Despicable Me 2 is a film that does nothing but glorify its marketable minions and padding out 90 minutes with an average premise and under average execution. It is as bland as most Disney sequels are, but the scary thing is that it is by Dreamworks, who up to this point has yet to fail in terms of franchising a successful first film. Well that status quo changes with this one.
Gru, former villain who is now trying to be a good father of his three adopted girls Margo, Edith and Agnes, when the Anti-Villain League calls on his expertise to help find a villain who threatens to wreck havoc upon the world. That's the premise, and a potentially fun one. The only problem is, there isn't actually a real villain in this movie.
To put it lightly, Despicable Me 2 has no surprises, no tensions, no stakes and I would even argue no heart. It plays more like a TV episode than a feature length movie, and has such an unoriginal plot that I almost wanted to ask for a refund. It is as light-hearted as it is light-headed, and even though I did chuckle at a couple of gags here and there, most of the film was teeth-grinding to sit through. The feeling I have is that the producers of this film didn't get what made the original so good, and focused on the wrong aspects of the characters they created. It's really hard to believe that it was the same team that brought us the original.
The minions plays a much more significant role in this film, which is perhaps the only reason people would want to see this film. They are adorable, but only up to a point. Their cuteness does get you in the earlier parts of the film, but towards the end you feel like you've had about enough of their incomprehensible, abstruse amalgamation of Asianic languages and excess presence in this film.
None of the original characters get developed, and there is no deeper message or theme anyone can take home. The romance subplot(s) are very forced, the only good bits are surprisingly where the film recognizes its own stupidity, but this is bare minimum effort, Saturday morning cartoon quality production. It's almost comparable to Disney sequels, except you have to pay $10 ticket to see it, and be saturated with modern-day pop culture references. Seriously, they have a Bruce Willis reference in this film!! So out of place.
Kids and adults who are willing to turn off their brains for 99 minutes will probably have a good enough time, but for me I feel betrayed. I get quite invested in movies, good and bad, which is why I have a blog ranting about or advocating for things people should or shouldn't watch. And unfortunately Despicable Me 2 is one I cannot recommend simply because there are better alternatives out there, Epic for one (I'll check out Monsters University at a later date). If you adore the minions, they're making a spin-off focusing on just them, that's the movie they should have taken the spotlight in, not this one.
Anyway, there's nothing seriously wrong or bad for kids in this film, and I can't say it's the worst thing I've seen this year, but it's definitely below the average, and overall it's not in the same league as the original and was just an unsatisfying movie-going experience.
4,0 / 10.0
And now for the Spoilers rant...
There is no real villain in this movie. There is a former villain in the form of Gru, a bunch of anti-villains (well just 2 as far as the movie shows), a washed up wannabe villain (El Macho), and an unemployed near-retirement age 'mad scientist' (Doctor Nefario). The whole world of villainy established in the first film was discarded to centralize the attention to Gru's family, and his daughters' attempts to hook him up so they can have a mother, and El Macho's very random evil plot: setting a bunch of zombified minions to wreak havoc in the world. Honestly it's isn't really that diabolical compared to stealing the moon and the wonders of the world. Those minions seem easy enough to contain with steel cages. It's essentially Gremlins, but purple.
There is a lot of Mexican stuff in this film. The main* villain El Macho is Mexican, he runs a Mexican restaurant, hosts a Cinco de Mayo at his crib, and even his villain costume is reminiscent of Nacho Libre. While I should be annoyed by this aspect of the film, I actually found it amazing how accurate they encapsulated Mexican culture. The domestic chicken he keeps is not just for laughs, but an actually popular form of pet in Mexico. His metrosexual, generous demeanor is quite spot on, and the fact that his restaurant appears vegetarian is kind of cute, though I doubt most people would have noticed. And I do love those nachos hats (going to try and bake one).
(*I use the term main very loosely here, as we only see him in his role in the last 20 minutes of the film)
But aside from his Mexican heritage, the villain side of El Macho is one-dimensional, has poorly explained motivations, and the way he 'retires' from villainy 20 years ago was done better by Metroman in Megamind. He also suffers from having the most clich� plans with more holes in his strategy than swiss cheese.
However his backstory was quite fun in its complete over-indulgence. This type of self-parody is very hit and miss, but I think it was passable this time, even if it doesn't really match his character in the present. Guess having a family does change you. Wait, if he has a son, what happened to the mother? Why did he fake his death in the first place? Why did he decide to return? What is his purpose of unleashing indestructable minions on the world?
Don't expect any of these questions to be answered ever, because he really isn't the focus of the film. He is just the McGuffin.
But despite all the flaws in his character design, of all the main characters I think I enjoyed El Macho the most, partly because he is a new character, so I didn't have any expectations of what they were going to do with him, and partly because he did bring something juicier to the film than everyone else, even if it made little to no sense.
The girls don't get much developments, except Margo, who I'm guessing is starting to hit puberty in the chronology of these films, and now that her role as a surrogate mother to her younger siblings is gone, she has been reduced to a modern-day teenage girl who is into boys and texting friends 24/7.
I really couldn't care less about her sub-plot with El Macho's son Antonio, because it stereotypes both teen girls and boys to a level so ridiculous it makes those Facebook meme-based micro-insights about people look like freaking scientific abstracts! Gru's reaction and over-protectiveness of Margo is so overdone that it undermines any possible message to parents or children they were going for with this part of the story. Also it resolves itself once Margo sees Antonio dancing with another girl. She makes a 'meh boys are stupid' statement and immediately moves on. Lesson learnt? She seems to have the ability to immediately reconfigure her emotions so rapidly as to not feel hurt by infidelity or betrayal. Hmm, maybe it reflects teenage girls nowadays better than I gave it credit for, but it's still boring and uninteresting to watch on the big screen.
Agnes and Edith reprise their exact same roles as before, one being the adorable innocent ticking timebomb, while the other being the almost tomboy ninja warrior who is uninterested in girly things and indifferent to social norms.
You can't invest an entire feature length film on people's adoration of the Minions, the side characters, unless you give them juicier things to do other than re-hashes of what they did in the previous film. They weren't hard to watch, but they didn't add enough to this film to make it as strong as the first. And ironically, despite the trailers and posters indicating that this film would be about the minions, they are actually more of a plot device than the central theme of the movie. We don't learn anything about their origin, their language, how they ended up working for Gru etc. Guess they're saving those things for the upcoming spin-off in December (which I will not watch, sorry).
I won't talk too much more about the minions, because I never really liked them, at least not as much as some of my other friends do. I think they're cute, but I'm a guy. I don't watch movies simply because it's got cute things in it, but neither am I repelled by it. I just think there was too much of them in this film but they are still mostly unsubstantial fillers.
The romantic subplot between Gru and Lucy is passable, but too straightforward for me to be invested. The experienced moviegoer can tell from even the trailers that Gru and Lucy will get together by the end of the movie, and the question of 'how' just never popped up because you know it's going to follow one of those standard formulas.
On the other hand, The idea that the girls need a mother figure would have been a very good thing to explore, but the film is so wrapped up in the detective story, the minion show, and trying to convincingly establish screen chemistry between Gru and Lucy, they literally only gave the girls 10 seconds from meeting to accepting Lucy as their future mother. The emotional mechanisms and environmental factors that lead to adopted girls accepting someone as their mother is a bit more complicated than a "love at first sight", and I would say was a more interesting thing to explore than all those (almost) meaningless minion abduction scenes, which were neither funny nor consequential.
I'm probably rambling more than ranting now (it's late), but you see what I'm getting at. They have many potential ways of making Despicable Me 2 a good film. You can have your manly Machos and adorable Minions being adorably naughty and playful. You can have your Gru falling in love, your teenage Margo problems. But you need to find a better balance and connection to tie these subplots together. You need stake-ier climax, stronger motivations for each character to act the way they do. As it is the film feels like a random bunch of scenes stitched together, kind of like how my movie review tends to be a bunch of random rants stitched together by subheadings. The cuteness factor may fill enough butts to seats to satisfy the studio's balance sheets, but it won't get a thumbs up from me if that's the direction they go in future franchises. And if they don't have good ideas, then just don't make these sequels please.