When I saw Despicable Me (2010), I didn’t love it. But the Minions. The Minions I can’t get enough of. This summer’s Despicable Me 2 features the comedic family brought together in the first film, a funny new hero, and plenty of Minion hijinks.
In Despicable Me 2, Gru (Steve Carell) is happy in his new lifestyle, trading villainy for making jelly and raising his adopted daughters, Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier), and Agnes (Elsie Fisher), but when Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand) quits to take a position with a super villain actually engaged in being bad, Gru starts to reconsider his ordinary life. Before he gives changing much thought, he’s kidnapped by Lucy (Kristen Wiig) an agent with the Anti-Villain League (AVL). The AVL wants Gru’s help figuring out which shop owner at a local mall is a criminal mastermind who stole an entire Russian lab housing a substance that will turn something as benign as a bunny into an insatiable killing machine. Gru takes the assignment and comes face to face with Eduardo (Benjamin Bratt), a Mexican restaurant owner he believes to be El Macho, a super villain who died years ago, and whose son is putting the moves on Margo. As Gru’s personal and professional lives collide, it’s unclear if he can both parent and save the world, not to mention deal with his feelings for Lucy.
What I found most clever about Despicable Me 2 is that it somehow takes a classic romantic comedy scenario (combined with the obvious nod to spy movies) and makes it feel new. Instead of following a frazzled mother and asking if she can have it all, or making a father figure look hapless as Mr. Mom, Despicable Me 2 features a socially awkward father trying to balance career and family. It’s not exactly innovative, but it feels fresh. Perhaps it’s that Steve Carell and Kristen Wiig are both so charming as comedians and voice actors, or the fact that Gru and Lucy are pretty equally yolked in terms of cluelessness, but I rooted for them in a way I haven’t rooted for an animated couple in a long time.
On the other hand, the bad guys in the film are stereotypical even for a children’s movie. Eduardo/El Macho is a combination of a chubby, lovable Mexican patriarch, complete with a mariachi band, and a Mexican wrestler. (I seriously want a tortilla hat filled with guacamole, though.) Meanwhile, the other suspect in the case is a tiny Chinese man who seems lifted from a kung fu movie. I suppose that these stereotypes are somewhat offset by the playful reinvention of Gru, a villain clearly inspired by Russian spies in Cold War action movies, but overall the development of the new characters seems lazy.
Similarly, the plot of the film kind of meanders, failing to strike a real balance between the AVL mission, Gru’s anxiety about dating, and his anxiety about Margo’s blossoming romance. Granted, thematically these parts work wonderfully together as Gru and Margo’s issues interlink, but as the plot builds toward the climax it gets messy. The climax, however, is wonderfully silly as the Minions turned evil. The move is brilliant on the part of the writers as the Minions were already a bundle of joy and violence, always ready to giggle or punch each other out. Creating evil Minions took the essence of the happy yellow creatures and turned it on its head in a way that is more funny, than threatening, but still works to create narrative tension.
Overall, Despicable Me 2 was charming and funny, despite some weaknesses in the characters and the middle of the story. It made a fun afternoon at the theater with my little sister. For me, the Minions will always be worth the price of admission. 3.5/5 stars
Despicable Me 2 was written by Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul and directed by Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud. It runs 98 minutes and is rated PG for rude humor and mild action.
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