Monday, July 8, 2013

Movie Review: Despicable Me 2

2010's Despicable Me turned out to be a surprise hit.  Despite featuring an incredibly predictable plot about a super villain learning to be a father, the film managed to win audiences over with it's snappy pacing, irresistible sincerity, and clever slapstick humor.  Yes, you knew where the plot was going from the very first scene, but Gru was such an easy character to root for that you were glad when everything worked out in the end.  A thoroughly enjoyable animated family film.

Sequel time!

In Despicable Me 2, we learn that Gru, still Steve Carell donning his signature ethnically ambiguous accent, has turned away from his villainous ways to focus on being a better father to his three adopted daughters Margo, Edith and Agnes.  Of course, Gru's legions of little yellow unintelligible Minions are still around too, but with the days of evil scheming behind them, they are now employed to help Gru develop his own jam and jelly company, a business venture that is not going real well.  Soon, Gru is recruited, somewhat forcefully, to assist the Anti Villain League in tracking down a new super villain threatening the world.  To assist him, Gru is partnered with ditzy secret agent and potential love-interest Lucy, voiced by Kristin Wiig in a manner nearly identical to her role as Lola Bunny on The Looney Tunes Show.

And then a drawn out slapstick set-piece occurs that doesn't really advance the plot too much.   And then there's another one.  And then another one.  And another one.  And another one.  And then the movie ends, concluding with a somewhat shameless plug for The Minion Movie, coming next year.

Despicable Me 2's biggest shortcoming is definitely its plot.  In that it barely has one.  Oh sure, all of the makings for a plot are here.  Gru's fear of women and dating is established early in the film.  Agnes is longing to have a mother.  Margot is becoming interested in boys.  Gru's partnership with the Anti Villain League becomes strained when his suspicions about who the villain might be appear to be unfounded.  And so on.  There are lots of plot points introduced, but none of them ever have a chance to develop.  Instead, after being set up, they just disappear entirely to make way for another string of episodic mishaps until they suddenly get resolved at the end of the film.  There's no character development or running narrative to get invested in here.  The film tries to end in an emotional manner recalling the original, but there's just no substance to back it up this time.

Instead we get scene after scene of Gru trying to accomplish something, somehow messing it up, and then dealing with the hilarity that ensues.  And, admittedly, when this film is funny it's really funny.  Just as funny, if not more so, than its predecessor.  Despite trying to be a good guy, Gru's more sinister side still rears its head from time to time, often with hilarious results.  The Minions are also much more prominently featured this time around, and while they get some good laughs early in the film, they quickly overstay their welcome.  Toward the third act of the movie, the focus of the film shifts almost completely to being about the Minions and it's at this point that their comedic charms wear off and they start to grate on the nerves.  I still fail to see how Universal expects these characters to carry and entire film of their own next year.

Additionally, the cleverness and wit of the writers must have only been able to extend so far, because Despicable Me 2 often resorts to pulling out the standard gross-out gags that so many children's films resort to these days.  There are fart jokes a plenty this time around, along with a nice helping of other assorted potty humor, cheap laughs, and even a touch of Minion nudity thrown in for good measure.  (Since we all wanted to see that, right?)  Without the emotional core that kept the original Despicable Me going, Despicable Me 2 just feels hollow and empty, as the comedy value can only sustain the film for so long.

It's a real shame too, because all the seeds for a story just as solid and heartfelt as the original are here, but the movie never takes the time to flesh them out.  Agnes' desire to have a mother in particular really could have been developed into a great emotional core for the film, but it's only touched upon in two brief scenes and really just feels like an afterthought.  Instead, most of the screen time is devoted to jokes that go on for far too long.  Despite clocking in a reasonably brisk 95 minutes, this film's pacing drags terribly.  Most of the slapstick set-pieces seem to go on for ages, making even the funnier moments of the movie start to fall flat.  One particularly uncomfortable bit featuring a woman who has been knocked out with a tranquilizer dart goes on far longer than it ever needed to.

Too much time is spent dwelling on jokes that have already ended instead of fleshing out the story and characters.  Even the film's climax fails because, despite being a brilliantly animated spectacle, it carries no weight since there's no plot to get invested in.  The villain's dastardly scheme is cryptically revealed throughout the movie, but once it's fully explained it never goes anywhere, so there is never a sense of urgency or risk.

Ultimately, Despicable Me 2 is just another mediocre run-of-the-mill sequel.  It's colorful, action-packed, and has more than enough fart jokes to keep the kids giggling all the way through.  And if that's all you're looking for, you won't be disappointed.  But if you're hoping for another heartfelt story that follows up on the charming tale told in the original Despicable Me, you're not going to find it here, as Despicable Me 2's story is woefully underdeveloped and hollow, despite teasing the audience with what could have been an excellent narrative.  And that's just despicable.

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