Right from the off, we’d better be clear: if you didn’t like the Minions of Despicable Me 1, then you’d be better off seeing pretty much anything but Despicable Me 2. Responsible for the lion’s share of the first movie’s laughs, and with their own spin-off movie in the works, Despicable Me 2 somewhat inevitably promotes the yellow critters to a more prominent role. And while they’re still supporting characters as such, they’re what you’ll be talking about, for better or worse, come the end credits.
They encapsulate after all what ultimately makes Despicable Me 2 quite hard to resist: they, and it, try so hard to make you laugh, that they’re more likely to succeed than not. Granted, sometimes, when all else fails, the movie calls for a fart joke or something pretty straightforward, just to keep the engine ticking over. In at least one case, a pretty funny fart joke too. But it’s comedy, and quite a range of it, where Despicable Me 2 is on its soundest footing.
At its best, the movie recaptures some of the anarchy of the old Looney Tunes and Tom And Jerry cartoons, mixing in slapstick with a bunch of characters who lend themselves exceptionally well to such an approach. Said approach is further fuelled by the sheer pace of the gags at times, not least in the early stages, but it’d be remiss to overlook the fact that there are some decent lines in the script too.
That said, whilst the laugh count is solid, Despicable Me 2 does use the comedy to paper over the cracks elsewhere. It feels a bit like Shrek 2 in that regard. Accepting that the original Shrek was a better movie than the first, enjoyable Despicable Me, Shrek 2 had a habit of calling for Donkey and a bit of work from Eddie Murphy when things were slowing up narratively. The same trick is repeated here with Despicable Me 2, but there’s only so much that the Minions and the gag cannon can disguise.
It doesn’t help that the main story is, while not exactly weak, all a little familiar. It’s centred once more around Gru, voiced again by Steve Carell, who has moved on from being a full time supervillain to effectively being a full time father to this three adopted daughters. He’s lured, hardly reluctantly, back into his old ways, but he’s also got a domestic challenge to face too. The character of Gru remains balanced nicely, and there’s a sweetness to the family scenes as well.
That said, it all feels like a familiar variant on the cocktail that formed the basis of the last movie, with one difference: here, we get to meet Lucy Wilde, a fun new character voiced by Kristen Wiig. She’s comfortably the most interesting addition to the line-up (and a superbly voiced one), even if all of her best material is in the first two acts. Eduardo, voiced by Benjamin Bratt, is less impactful. Perhaps the most interesting thing about that character is what about him led to Al Pacino quitting the project just two months before the movie was released. Al Pacino is the man who said yes to Jack And Jill, after all. It’s hard to see what in Despicable Me 2 led to him leaving so close to release.
All that notwithstanding, Despicable Me 2 is a fun movie, about at the same level of its predecessor, with perhaps some slightly better laughs. It pales next to something like Pixar’s upcoming Monsters University, but there’s still enough energy and humor to get it through. And there’s a smashing, and very funny, dance number at the end.
However, the idea of the scene-stealing Minions getting a movie to themselves remains troubling. They work very well as supporting characters, but how they fare when they become the star attraction remains to be seen. Certainly the over-the-end-credits scenes don’t dampen those concerns.
For now though, Despicable Me 2 is a good, solid sequel, and one where there’s a sense that people have put their backs into it to get the laugh count up. There’s still a sense that there might be a better movie in the midst of the ingredients that have been brought together, but for a good summer comedy, you’re not going to be shortchanged. At best, it’s a lot of fun.