Synopsis: The untold story of one twelve-year-old’s dream to become the world’s greatest supervillain.
Stars: Steve Carell, Pierre Coffin, Taraji P. Henson, Michelle Yeoh, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Lucy Lawless, Dolph Lundgren, Danny Trejo, Russell Brand, Julie Andrews, Alan Arkin
Director: Kyle Balda
Running Length: 87 minutes
TMMM Score: (7.5/10)
Review: It surprised me how much I had enjoyed 2010’s Despicable Me, primarily because by the time that non-PIXAR/Disney film arrived, I was long out of the target audience for its colorfully wacky shenanigans. Following Gru, a supervillain and his tiny yellow minions who are changed when he takes in three orphaned children, it spawned two sequels and launched the goofy golden sidekicks into their own spin-off in 2015. While I had enjoyed the sequels (and even the eye-popping, brain-shaking Minions ride at Universal Studios Florida), I found that outing for the Minions pre-Gru to be lackluster and missing some of the charms that made the Despicable Me films so engaging. Even boasting the voice of Sandra Bullock in a rare villainous turn couldn’t sway the movie in my favor.
Seven years and one major global pandemic later, we have Minions: The Rise of Gru, and returning director Kyle Balda and writer Brian Lynch (co-scripting with Matthew Fogel) have learned a bit since their last Minion-centered adventure. Far funnier than any previous franchise entry, it wisely retains a period setting (adjusting slightly into the mid ‘70s) and begins to weave threads of early Gru (Steve Carrell, Foxcatcher) into the mix. That makes it less of a Minions-only movie and slightly more akin to a bona fide Despicable Me prequel, but with main Minions, Kevin, Stuart, and Bob (all voiced, as all Minions are, by Pierre Coffin) primarily driving the action, fans clamoring for more of the banana loving creatures will get their fill.
The year is 1976, and the Vicious 6 is a top criminal organization being watched by the Anti-Villain League. Led by Easy Rider-ish Wild Knuckles (Alan Arkin, Indian Summer), the remaining crew is comprised of Belle Bottom (Taraji P. Henson, What Men Want), Jean Clawed (Jean-Claude Van Damme, The Last Mercenary), Nunchuck (Lucy Lawless), Svengeance (Dolph Lundgren, Aquaman), and Stronghold (Danny Trejo, The Legend of La Llorona). Hunting for a stone that harnesses the power of the Chinese Zodiac, the group faces a division that leaves them down a member, an opening that Gru hopes to fill. The trouble is, he’s only 11 and still in school.
With the help of his trustworthy Minions, who will do anything for their leader, Gru first sets out to join the Vicious 6, but after finding out they aren’t as welcoming as he’d hoped, he winds up on the run from them. While Gru goes in search of assistance from an unlikely source that knows the inner workings of the Vicious 6, Kevin, Stuart, and Bob receive education in Kung Fu from a former teacher, now acupuncturist Master Chow (Michelle Yeoh, Gunpowder Milkshake). All will need to be at full force to face what’s coming toward them, a crime ring of villains with an ancient power they are ready to wield at anyone daring to challenge them.
For most of the running time, Minions: The Rise of Gru is a breezy bit of comic mayhem that takes every opportunity to capitalize on the appeal of the jibber-jabbering of the titular characters. Their amalgam of languages and speech will never be truly deciphered, yet you understand them all the same. When in doubt, Balda/Fogel/Lynch shows a Minions yellow rear end and lets the laughs rip…and at least in my audience, the effect of seeing the little round butt worked like a charm on the kids who roared with hilarity each time. It’s not a sophisticated comedy for the most part (though again, as in the last film, Balda has the Minions gibber through a surprisingly adept song in their native tongue), but it lets the 87-minute film fly by with ease.
What doesn’t work in quite the same way is a scary finale that comes out of nowhere, and parents will likely want to keep an eye on their kids to see how they react to a slew of creatures who pop up for a battle royale with Gru and the gang. The animation in the sequence is dazzling, but it’s an oddly intense passage to have when so much of the overall vibe has been chill. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t say that it’s disappointing to see Yeoh slogging her way through yet another “wise combat teacher” role she’s played countless times before. Coming on the heels of a career-best (and maybe Oscar-winning?) role in Everything Everywhere All At Once, this feels like a giant step backward.
I’ll spare you the extra sit and say that once the final credit crawl gets underway, you can head home, but stay through those first few minutes after the movie ends for a bit of fun. It’s another way the filmmakers behind this series think in complete sentences throughout. These movies may not sit on the same shelf as the emotionally complex features from the heyday of Walt Disney Pictures or even the more modern classics at Pixar. They are indeed quite entertaining, though, and that’s often worth more than any number of tears that those films can wring from our emotions. Minions: The Rise of Gru ranks higher than the previous film and is one of the strongest in the overall Despicable Me franchise. If I had to choose between this and Lightyear, I’d want to watch the little yella fellas have their fun again.