Monday, July 8, 2013

Despicable Me 2 review

There are two kinds of movies that I love. I'm not talking about genres here, I'm talking about movies overall. I love movies that live up to my expectations. There is almost nothing better than a movie that is just as good as you hoped it would be. It's rare when that happens and when it does, it is a delight. I also love movies that you have absolutely no expectations for, and that blow you out of the water. That has already happened once this year with the twisty, entertaining caper Now You See Me and it happened two years ago for a different movie: Despicable Me. I'll set the scene. I'm on a two week "vacation" and I really have nothing to do. I wasn't intending on going to the movies, but I go, because it's better than being in a hotel room. I choose to see Despicable Me. It's a practically empty theater. The movie comes on and I just love it. It's a stunningly good animated film with imagination, creativity and heart. Now, three years later, comes the sequel to the 2010 film. With expectations in the way now, can Despicable Me 2 meet them?

Despicable Me 2 meets up with Gru (Steve Carell), his three girls (Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier, and Elsie Fisher) and his minions after some unknown amount of time has passed from the first film. Gru has become this single dad that, instead of building shrink rays to steal the moon, is now building a line of jams and jellies and playing fairy princess with his girls. But his quiet life doesn't last long as Agent Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig) of the Anti-Villain League recruits Gru to find a villain who is using an evil serum to create indestructible weapons. Gru must find the villain who committed the crimes before its too late, while getting a bit romantic in the process. 

Illumination Entertainment is an animation house that I really like for one big reason: their animation is breathtakingly cool. Whether it's a bunch of purple minions or a giant palace devoted to Mexican heritage, their animation is colorful, bright and pops off the screen, no 3D required. I think that the Despicable Me franchise could possibly take them to the top of the animation world, but with this film, I'm beginning to think that the original Despicable Me was a fluke. The sequel is a really entertaining bit of animated filmmaking. It's is at certain times suspenseful, compelling and a lot of fun. But it doesn't pack that emotional punch that the first one did, nor does it contain the fully cohesive storyline. It's still good, it's just not great. 

Three things have been transferred over successfully from the first film to the sequel: the childlike sense of wonder that the bright visuals bring, the animation and the score from chart-topper Pharrell. He makes the film feel really modern and gives a nice hip-hop style touch to appeal to the teen audiences. I've already commented on the great animation, and I'm still remembering the style of the visuals now. It is just really cool animation and along with the fact that it looks great, it appeals to me because it makes me feel like I'm six years old again. Both Despicable Me films bring that sense of wonder to the table. 

In addition, Despicable Me 2 is equally enjoyable for grown ups as it is for kids. There are nice little bits of humor and I did laugh at some things (even though no one else was laughing, which made me incredible awkward). The storyline is interesting as well at times. It's kind of a spy film, which I think is part of the appeal of the Despicable Me franchise that makes it accessible for all ages. But most of what makes Despicable Me 2 inferior to the original is its storyline and how it is handled. 

The first Despicable Me is a very straight narrative. It's a good one as well. It has a beginning, middle and end and clear character development throughout. Despicable Me 2 sort of follows that frameworks, but it sorta doesn't. Gru does undertake some changes but they're have less impact on the story and Gru's life. In addition, I felt that it didn't quite have a clear narrative path. It starts out well enough and it's pretty good through it's second act. But at the end of the second act, like Monsters University, it kind of solves its narrative questions, but it doesn't. I would say that it is better than that film, just in terms of heart, craft and entertainment but they both suffer from similar problems. They're better when they feel like the original films in their respective franchise.

Gru, Lucy and the minions are great characters. Gru and Lucy are voiced to perfection by Carell and Wiig and the minions are funny, but not hilarious. However, three of the most interesting characters from the last film, the girls, take a back seat to the minions as the supporting characters. Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand) has some interesting bits. Despite how much I liked Wiig as Lucy, the standout new characters is El Macho (Benjamin Bratt). He brings the most colorful patches of animation and has some of the more entertaining bits of the film.

While writing this review, I realized how much I liked this movie. It's not great as a whole but I think that it is great in sections and the beautiful animation puts it a cut above the rest. I like where they are going with this franchise and I hope to see more from it in the future. 

THE FINAL GRADE:  B                                            (7.3/10)


Post Note: Next year sees the release of Minions in December. While I do receive amusement from the little yellow gremlins, I'm not certain that they can carry a full film. They're funny in a short film for, but I'm not certain that a whole plot centered around the minions would be good. But in some ways I think that they will be served well by a full film for themselves. It will allow Renaud and Coffin to focus fully on them instead of trying to focus on two separate stories (which DM2 does rather well). 

2 comments:

  1. Not a terrible bore, but too average for me to really go crazy for. Good review Josh.

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    1. I think that it really relies on the goodwill of the first film, so if you didn't like that one, they're not gaining any fans. But I had a lot of fun watching it and the animation is gorgeous, so that made up for the lack of a great story for me.

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