Minions: The Rise of Gru

The lowest of the “Despicable Me” movies.

Some would think of the Minions as Twinkies, while I would call them cute tater tots. Even young Gru would admit that when they apply to be his….you know….Minions. They have been so popular in the “Despicable Me” franchise, that it’s inevitable they would get a spin-off prequel like “Minions” back in 2015. That took place in the 1960s, and now, the prequel sequel “Minions: The Rise of Gru” takes place in the ‘70s, which seems to love Baz Luhrmann movies, when it splices its period songs by Linda Ronstadt and KC and the Sunshine Band with modern covers by BROCKHAMPTON and H.E.R.

I’m a fan of the “Despicable Me” movies, because of how those Minions slay me with their goofiness and eccentricity, and how Steve Carell delivers with his somewhat Russian accent and forced dialogue as the villain-turned-good-guy Gru. But unfortunately, “Minions: The Rise of Gru” fails to do anything special with those characters, and for the many ideas the movie unfolds.

This time, there’s a supervillain group known as the “Vicious 6” with their leader Belle Bottom (voiced by Taraji P. Henson), the muscle Stronghold (voiced by Danny Trejo), the Frenchman with lobster claws Jean Clawed (voiced by Jean-Claude Van Damme, who else?), the nun Nunchucks (voiced by Lucy Lawless), and the roller skater Svengeance (voiced by Dolph Lundrgen), all of whom stab their former leader Wild Knuckles (voiced by Alan Arkin) in the back.

Hearing Arkin’s voice is the best thing about this film, especially when his character meets Gru, during what was originally a kidnapping plot. They start to bond with their tastes in villainy, but a better idea would be for them to find a time machine, so they can go to the future and see “Little Miss Sunshine,” which is the great indie film Carell and Arkin both starred in. But he’s probably too young to see that film, so why not “Get Smart?”

He’s better off without the Vicious 6, who are so underwritten and under-voiced. Henson gets more lines than the rest of the A-list action stars. I did a video chat with Lundgren last year, and I can see why he didn’t talk about this movie. They have very little dialogue to work with, and have nothing on Jason Segel, Sandra Bullock, Benjamin Bratt, or Trey Parker.

The Minions, whom I’ve always admired, are easily wasted with the same old jokes, as if they’re only here to entertain the little kids, and they will be entertained, no doubt. This would be a harmless film for kids, unless they can handle with Gru being placed in two traps that look like PG versions of “Saw.” He has to spin on a giant record player, bound for spinning blades, and he nearly has his arms ripped off when being tied to a giant clock.

And getting back to them, they find themselves in the midst of a masseuse and kung fu artist by the name of Master Chow (voiced by Michelle Yeoh), who trains them to fight. Looking back at her previous masterpieces “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and, more recently, “Everything Everywhere All At Once,” she doesn’t have the kind of character study she should have. It’s a formula kung fu subplot with the same old tricks and styles that “Kung Fu Panda” has perfected in the animation genre.

As an Illumination sequel, I’ve had a similar reaction to “The Secret Life of Pets 2,” which took such delightful ideas, and did so little with them. They didn’t take the kind of risks sequels and prequels should take. In fact, parts of the introduction recycles the first “Despicable Me” when Gru freezes all the people in line (“FREEZE Ray!”). This time, he cheeses them (“CHEESE RAY!”).

I told Carell “Little Miss Sunshine” changed my life, and I’m telling you: “Minions: The Rise of Gru” didn’t.

Rating: 2 out of 4.

Categories: Animation, comedy, Family, Prequel, Sequel

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