The Good: Moments of character, Voice acting.
The Bad: Overbearing soundtrack, Forced 3-D, Forced humor, Formulaic and predictable.
The Basics: While Despicable Me 2 might have opened strong, it lacks the spark of the original and the real cuteness of a successful animated film.
As Summer Blockbuster Season is now in full swing, it is hard not to see how the various movie studios hedge their bets and calculate their releases to make winning opening weekends for their companies. In fact, more than any Summer Blockbuster Season in recent memory, this year seems like a season of gamesmanship and the movies released by the major studios have been anything but inspired. Only two weeks after the release of Monsters University, Universal Pictures releases its big animated sequel of the summer, Despicable Me 2. Unable to simply cede the weekend, Disney went unsuccessfully up against it with The Lone Ranger. But the idea that Summer Blockbuster Season has just become a ridiculous game between the major studios should not be lost on the Despicable Me 2 audience; the release of the film during this season at all shows just how petty the studios have become.
At its heart, Despicable Me 2 is a Mother’s Day movie. Universal, however, did not seem to want to go up against Paramount’s two big May movies (Iron Man 3 and Star Trek Into Darkness) and instead released the sequel now. And while Despicable Me 2 had an admittedly awesome first weekend at the box office, it is not hard to predict that this will come to be viewed (more objectively with time) as one of the least impressive sequels in recent memory. And, it is worth noting right up front that I thoroughly enjoyed Despicable Me (reviewed here!) and I was excited to see Despicable Me 2 with my wife.
Gru is happily raising Margo, Agnes, and Edith (starting with a birthday party for Agnes) and avoiding his busybody neighbor who tries to set him up with other people when he is kidnapped by a secret organization. The Anti-Villain League wants Gru’s help in tracking down the supervillain who has stolen an entire Arctic research facility, a facility where a dangerous mutagenic serum has been created. Gru rejects their job, though Lucy (one of the agents) is persistent and pushy enough to force herself upon Gru as his partner. Gru’s desire to stay on the straight and narrow alienates his longtime assistant, Dr. Nefario, who abandons Gru and the Minions. After that happens, Gru reluctantly accepts the assignment with the AVL and goes to their secret facility in the mall with Lucy to hunt for the mad scientist responsible for stealing the Arctic facility.
Unbeknownst to Gru, his Minions have been abducted from his house en masse (using a cleverly disguised ice cream truck) and Margo has become infatuated with a boy at the mall. Despite Lucy’s attempts to get Gru to focus elsewhere, Gru believes that the owner of Salsa Y Salsa is none other than the (supposedly) dead supervillain El Macho and he sets out to prove that Eduardo has the mutagenic weapon. As Lucy and Gru become enamored with one another, the villain sets his diabolical plan in motion and it is up to Gru and his daughters to save the world.
Fundamentally, the problem with Despicable Me 2 is that virtually everything in the movie is forced. The humor is not particularly funny; it does not resonate very strongly and none of the jokes resonate in a memorable way. Having just seen the film, only one of the movie’s final jokes remains in my head and that does not say much about the ninety-six minutes that preceded it. Most of the humor in Despicable Me 2 is exceptionally juvenile and based on physical (slapstick) humor as opposed to situational or referential jokes. In fact, outside a lone Alien joke and the subtle allusions to Attack Of The Clones (reviewed here!), most of Despicable Me 2 seems geared entirely toward a children’s audience.
But even there, the film fails to land. Despicable Me 2 tries to capitalize on the cuteness of Agnes, the wide-eyed youngest adopted daughter of Gru. While her role in Despicable Me led to some of the most memorable cute lines of that film (“He’s so fluffy, I’m gonna die!”), in Despicable Me 2 the writers seem determined in a most desperate way to try to recreate that cuteness. And, outside the last joke by her in the movie, it falls flat. Virtually all of her lines seem tailor-made to be another cute catchphrase and until she mentions making toast, they all fall pathetically short of being memorable or genuinely cute.
Also forced are the visual effects. First, the soundtrack is entirely intrusive. Throughout the film, various pop and dance songs start playing and they drown out all plot momentum, lines or reason at the point they pop up. As for the 3-D, I hailed Despicable Me for its innovative use of the 3-D animation. Unfortunately, in Despicable Me 2, the same cannot be said. Despicable Me 2’s 3-D effects are a distraction from the story and plot. Indeed, the film has random stops (not just one, but multiple) for scenes of Minions having parties that seem much more deliberate in their attempt to present layered 3-D sequences than actually advance the plot or characters of the film. The 3-D here is as gratuitous as in any super hero film where the 3-D was done in post production to try to ramp up the grosses on the otherwise mediocre movie.
As for the voice acting, Despicable Me 2 is fine. Steve Carell is good as Gru, Ken Jeong and Russell Brand give good supporting performances and Kristen Wiig steps up with a sizable role as Lucy. But Wiig’s performance had a strange sense of typecasting over real acting. For sure, Lucy is just as animated as any of the other characters in the movie, but Wiig’s performance of her seems entirely familiar and like any number of characters she has already played.
In the end, Despicable Me 2 might kill an afternoon, but its obsession with trying to combine marketable elements makes for a sloppy, predictable and blasé film that might well be summer’s best bet for flash-in-the-pan entertainment.
For other animated films, please check out my reviews of:
Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film For Theaters
For other movie reviews, please visit my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing.
© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
| | |