve become prevalent side characters. Unfortunately, while the prequel proved to be a huge box office success ($1.1 Billion worldwide), I learned they couldn’t carry an entire movie on their shoulders since they work best as side characters, resulting in a disappointing experience. But it wasn’t shocking when they announced Rise of Gru, and it had me walking in with low expectations, knowing full well what I’m getting into.
Was it as annoying as the first spin-off? Probably not, but it still makes this sequel just okay.
Set in 1976, all 11-year-old Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) wants to be when he grows up is to become the world’s greatest supervillain. The Minions, who have finally stopped searching for the ultimate boss to serve as his henchmen. Gru’s dreams might come true when he’s invited to interview for the newest member of the infamous supervillain group, the Vicious 6, as their leader Wild Knuckles (voiced by Alan Arkin) is ousted by his teammates. The group wasn’t very impressed with the wannabe villain when they realized he’s just a child, so he proves his idols wrong by stealing the precious Zodiac Stone from their headquarters as a way to look back on their quick decision. The thievery leads to Gru being kidnapped by Wild Knuckles, his idol, Bob, Stuart, and Kevin batch up a plan to save their “miniboss” from danger.
Unlike the first, where it felt there wasn’t much of a structured narrative, director Kyle Balda and the writers (Brian Lynch and Matthew Fogel) involved someone familiar with sharing the screen with the Minions, which is having a younger Gru. The story constraints are dumb fun, but at least it’s a bit more favorable despite not bringing anything new to the table except a few callbacks to what we know for the other films.
Was it able to keep the charm to make the story memorable? Not so much.
It’s both a Minions movie in their latest adventure and an origin story of Gru meshed together to serve more of a Despicable Me prequel that loses steam right after the first act. These movies are highly successful, especially the spin-offs because they really appeal strongly to kids. Whether they loved them since the beginning or have a toy of their own, you better believe it delivers on the fast-paced energy that will have them cracking up at the constant slapstick hitting every corner.
The screening I attended was packed, and the kids of all ages in the audience sounded like they had a great time watching the Looney Tunes style of humor to amuse them.
I like how Bob, Stuart, and Kevin (all voiced by Pierre Coffin) are the only Minions worth remembering. Their adventure to rescue their boss sees them taking a wild plane ride to San Francisco and learning the art of Kung Fu by acupuncturist Master Chow (voiced by Michelle Yeoh). Out of all the new human characters, I was fond of Master Chow’s brief appearance because of her strange determination to teach the trio fights after saving them. Those moments of channeling the blaxploitation/martial arts era were undoubtedly amusing, albeit it felt like they went on for a while. We are also introduced to a new member of the Minions named Otto. He’s basically the weirdo outcast who’s bigger and wears braces trying too hard to please. The plot kicks into gear after he’s tasked to protect the stone and stupidly trades it for a pet rock he falls in love with.
I love Steve Carell; he has always done a great job with his previous work in this series. In here, though, I wouldn’t call this his best vocal performance as the character of Gru since there’s not much to him we already know. We’ve grown to like him more as the films went on. Because of that, this makes him the least interesting person in the movie when he bonds with Wild Knuckles. There are a lot of newcomers into the franchise that were under-used to make out the weak The Vicious Six, from Taraji P. Henson as Belle Bottom, Jean-Claude Van Damme as Jean Clawed (get it?), Dolph Lundgren as Svengeance, Danny Trejo as Stronghold, and Lucy Lawless as Nun-Chuck.
Once again, the animation looks very sharp, whereas I know everything from Illumination usually looks the same. However, even in their weakest entries, they still work hard to make everything visually good-looking. The 1970s setting will surely bring some nostalgia for the adults. They take advantage of the period nice enough, including a James Bond-inspired title sequence and the clothing. But I got a kick out of the soundtrack to represent the decade. There are some classics such as “Shining Star” by Earth, Wind & Fire to “All the Young Dudes” by Mott the Hoople (which I sang to myself the day before). The number of jokes was more misses than hits when it usually relies on the low-hanging fruit humor that got tired once it started. Nevertheless, some chuckles came out of me, though the most random came from one minion changing the mood by playing “Goodbye to Love” by The Carpenters (or the cover by Phoebe Bridgers).
Overall, if you’ve been on board with the previous films in the series and you can’t get enough of them without taking them seriously, then Minions: The Rise of Gru is worth seeing in theaters over the holiday weekend for light entertainment. Of course, fans who loved them already know the wacky hijinks they’ll get into; whether being really dumb or speaking in that gibberish language, everyone inside the universe understands more than us. Thankfully, it doesn’t overstay its welcome as 88 minutes is the perfect length.
Minions: The Rise of Gru is a bit more tolerable than its predecessor, but it offers more of the same. It’s a sequel that brought nothing new, yet it will definitely win families and fans over with its animation and slapstick humor. One of the funniest movies of the year? No, but perfectly fine for a young audience.
Minions: The Rise of Gru will open in theaters on July 1, 2022. Runtime: 88 Minutes. Rated PG for some action/violence and rude humor. Studio: Universal Pictures.