Although a bit heavier on set pieces and wacky minion hijinks and lighter on the familial drama and heart, Despicable Me 2 is a fleet and funny follow up to the animated smash hit. While not quite as fulfilling in terms of advancing the characters or creating an airtight story, there’s still a lot to love about the equally good and nefarious Gru and his surrogate family.
Still looking after the well being of youngsters Edith, Agnes, and Margo, the single dad and former supervillain Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) has gone straight, trying quite unsuccessfully to launch a line of jams and jellies. He’s kidnapped and brought out of retirement by the shadowy Anti-Villain League and tasked with going undercover at a local shopping mall as a baker to suss out the culprit behind a heist of a powerful mutagen. Saddled with a loopy, cute and good hearted partner Lucy (Kristen Wiig), the mysterious villain has also been kidnapping a great deal of Gru’s minions for unknown reasons.
Viewer’s feelings towards the first film will probably reflect their experiences here. If you enjoyed the original, you’ll likely get a kick out of seeing everyone back together again. If you thought the minions were an annoying distraction, you’ll probably cringe significantly more this time out. (And I should also add that the minions will also get their own feature film late next year and this film feels every bit at times like a set up for that project.) In terms of jokes hitting their marks, this sequel is every bit the equal of the original, and that brings this one quite a long way.
But aside from an early sequence showing Gru doing anything he possibly can to make sure Agnes’ incredibly unsafe birthday party goes off without a hitch, there’s a significant amount of heart missing that made the original such a success. The main plot this time out really only deals with trying to bring Gru and Lucy together as potential romantic partners and his having to deal with Margot’s boy craziness. That’s really about it and neither really earns any sort of successful payoff.
Even the main story doesn’t really fulfill any surface potential. Instead of skewering mall culture or going ahead with the first film’s look at villains past their prime, the sequel is a cheap diving board straight into a pool of ethnic clichés and jokes. Gru’s main suspects are a hirsute Mexican restaurateur (Benjamin Bratt) and an Oriental wig shop owner (Ken Jeong, so dangerously close to being offensive). Even Lucy isn’t that great of a character, and instead just a scatterbrained klutz that’s just there to do wacky stuff.
Every bit of Despicable Me 2 seems to have been designed with the little yellow, vaguely French gibberish spouting minions first and foremost in mind, with everything else coming second. It’s geared a lot more towards the kids than most of the adults in the audience, but at least the bits with the minions are amusing in their own infantile ways. These little guys are the reason the movie seems to exist, and the marketing campaign that’s been heavily built around them makes perfect sense when seeing the final product. There are precious few scenes that don’t involve them, including the ending, which is strangely evocative of This is the End and Carell’s 40 Year Old Virgin.
There are other clever callbacks to the first film and subtle pop culture references throughout, and thankfully the biggest crossover from the first film is an inspired sense of lunacy. In many respects it’s a success, and the charm, wit, and good vibes are really all that matter. But much like Monsters University last week, don’t expect anything that raises the bar very highly.