Review: Despicable Me 2
I liked the original Despicable Me just fine. I was confused about its universe, which was full of supervillains but had nary a hero in sight, but I enjoyed its melancholic indifference-to-concern tale about a mad scientist filling the void in his life with limp accomplishments, only to discover the greater value of human connection. He discovered that connection through three little girls who had likable personalities and who didn’t piss me off. The score was funky. The throwaway gags with the Twinkie-like minions were amusing, and the so-called “bad guy” hero knew all their names by heart, even though there were thousands of them and they all literally looked alike, so we knew early on that he had a decent heart in there somewhere and that he had the genuine potential to grow as a person. That was a good film.
Despicable Me 2 is not what I’d call a “good” film, but it’s funny enough to make up for it. The plot is contrived and mostly disconnected from any kind of emotional journey (or god forbid character development), but the ideas are rampant and the minions are lovable sprites with just enough screen time to keep the movie from plummeting deep down into its steep rabbit hole of relative pointlessness. They are enthusiastic, inventive creatures with souls of their own, despite their unyielding loyalty. I have no idea what they are, but I suspect they have a gooey center that I also suspect is filled with love. And goo.
Steve Carell once again voices the vaguely European super-scientist Gru, who has given up on cartoon villainy and gone into the jam business. Kristen Wiig voices Lucy Wilde, an agent of the Anti-Villain League (an organization conspicuously absent from the previous film), who recruits Gru to help her track down a new supervillain who stole a dangerous MacGuffin device. For no thematic reason whatsoever they spend most of the film in a mall, selling cupcakes and trying to figure out which of their fellow small business owners are secretly an evil genius. Meanwhile, the Minions are being gradually kidnapped by a mysterious entity that will surely be important later.
Gru is a good father – attentive, happy and well to do – and has nowhere to grow as a character. So Despicable Me 2 decides that he must be incomplete without a wife, which is vaguely insulting or at least somewhat arbitrary, especially considering he shows no interest in romance before Lucy Wilde is shoved into his life. She grows on Gru, and the audience, but she shouldn’t have had to. Kristen Wiig gives a decent vocal performance but the animators convert her dialogue into a hyperactive physical performance that reeks of trying too hard, which doesn’t really fit her confident character. I do like the scene where she catches Gru in the middle of an uncomfortable hook-up, basically kills his date and spends the rest of the evening helping him dispose of the body. The old cynicism is briefly back for a few scenes, and even though we know that the victim is probably alive, functionally there’s no difference and the film is temporarily dark and distinctive and wonderful without actually giving kids nightmares.
But it all falls back on an action-packed climax with high-tech jam pistols, kidnapped cast members and an over the top villain whose plan has nothing to do with anything whatsoever other than giving Despicable Me 2 a “A” plot. There’s a parallel between the bad guy and Gru, but no real temptation on Gru’s part to follow his counterpart into moral relapse, and therefore no reason to care about this storyline that takes up so much of the movie.
Also, Gru’s oldest daughter, Margo (voiced by Miranda “iCarly” Cosgrove), gets her first love interest but he disappears entirely for the last part of the movie even though he really should have been there the entire time. I suspect Gru killed him with a freeze ray earlier in the film. At least, I choose to believe that he did. We saw Gru hit the kid with a freeze ray, and then the kid is gone forever. That kid died, but he died off-screen, so again, no nightmares and no one gives a damn.
Where Despicable Me 2 excels is in its love for the principle characters, its inventive comic set pieces with the minions, and its occasional Danger: Diabolik Euro-villain anarchy. I laughed a lot, but I didn’t particularly give a damn about what was going on because nothing of consequence was actually going on, except that the filmmakers shoved the hero in close proximity with a potential love interest and let everything basically work out okay. That’s not terrible, it’s just not particularly good either. Damn if I didn’t laugh though.