Friday 17 July 2015

Minions (2015) - Movie Review

This is the only natural progression that the series could have taken after Despicable Me 2. Between the increasing popularity of the Minions and the focus being brought squarely on them over pretty much anything else in the films, the next logical step would be a film all about the gibbering creatures. The idea that they’re going right ahead and dropping the pretence that people were watching the Despicable Me movies for any another reason than to see the Minions do funny things is a very good thing in my eyes; focus only on what you need to, rather than dragging yourself down for no reason. However, this could also prove to be a rather disastrous idea. Rough analogy time: Ol’ Dirty Bastard was a fun presence on any Wu-Tang Clan song, but listening to the entirety of one of his solo albums can cause some people to overdose; too much of a good and zany thing. Here’s hoping that this isn’t the case here.

The plot: Since their birth, the Minions (Pierre Coffin) exist to serve the most despicable villains they can find. However, they soon hit a dry spell and need a new master to work for. Minions Kevin, Bob and Stuart set out to find one and come across superstar villain Scarlet Overkill (Sandra Bullock) who agrees to hire them on one condition: They help her steal the royal crown of Queen Elizabeth II (Jennifer Saunders). Bright yellow and squishy pill-shaped hijinks ensue.

In the world of fiction, regardless of how much we love our heroes, the masses will always remember the bad guys. Name any superhero/comic book movie, and honestly try and tell me that they would have been nearly as good without their villains. Maybe it’s because they represent a kind of freedom where minor things like laws and human decency don’t get in the way of your goals that is darkly appealing, or maybe it’s due to simple fascination with whatever is different from ‘the norm’; at any rate, we sure do love our antagonists when they’re done right.

I bring all this up because that is something deep at the core of this film: Being evil can be a hell of a lot of fun. A large chunk of this film is dedicated to the cults of personality that surround villains, from the Minions devoting themselves to some of history’s greatest villains like Dracula, Napoleon, and even a hefty jab is thrown at Nixon for good measure, to the grand Villain-Con that’s shown in the trailer. What makes this work so damn well is that, despite the cartoonish setting, it isn’t that far removed from how geeks treat these kinds of characters in the real world. True, I doubt many of us would participate in a battle royale to become a villain’s henchman, but I know that people would line up around the block just to get something signed by the guy who voiced Legato Bluesummers for instance. This kind of awareness about its own audience shows a surprising amount of intelligence being put into the script. It also helps that said villains, namely Scarlet and her husband Herb (Jon Hamm), are incredibly fun even when they’re actively trying to kill our main characters.

This is a very nice voice cast, all of whom fit their roles to a T: Pierre Coffin has the Minions’ trademark noise vomit down pat, keeping consistent with the rest of the Despicable Me canon; Sandra Bullock is equal parts charismatic, fun and deranged as Scarlet, making villainy sound like the coolest occupation ever as she chases you with a gun that shoots hot lava; Jon Hamm lives up to his name as his performance here might be one of the most bizarrely captivating I’ve heard in a family film in a while; Michael Keaton and Allison Janney play Walter and Madge, the parents of the family that drive the Minions to the Villain-Con, and this is yet another occasion where minor roles are done that well that they still leave an impression; Steve Coogan returns in a couple of bit roles that make for some of the more memorable gags of the film; Jennifer Saunders makes for my second favourite animated depiction of a British Queen, not to mention showing A Royal Night Out how a scene with a monarch in a pub can actually work and not be tedious; and Geoffrey Rush serves as our narrator for the film, giving a nice nature documentary feel with his line delivery that helps a lot early on when we see the Minions serving dinosaurs and pharaohs and what not.

If I had to sum up the sense of humour in this film with one word, I wouldn’t and would use an emoticon instead: :D This is the kind of manic glee-inducing fun that makes people grin like idiots, comparable to a PG-rated Kingsman in the effect it has while watching it. It may feature a bit too much nude humour for my liking, and the rendition of Hair felt really out of place, but otherwise this is an extremely well made gag film. The biggest thing this film has going for it in terms of jokes is that writer Brian Lynch manages to ring child-friendly jokes out of pretty bizarre and dark places. Getting laughs out of seeing the Minions failing to enjoy the activities they once loved but can’t anymore, not to mention the scene involving a medieval torture chamber that turns into literal gallows humour, is no easy task especially for a kid’s movie. I once again feel I have to reiterate that this is the same animation studio that thought whizzing all over Seuss’ grave with The Lorax for the sake of endorsement deals was a good idea; either that was a bad fluke, or I need to start reading Angel: After The Fall to see more of the writer’s work as soon as humanly possible. However, as good as the shenanigans get here, it’s a lot like babysitting for three hyperactive children: Yeah, it’s fun and their energy can rub off on you, but it gets tiring before too long. The consistently high levels throughout the film can wear down on the viewer in places, and the straight-up weird moments like the numerous Minion pop song renditions can be grating.

And speaking of the music, no Pharrell Williams this time around; I’m assuming that this is part of the filmmakers’ plan to cut the dead weight as, despite his contribution of Happy to the soundtrack, Pharrell didn’t bring that much to Despicable Me 2. Because of that, Heitor Pereira goes solo with the composing here, although you might not even notice given the rather large presence of licensed music here. The songs chosen include hits like Happy Together, My Generation and Break On Through, all contemporary with the setting of the film that lets the music fit better than a lot of other family films out there (*cough**cough*). There’s also quite a few songs sung by the Minions, even starting out Pitch Perfect style with them singing to the Universal logo theme, from the aforementioned rendition of Hair to an appreciated version of Make ‘Em Laugh. I’ll admit that I missed what a few of the songs actually were, maybe out of my own unfamiliarity with the material although I thought I’d heard Revolution by the Beatles enough times to know that tune even if it’s filtered through Minion speak, but they’re still fun nonetheless.

All in all, it’s probably the best kind of mindless fun out there: A film that doesn’t need the audience to think especially hard about what’s on screen but that also doesn’t belittle or talk down to the audience either. From the well-timed slapstick to the surprisingly faithful portrayal of character fandoms, this is a film made by people who know and respect their audience, something that is sorely missing nowadays. The frantic energy of the Minions can be trying at times, and some of the jokes may be a bit too dark for the intended demographic, but overall this marks a large step in the right direction for not only the Despicable Me franchise but for Illumination as a whole. If you haven’t grown sick of these yellow guys yet, then I recommend checking this out.

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