After having a sinister villain steal the moon in order to prove his villainous credentials only to fall in love with three little girls, where do you go next? By putting him into a bland, unoriginal tale of “hero gets the girl and stops the bad guy”, apparently.
Steve Carell returns as the voice of reformed super-villain Gru, who now runs a legitimate business making jams and jellies, whilst taking care of his three adopted daughters. But when the Anti-Villain League calls upon Gru to use his expertise to help them stop a dangerous new threat, the action begins.
One of the strongest aspects of the film is that Gru is such a strangely likable character. With his comical accent, bald head and ridiculous nose, he makes a welcome change from the usual handsome, manly hero that we have become accustomed to. Some of the strongest laughs in the film come from Gru’s ridiculous antics, such as dressing up as a fairy princess to please his girls. The animation and action scenes, particularly a slow motion, Matrix-style sequence with Gru and his jam-firing gun, also worked to great comic effect.
Carell does a good job of bringing Gru to life, but Despicable Me 2 suffers from the fact that you feel like you’ve seen it all before. Perhaps afraid that doing so would turn off the commercial mainstream crowd, Despicable Me 2 does nothing to challenge or push the boundaries of a children’s film. No sad deaths, no strong moral messages, instead we get a very straightforward and recognisable tale. The romance between Gru and Kirsten Wiig’s Lucy Wilde also seems rushed and uneven, as if they were hesitant to include it.
And in order to eject some much-needed energy into a simplistic story, they decided to hit every cliché in the book: spy genre conventions – check, teenage romance where the girls father does not approve – check, possibly offensive ethnic stereotype as the villain – check. Interesting, El Macho, the film’s villain, was originally voiced by Al Pacino, who dropped out due to creative differences shortly before the film was released, leading Benjamin Bratt to hastily replace him. Perhaps Pacino dropping out had something to do with the quality of the story. Returning directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud seem to have sacrificed everything that made the first film such an instant classic and instead opted for style over substance.
After all, the first film grossed a huge $543,113,985 back in 2010, so a sequel was inevitable. Since the release of Despicable Me, the Minions, the nonsense-talking yellow creatures, have become immensely popular and iconic, and therefore have been prominently featured in the marketing or merchandise for the second film. But does that really mean that they have to be virtually never off-screen? The film ditches character and story development in favour of prolonged scenes showing the Minions dancing, burping and doing nothing that moves the story forward.
As a result, the more interesting characters, such as Gru’s henchman, the appropriately named Dr. Nefario, or Silas Ramsbottom (that’s about as mature as the jokes get), are sidelined and only make brief appearances. Even Gru’s daughters, who were the driving point of the first film, have had their screen time significantly reduced. Sure, kids will probably love watching non-stop fart jokes, but what about the rest of us who actually want to be told a story and, you know, any of that other stuff that people watch films for? The film feels like a feature-length trailer for the spin-off film Minions, set for release next year.
Despicable Me looks like it may join Shrek and Kung Fu Panda as one of the most financially successful animated film franchises of all time. Let’s just hope that next time they try to include some originality rather than go down a safe and by-the-numbers route.