Minions: The Rise of Gru Review

Minions: The Rise of Gru is the fifth overall installment in Illumination’s Despicable Me franchise, and the second that shifts the focus away from Gru in favor of the ubiquitous Minions. Though, as the subtitle suggests, Gru has much more of a role here than he did in the first Minions movie (in which he appeared as a background Easter egg in one scene, and then had a speaking cameo at the end, which made the aforementioned background Easter egg kind of superfluous). Because of Gru’s more prominent role, you could argue that this seconds Minions movie is more of a Despicable Me prequel than it is a Minions spinoff. But that may be for the best, considering how the first Minions movie didn’t seem to know how to have its titular, Twinkie-shaped creatures carry the story on their own (its villain seemed to get more screentime than the Minions themselves). In that sense, Minions: The Rise of Gru is an improvement over its predecessor, but whether or not you enjoy it may depend on how well you can tolerate the Minions themselves.

Children (and Facebook moms) can’t seem to get enough of the Minions, while many other audiences find the antics and gibberish ramblings of the Minions irksome. I’m a bit indifferent to them, myself. I can understand why many find the Minions annoying, but I also know I’m not the target audience for the characters and find their antics harmless. Their worst crime is resurrecting the trend of animated sidekick characters purposefully upstaging the main characters. In short, I may not be a fan of the Minions, but I don’t hate them, either. If you’re someone who does enjoy the Minions, then you’ll probably get a kick out of Minions: The Rise of Gru, but if you aren’t a fan, then this movie certainly isn’t going to convert you.

The story here takes place in the 1970s. Gru (Steve Carell) is still just a kid with aspirations to become a great supervillain. Now that he has the Minions as his, well, minions, he’s a step closer to his goals. The Minions help Gru commit petty, bullyish crimes, like cutting in line at an ice cream shop, stealing some ice cream, and then eating said ice cream in front of a gym to taunt the people inside trying to burn calories. If the movie has one notable strength, it’s that this is the first time since the first Despicable Me that we’ve seen Gru actually be a villain. And isn’t that why people liked this series in the first place?

Anyway, the plot sees Gru invited to join his favorite supervillain team, the Vicious Six, after their former leader, Wild Knuckles (Alan Arkin), is presumed dead (in reality, he was given the boot for being too old). The Vicious Six have recently stolen an ancient treasure, the Zodiac Stone (which is actually a medallion). When Gru is denied entry into the Vicious Six for being too young, he steals the Zodiac Stone from the villain group. The Vicious Six, lead by Belle Bottom (Taraji P. Henson), then swear revenge against Gru. But before they can track Gru down, the aspiring villain is kidnapped by Wild Knuckles, who also wants the stone.

Unbeknownst to Wild Knuckles or the Vicious Six, one of Gru’s Minions, Otto (voiced by Pierre Coffin, as all the Minions are) has traded the stone for a Pet Rock with a neighborhood kid. Once Gru is kidnapped, three of his Minions, Kevin, Bob and Stuart set out to rescue their leader, while Otto goes to retrieve the Zodiac Stone. Meanwhile, Wild Knuckles starts to take a liking to Gru, who becomes the apprentice of the one-time Vicious Six leader.

To be honest, there’s not much more of a plot than that. A recurring issue with Illumination’s movies is that they feel less like animated films and more like episodes of a television cartoon stretched into a feature length. It’s no unforgiveable sin, and not every animated film has to be an emotional masterpiece, but after a while you start to wish that Illumination would at least aim for something more. Sadly, Minions: The Rise of Gru is another example of Illumination settling.

On the reverse side, if there’s one thing Illumination deserves credit for, it’s the quality of the animation itself. Illumination is known for making their films on a relatively smaller budget than other mainstream animation studios, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at them. Illumination’s films are always colorful and pop with a visual liveliness, and that’s very much the case here with this Minions sequel.

Minions: The Rise of Gru has something to offer fans of the series: there’s some genuinely funny moments, the animation is as eye-popping as ever, and it’s fun to see Gru go back to his cartoonishly villainous roots. There’s also a fun sub-plot where Kevin, Stuart and Bob study kung-fu from an acupuncturist named Master Chow (Michelle Yeoh). But again, this is a movie that isn’t going to win over those who aren’t already initiated into the material. The Minions are still very much the Minions, and the movie follows Illumination’s trend of being just entertaining enough to be adequate. It may provide some fun when watching it, but it leaves no lasting impression.

To many audiences, Minions: The Rise of Gru may be as bland as a potato. But for the young tykes who can’t get enough of the Minions, they may just go bananas.

5

Minions Review

Minions

The Minions, the self-explanatory henchmen of the “despicable” villain Gru, were the breakout stars of the Despicable Me movies. With their fun character designs (simple enough for a kid to draw, but flexible enough to give them variety), gibberish speech and cartoonish antics, it’s not hard to see why the Minions have won audiences over. It was only inevitable that they’d end up with their own movie. The only question is how well could these show-stealing sidekicks carry a movie on their own?

That’s a question that, in a lot of ways, still has yet to be answered. The Minions may get the title role this time around, but they end up sharing much of their screen time with various human characters, with latter parts of the movie in particular focusing on the super villain Scarlet Overkill (Sandra Bullock).

The story serves as both a prequel to the Despicable Me series and an origin story for the Minions. It turns out the Minions are as old as life on Earth, and their only natural instinct is to serve the baddest boss they can find. Through many millennia, they’ve served the likes of a T-Rex, a caveman, the pharaohs of Egypt, Count Dracula, and even Napoleon. But the Minions aren’t always good at their job, and have caused the accidental demise of these past masters, leaving them to search for a new master for extended periods of time whenever they bump off an old one. Fearing they simply aren’t good enough to serve a master, the Minions isolate themselves in Antarctica. But without a master to serve, the Minions have no purpose and fall into depression.

In order to save his fellow Minions, a tall Minion by the name of Kevin decides to search the world for the baddest boss he can find. He is accompanied by the short Minion named Bob and the cycloptic Minion named Stuart in a quest that ultimately takes them to 1960s New York, Florida and England.

MinionsThat serves as the setup for Minions, and it is arguably the most consistent portion of the film, as its segmented nature works wonderfully for the Minions’ comedy. The rest of the movie has its share of humor, but in trying to make a bigger plot, it often feels like it doesn’t know what to do with itself.

The Minions themselves remain a highlight, as their often-bizarre mannerisms and speech have yet to wear thin. Kevin, Stuart and Bob keep the comedy strong even in the movie’s weaker moments. So while ‘Minions’ may stumble in regards to storytelling, the lighthearted nature of the titular characters themselves should keep audiences entertained, with plenty of jokes aimed at both children and the adult crowd.

The problem with this Minions spinoff is that it often feels like the filmmakers didn’t quite have full faith in the Minions to carry their own movie, so more human characters are added in an attempt to keep the story tighter. Unfortunately, the people they end up interacting with aren’t particularly memorable. This is especially the case with Scarlet Overkill, who seemingly steals the spotlight from the Minions during the film’s second half. Though Sandra Bullock’s voice work is well done, the character herself is neither funny or memorable enough to justify the movie’s shift of focus to her. The character at first shows promise (she flies into a villain convention via rocket-propelled dress) but she ultimately lacks any standout character features other than her presentation.

MinionsWhen the movie works it’s a lot of laughs, but the story ends up feeling too thin for for its own good, with too many scenes feeling like padding. Some fans of the overall franchise may not be too upset by Minions’ relatively shallow storytelling. After all, the Despicable Me movies are far from animated masterpieces, emphasizing cartoonish silliness over deeper storytelling. But the Despicable Me movies at least employed a bit of heart into the mix. They may not have been thematically rich, but they added some sentiment to go with the gags, and that isn’t found here.

Some might say that the nonsensical nature of the Minions might not lend itself to anything more than slapstick. If this movie were strictly focused on the Minions that may be a good point, but with so much attention given to the human characters, you kind of wish that the filmmakers would have continued what they did with the Despicable Me films, instead of minimizing the characters’ personalities to simple punchlines.

If I sound largely negative, I apologize. Minions is a fun movie with a lot of humor, and its titular characters still have some charm. But it isn’t quite the Minion-centric extravaganza we may have hoped for, nor is it quite on equal footing with its Despicable Me predecessors. It does, however, provide enough Minion-y goodness to make for some decent entertainment, particularly for younger audiences. At the very least, it’s a nice appetizer for Despicable Me 3.

 

5