Minions 2, officially Minions: The Rise of Gru, is not truly a Minions movie the way the 2015 original was. Gru (Steve Carell) is fully in the picture and the main protagonist. It’s Despicable Me 0.5, but heavy on the Minions, which turns out to be a much more workable structure than “a 45 minute trailer then a 45 minute story with no protagonist” that Minions 2015 used.
In fact, I will make the claim that Minions 2 is the best in the Despicable Me series. I say this despite never having seen 40% of the Despicable Me movies. I’d love for Despicable Me 2 or 3 to prove me wrong on this front.
The magic formula turns out to be not to have a magic formula: Just weave about 16 slapstick sketches together with a light overarching narrative and a few heartfelt moments. Play up the ‘70s references and give us some high-budget CGI effects and polish. Wrap it up by the 85th minute. Even if one of the sketches fails, you’re onto the next one a few minutes later, and the credits are rolling before you finish your popcorn and Diet Coke, so you’re never bored.
Maybe I was just in good spirits when I watched the movie, but it does feel like the Illumination team is batting a higher average on the gags and set pieces than they ever have. I laughed, like, multiple times. At the damn Minions! What a time to be alive! We follow them in a cross-country roadtrip to San Francisco where they learn kung fu from Michelle Yeoh, transform into barn animals, and defeat a team of villains including the crab-themed “Jean Clawed” voiced by Jean Claude Van Damme himself. Gru, meanwhile, pairs up with elder supervillain Alan Arkin (who gives an excellent, surprisingly earnest vocal performance) to get mentored.
To be clear, I have plenty of grievances. The Minions’ wackiness is endearing, but awfully repetitive and manic. The pop culture references are the broadest and most obvious 1970s touchstones and stereotypes. (I was frankly offended that the motorcycle ride to the horizon was not scored to “Born to Be Wild.”) And the closing few minutes have a very bizarre emotional beat that doesn’t land: a fake funeral where it’s not clear who knows the death is fake and who doesn’t.
I also still find the overall Minions aesthetic and mindset to be tawdry. I know I’m pretentious. But you can see every stakeholder-engineered touch on the film’s surface: the new chubby Minion begging to be a stuffed toy for $24.99 at Target, the TikTok-friendly trailer clips, the poster-ready cameo appearances. I’m sure Pixar at its peak did the same thing, but they at least made it seem like everything was designed from the storytelling-up, not from the boardroom-down.
Oh well. It’s not fucking Ratatouille, and you know it’s not Ratatouille. It’s Minions 2, and it’s better than I ever expected it to be. It is frankly much better than Pixar’s latest film, so I’ll take what I can get.
- Review Project: 2022: Year in Film