Sunday, 10 July 2022

Minions: The Rise Of Gru (2022) - Movie Review

Illumination might be in trouble. While they’ve certainly found their lane with a mixture of old-school animated slapstick and embracing the popularity of villains, their most recent features have been the epitome of diminishing returns. Their take on The Grinch was okay, but not exactly going to replace Jim Carrey anytime soon, the Secret Life Of Pets sequel was closer to a pilot for a TV show than its own film, and Sing 2 showed a noticeable drop from the rousing effect of the original. At this point, it’s easy to argue that the studio should stick with their prime cash cow (the Minions), since their ability to deliver with other franchises isn’t working out… but as their latest has shown, even that is in question.

Like the first Minions film (or hell, even the last couple Despicable Me entries), this is a gag film that is more interested in laughs and energy than ‘plot’. Except here, what little narrative there is feels like even more of an afterthought, despite the fact that there’s a lot going on. We have child Gru (Steve Carell, wavering slightly as the younger version) wanting to join supervillain team the Vicious 6, which leads to a jewel robbery, him being held for ransom, him suddenly not being held for ransom and going on a bank heist, and this is all B-plot, by the way. For the rest of it, it’s more of the Minions bumbling around, with such an odd split in screen-time between them and Gru that this doesn’t really feel like a Minions solo film or a Gru origin story. It’s stuck in the middle.

That middling atmosphere isn’t helped by the voice cast here which, on paper, sounds friggin’ awesome! Michelle Yeoh shows up for a bit as an acupuncturist/Shaolin kung-fu master (in one of several moments that don’t really go anywhere), and the Vicious 6 is made up of the likes of Taraji P. Henson, Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren, Danny Trejo, and Lucy goddamn Lawless as an evil nun called Nunchuck (I would’ve gone with Mother Sinister, but that’s just me). But because it’s all fixated on the visuals, we don’t really get a whole lot from those big names, save for a few spare lines and some grunting. It feels a bit like stunt casting, just nabbing recognisable actors for the sake of their names rather than their performances, which is a bit of a letdown. I mean, this is the same franchise that brought Trey Parker into a family film and managed to make it work; it’s not that unreasonable to think they could have succeeded here.

But that would cut into what the film really seems to be going for. While there’s a lot of ‘70s nostalgia (complete with a soundtrack full of retro covers by the likes of Brockhampton, Thundercat and Tierra Whack) and the pretence of Gru’s villain origin, this feels like it exists primarily as a film that can be marketed to China. I usually try and avoid this line of argument, even though I’m fully aware of how much pull that particular market has with Hollywood, but it’s the only thing that really explains what seems to have been thrown into this production solely for that purpose.

It would explain Yeoh being here all of a sudden, along with how the Chinese New Year is a central plot point for the big bad villain plan, combined with a final battle where numerous characters are transformed into animals from the Chinese Zodiac. With the ‘70s period setting, it feels out of place as a thematic focus and it doesn’t really bring anything to the story other than adding some uncomfortable subtext to the ‘respect your elders’ message it ends up going with. That, and the intersection of the two makes it seem like Chairman Mao is going to pop in at any moment, in what I’m fairly certain was something the filmmakers just didn’t think through properly. I mean, I know this series likes its villains, but c'mon.

Even with all that said, though, I can’t say I hated this movie. I was actually quite entertained while watching it, as the high energy combined with the admittedly well-animated visuals kept my attention for the full runtime. But knowing how much I went to bat for Despicable Me 3 and even the first Minions movie, this is still rather disappointing, and I can only hope that their next feature turns out better.

What is their next feature, by the way?


Oh. It’s that Chris Pratt as Mario movie. With the same writer as this film.

Yeah, there’s no “might” about it; Illumination is in trouble.

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