Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Day 217: Despicable Me 2

"How come you're so fat?"
"Because my house is made of candy and sometimes I eat instead of facing my problems."

2010's Despicable Me was one of the surprise hits of that summer, and while I ultimately enjoyed the film quite a bit, the thing I liked most about it was that it was an original animated film in an endless sea of sequels, prequels and adaptations. Because the film was a huge success, a sequel was inevitable, so it remained to be seen whether the follow-up would continue the original's devilishly fun streak or if it would succumb to the typical sophomore slump and devolve into a pale imitator of the original. Read on to find out which category Despicable Me 2 falls in to...


Picking up not long after the events of the first film, Despicable Me 2 finds the first film's anti-hero Gru (Steve Carell) having fully embraced his new role as full-time dad to his adopted daughters Margo, Edith & Agnes. He spends his days planning birthday parties, and his nights are spent using his Q-esque inventor Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand) and their minions to create new varieties of jellies & jams. After Agnes' birthday party, Gru is kidnapped by Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig) an agent for The Anti-Villain League, and he is recruited by the league's director (Steve Coogan) to hunt down a mysterious villain that has absconded with a serum that can change seemingly nominal animals & beings into unstoppable killing machines.

Lucy & Gru go undercover in a mall, where traces of the serum was found, to find the culprit, and Gru focuses in on a restaurant owner named Eduardo (Benjamin Bratt) that he is convinced is a former rival villain of Gru's named El Macho. Things get even more complicated when Gru's oldest daughter Margo (Miranda Cosgrove) falls for Eduardo's lothario of a son Antonio (Moises Arias). Is Gru's judgment being clouded by his protective, fatherly instincts, or will his premonitions about Eduardo ultimately pay off & help him save the world?


The biggest & most pressing issue with Despicable Me 2 is that the plot is a total throwaway. The mystery plot set in the mall is almost wholly unnecessary and ends up containing all of the least memorable moments in the entire film. Due to the dearth of plausible suspects, the ultimate identity of the true villain behind it all is neither surprising nor original, and it drags the entire emotional core of the film down. Thankfully, this plot is not where Despicable Me 2 hangs its hat, and probably the main reason the film isn't entirely hampered by this go-nowhere plot is that the rest of the film around it still contains tons of great character moments & sight gags.

Although the film most assuredly suffers from the typically overstuffed sequel syndrome, where they try to give so many characters something to do that none of them end up doing anything of substance, it wasn't enough to make me dislike the film. The filmmakers pack in as much of the small, yellow Minions as possible, and their antics are what propel the film forward, mainly because the plot certainly isn't. My daughters loved every scene with these guys, and thankfully there are a lot of them, and they will have no problem carrying their spinoff film Minions next year.


Steve Carell once again does inspired work as Gru, infusing the character with a likability that is in short supply among lead characters in animated franchises. His gifts as a comic actor are put to good use here, and while the Minions provide the engine for the film, Gru is most assuredly still the film's beating heart. Benjamin Bratt was also an inspired choice for the role of Eduardo, stepping in admirably for Al Pacino who parted ways with the film earlier this year, and while the character is ultimately an enormous MacGuffin, his work here was very good.

The British supporting players also more or less upstage their American counterparts, and both Coogan & Brand do funny work with their small characters. It's with Kristen Wiig and her character of Lucy that I have the most problems. The character had no identity of her own and may as well have been wearing a shirt that said "Plot Device" on it. It also doesn't help that Wiig didn't do much with the scenes she had, and many of her laugh lines fall entirely flat. I'll have to chalk this up to poor choices made by the creative team, as I normally like her work very much, but she flounders in this film.

I must also highly recommend seeing the film in 3D. It's use of the technology is fantastic and enhances the story in the best ways possible. The animation in general is lovely to look at and has a wonderful aesthetic quality that will keep your eyes fully sated for the duration of its 98 minute running time. It's a giant leap forward from the first film, which also looked good, but is already starting to show its age a scant three years after its release.


Ultimately, however, it's funny to mention the animation being better this time around, but the story being weaker. It's a sign of the times. A lot of love and care is put into the animation process, but it seems like so little is put into the story writing. While the under 10 set is unlikely to care much that the plot is almost hopelessly non-existent, I have a hard time seeing many adults leaving the theater thinking that this is better than the original. I can only hope that this series rebounds with the inevitable Despicable Me 3, because there are flashes of malevolence in this film, and I truly miss those. I hope they spend the time between now and then developing a great story because sight gags and beautiful animation can only carry you so far these days. Consider this a lesson learned.

GO Rating: 3/5

[Photos via ComingSoon]

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