When I saw Despicable Me in 2010, I was pretty anti-Minions: You can really tell they were grafted on as brandable comic relief. Why on Earth pair a charming, fatherhood-themed, Cold War spy caper pastiche with little yellow slapstick pill bugs? I guess it worked: Despicable Me made an absolute mint and paved the way for a franchise.
Time passed. The Minions became a merchandise (and meme) phenomenon, plus the corporate logo of Illumination (née Entertainment). I never caught up with Despicable Me 2 in 2013, even after it made a billion dollars.
Then 2015 rolled around and the trailer dropped for Minions, a Despicable Me spinoff focused entirely on the little shits… and I thought it was terrific. I laughed! Multiple times! The prospect of a feature-length bit of mischief seemed like a fun way to take the Minions to their logical extreme without anything pesky like “story” getting in the way. Five years later, let’s finally separate Gru from his sidekicks after they were made uncomfortable bedfellows in the first place.
Alas, after mediocre reviews, I didn’t have much incentive to go see the film. It wasn’t until these past few years when I started catching up on family movies I’d missed by watching them with my two kids that I really even thought about Minions again. With the sequel in theaters, I decided to finally make the leap during our family movie night.
For the first half of the movie, it really felt like I was watching that 2015 trailer again for the first time. And it kept feeling like that. In fact, I felt my brain get a little foggy and realized that I had basically been watching a 45-minute trailer. That’s the side effect of building an entire movie around side characters designed entirely for five second gags.
To the movie’s credit, it pretty much nails that Ritalin pace of slapstick. Part of the charm is that Minions is not afraid to be dark and abruptly nasty from moment to moment, especially with the recurring gag that the Minions’ incompetence killing various characters through history. It’s almost Looney Tunes-esque anarchy at moments. I’m not sure I’d say that this portion adds up to a good movie, in much the same way a 12-pack of Starburst does not add up to a good meal. But I at least enjoyed the sugar rush. Even the wacky little Minion pidgin made me laugh once or twice.
Then around the halfway point — specifically the moment when the Minion who has been crowned the Queen of England abdicates to a supervillain from Orlando (I would say “this makes more sense in context” but I cannot with a straight face) — the movie pivots abruptly to a new mode: a typical kids movie action-comedy narrative arc that builds towards a traditional action- and chase-heavy climax.
This second half of the movie is quite bad, and nearly charmless, minus a couple of fun gags (like a kaiju riff when one Minion gets blown up to skyscraper size). The void where a protagonist should be — a Gru, e.g. — is palpable and painful. One of the Minions, named Kevin, is ostensibly the hero, but our ability to project typical heroic and empathic characteristics upon him is severely limited by his being built from the ground up as comic relief who can only speak in gibberish.
So the movie is basically a bunch of handfuls of candy chased with bilge water; alternately high-fructose and unpleasant; and you sure as hell aren’t going to feel very good about it afterwards.