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Review: Despicable Me 2 (2013)

Despicable Me 2 (2013)

Directed by: Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud

Premise: A sequel to the 2010 film. Gru (voice of Steve Carell) has retired from a life of super-villainy and he is recruited to spy on another villain. At the same time he develops a romantic relationship with a female spy (voice of Kristen Wiig).

What Works: For undemanding viewers, Despicable Me 2 is funny and mildly entertaining. The physical gags generally work and the Minions are a consistent source of amusement. The sequel includes a subplot in which Gru looks for a girlfriend. The scenes that focus on the romantic aspect of the story are generally the best parts of the movie and Gru’s relationship with a fellow spy have a few nice bits.

What Doesn’t: There is a distinction to be made between family movies and kids films. The original Despicable Me was a family movie in that it was safe for general audiences but emotionally and narratively sophisticated enough to appeal to both parents and their children. Despicable Me 2 is not a family movie, it’s a kid’s film. It has none of the intelligence or cross generational appeal of its predecessor and it plays much more like a Saturday morning cartoon. That transition from family feature to childhood distraction may or may not be intentional but it is a direct result of the problems with the story. Despicable Me 2 comes on the heels of Monsters University, and like that film this is another animated sequel with no reason to exist. The original Despicable Me was about a villain who is redeemed by fatherhood and that story was told so successfully that by the end of the film there was nowhere else for the narrative to go. That creates an obvious problem for the sequel but instead of coming up with a new angle the filmmakers of Despicable Me 2 produced a lazy film that stinks of Hollywood compromise. The sequel makes an obvious play to recapture the popular elements of the original picture and many of the same plot twists and scenarios are repeated. But what made all of that work in the original Despicable Me was the relationship between Gru and his three girls. For the sequel the girls are pushed aside and almost all of their scenes consist of Gru tucking them into bed. Despicable Me 2 removes the heart and soul of the first movie and replaces it with Minions. Nearly every other scene is a Minion gag and they so dominate this movie that it would be more accurately titled The Minion Movie. This highlights one of the more obvious and disappointing qualities of Despicable Me 2: it is a movie that was motivated less by story and much more by the prospect of toy sales. There is nothing wrong with Hollywood studios making money in ancillary markets but everything about Despicable Me 2 is incredibly lazy. The story consists of two parts: Gru’s mission as a secret agent and his attempt to have a romantic relationship. Neither of these stories is done well. The espionage plot has no mystery to it and the romantic scenes do not have the humor or heart to match the first film’s scenes of fatherhood. Despicable Me 2 also lacks the creativity or artistry of the first film. There are no surprises with the characters, settings, or gadgets and the picture is disappointingly unimaginative.

Bottom Line: Despicable Me 2 is fun in a cartoonish way that will appeal to children but it’s really a feature length toy commercial. That would be excusable if it worked better as a motion picture but the movie lacks the cleverness and charm of the original film.

Episode: #447 (July 14, 2013)