Friday, 17 July 2015

Movie Review: Despicable Me 2 (2013)



Since this review only exists because of my need to review everything I watch post-2012, and I only watched this to prepare for the freshly-released Minions movie, I’m just going to cut to the chase on this one. Chances are whatever pithy pseudo-intellectual nonsense I would write here will end up in the review for that film anyway. This is Despicable Me 2.

The plot: Reformed villain Gru (Steve Carell) has settled into his life as the adopted dad of Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier) and Agnes (Elsie Fisher). However, it seems that he isn’t out of the villain game just yet as Silas Ramsbottom (Steve Coogan), head of the Anti-Villain League, wants Gru’s help in finding a mutagenic formula that has been stolen by another supervillain. With the help of agent Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig), and of course the Minions (Pierre Coffin & Chris Renaud), Gru agrees to take the path of a hero once more.

We have the majority of the cast of the first film returning for this one, which given how well they did last time is a good thing. Carell manages the vaguely European accent here without it devolving into pantomime, no easy feat given how it’s usually the standard for bad 90’s action movie villains; Cosgrove, Gaier and Fisher are still disgustingly cute, but are also still enjoyable to watch despite that, probably helped by how Agnes’ character has been dialed down a bit this time round; and Russell Brand is still fun as the goofy Dr. Nefario, whose interplay with Carell still holds up. We also have the directors returning to voice the Minions, otherwise known as the only reason why this film was watched by anyone else; as Vin Diesel has proven time and again, there is still a certain talent required to make basic dialogue work and that is still present here as their comedic gibberish is well-timed and works with the animated slapstick.

We also get Kristen Wiig and Ken Jeong, two actors whose ratio of funny/annoying makes me weary of anything they’re attached to, returning as two different characters here. I would question the decision to bring them back for this one rather than hiring some different people, but then again this is the same studio that inflicted 2012’s The Lorax onto the world; this is nowhere near the laziest they can be. Wiig is given a more manic character here in Agent Wild, as opposed to the rather demure Miss Hattie, and while her energy can be grating at times, adorkability wins out in the end. Jeong plays to type as a pretty weak and pointless Asian stereotype with Eagle-san, and I’m thankful that he only got one scene with dialogue. Alongside these are new faces Benjamin Bratt as El Macho and Steve Coogan as Silas Good-god-this-name-is-stupid. While I feel gipped that we didn’t get Pacino as El Macho as originally planned, Bratt does a damn good job at giving the larger-than-life character the force it needed; portraying a man who we see literally shark-flying on screen is tough to pull off. Coogan’s role may have been small, but the man is one of those actors that leaves an impression even with minor roles and is funny with what he’s given.

Pop producer god Pharrell Williams returns with Heitor Pereira to provide the music, and one look at the global success that was Happy should give you a good indicator at how well it worked here. Hell, regardless of how insanely catchy the song is, it is used to great effect in context to the film itself. However, he doesn’t contribute as much original material this time around with a handful of the songs credited to him being carry-overs from the first film. It also suffers from pop album syndrome, in that the main single represents the best part of the entire package; Just A Cloud Away and Scream featuring CeeLo Green are pretty forgettable all things considered.  As for Pereira’s instrumental work, I am definitely glad that he is being put to better use, given the rest of his filmography is pretty woeful of late, creating a nice spy genre feel blended with the laidback mood of the original, which fits this film well. Of course, since this might as well be called Minions 0.5, we also get some nonsense renditions of Y.M.C.A. and I Swear. They’re cute, if mildly grating, but I doubt that they’ll be listened to outside of the film.

The story… is irrelevant. No, seriously; the entire reason I’m watching/reviewing this film at all is because of the newly-released Minions movie, and this whole movie feels like a field test to see if an all-Minion spin-off would work. I could talk about how Gru doesn’t have a decent story arc like last time, instead just going with a standard romantic subplot complete with child matchmakers, a trope that will never cease to creep me out ever so slightly. Or I could mention how the plot seems to meander for the most part, having about the same level of progression as the average gag anime. Or there’s the details of said plot that, even for a family film, are a little too obvious. However, none of that is important compared to the main draw present here: Those cute yellow Minions. Sure, the problems mentioned above are largely side effects of putting more emphasis on them, but the last film made no qualms about having fun with what it could make the Minions do on screen; hell, they were easily the best part of the film. As such, their antics are really the only thing character or plot related that is worth mentioning. That said though, regardless of what had to be sacrificed for it, the slapstick involving the Minions is still really fun. Not quite “Despicable Me 2 is the most profitable film Universal has ever released” fun, but still fun. It’s the kind of child-like delight and naivety that can bring out the inner child in even the most conceited assholes of the world; hell, it even got me to flat out admit that everything else is irrelevant in the film except for the Minions. I, for one, welcome our new Minion overlords; all hail the Minions, etc. They still hold up as one of the more entertaining races (can we count them as one at this point?) in an animated family film; certainly a farsight better than the Boov. Subjectivity be damned, I will hear no argument against that fact.

All in all, it’s a well-animated and well-scored gag film pretending to be about a former villain working as a pseudo-spy. It may be a weird situation when the majority of your film, including the main characters, feels like padding just so we could see our Minions shenanigans on the big screen, but then again said shenanigans are mindless fun in the best meaning of the term. I may spend most of my time on this blog trying to decode something deeper in the films I watch, but every so often, it’s nice to kick back and enjoy some good-hearted nonsense. It ranks higher than The Heat, as I was into this film right from the start whereas The Heat took some time for me to vibe to. However, even with its story issues, The Wolverine ranks higher than this because of how it balanced its ludicrous moments with the more heartfelt ones… most of the time, at least.

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