Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Movie Review: Despicable Me 3 (2017)

I think I owe Illumination Entertainment something of an apology. For the longest time, I always judged them mainly off of their take on Dr Seuss’ The Lorax, which still stands as one of the single worst films I’ve ever sat through in so many ways. However, that is honestly an outlier of their work: The rest of their films, in one way or another, have tapped into a sense of nostalgia for the olden days of animation and translated it quite remarkably for today’s audiences. Whether it’s the 2-D throwback of The Secret Life Of Pets to the tribute to all things musical with Sing, Illumination has secured its place in the industry as the most retro-minded studio working right now. And the crown jewel of their work to date, the series that put them on the map, is Despicable Me. Or, more specifically, the Minions that have now taken a life of their own and, whenever a new film featuring them comes out, you will doubtless see them everywhere. So, in light of the studio’s pedigree and my admitted sensitivity to overblown marketing, how does this latest installment turn out? This is Despicable Me 3.

The plot: After an ill-fated run-in with former child actor turned supervillain Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker), Gru (Steve Carell) and Lucy (Kristen Wiig) are fried from the Anti-Villain League. At the same time, Gru is contacted by his long-lost twin brother Dru (Steve Carell) who wants to get back into the ‘family business’. Torn between his want to do good and his desire to return to his days of villainy, Gru nonetheless plans to take down Bratt before his ultimate plan comes into fruition.
Carell is great as always as Gru, and his new turn as Dru manages to make him out as Gru’s twin without just copying him beat-for-beat. Hell, if this ends up getting a sequel (I say as if that isn’t already guaranteed by this point), their character dynamics could make for some very entertaining shenanigans if this film is anything to go by. Wiig is still rather abrasive but she manages to fit nicely within the film’s narrative, and her added want to become a good mother for the kids leads to some cute scenes. And speaking of cute, good God, Agnes is aggressively adorable in this thing. I don’t usually succumb to the forces of “dawww!” but credit to Nev Scharrel for being this explosive without getting anywhere near annoying in the process.

The Despicable Me films (and Minions) have always been about one thing above all others: Showing how awesome it is to be the villain. Thankfully, this latest installment keeps true to that and makes Gru, Dru and Bratt’s escapades look as enthralling as possible. Illumination’s love for Looney Tunes throwbacks, with all the slapstick and sight gags that come with them, leads to some very fun action sequences and just the right touch of toilet humour to engage without feeling like it’s just appealing to the lowest common denominator. Then again, given how said toilet humour goes not only in a rather literal direction but also into a showcasing of wonky-bonkers creativity thanks to the Minions’ stint in prison (accompanied by some too-cool-for-the-room music backing from Pharrell), that’s hardly surprising. Credit is also due for the gadgetry on display here, which varies from more traditional super-spy gear used by Gru and co. to the more kitschy and deliciously dated tech used by Bratt. I never thought I’d say this but I could really go for some bubblegum right now.

And speaking of Bratt, you might have wondered why I didn’t talk about him in my usual cast rundown. It isn’t because of any kind of bad performance: It may be surreal to hear Trey Parker of South Park fame in a kid’s movie, but he pulls off the intentionally-dated villain quite well and was easily the most entertaining presence in the entire film. No, instead, I held off on that because what makes him as good as he is is due to more than just his performance. With nostalgia being as profitable as it is nowadays, especially 80’s nostalgia, we’re certainly not short of reliving the good ol’ days on film; just look at how many TV shows from the era have or will end up getting film adaptations. However, very few examples of late have pulled it off as well as this, far as I’m concerned. Rather than trying to modernize the kitsch of the time for a newer audience, this film just embraces what made 80’s kitsch as good as it was. I mean, when your moonwalking-on-water villain tries to take over Hollywood with a giant robot wielding a diamond-powered-laser while dousing the town in Blob-like bubblegum, it’s not exactly being subtle about it. But what’s more, it doesn’t need to: This is the stuff that people fondly remember from that era; the goofy, the over-the-top, the gloriously cheesy. And as a final cherry on top, Heitor Pereira’s music selections also bring back the best of the 80’s with Michael Jackson and Take On Me, along with the best use of Dire Straits’ Money For Nothing I’ve seen since Kingsman. Hell, it might actually be better than Kingsman; looks like the upcoming sequel has something to compete with.

All in all, Illumination once again provides some very funny and engaging light entertainment. Continuing its Tex Avery-inspired slapstick approach to bowing at the altar of villainy, this family film manages to do a better job at tapping into 80’s nostalgia than most if not all other films of late that have tried it. Through great voice acting, a keen ear for music, energetic animation and set pieces as well as a breadth of knowledge about what audiences want to see, both young and old, this is the kind of family film that I couldn’t be happier to see exist. It’s fun, it’s funny, it’s never boring, and unlike the Minions movie, it never tires you out from all the energy. Illumination Entertainment continues to be a top contender in the animated kids film market, and it doesn’t look like they’re letting up any time soon. It’s better than The LEGO Batman Movie (stop yelling at me), as the sense of fun and joy here is not only a lot more focused, but it also taps into something that desperately needs a proper champion at this point; maybe now, 80’s TV adaptations can stop sucking so hard. However, as exhilarating as this is, it’s still popcorn fodder at the end of the day, albeit very well-written and realized popcorn fodder. Meri Pyaari Bindu, on the other hand, hits a lot harder emotionally and honestly left me even happier leaving the cinema.

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