One line review: Lots of great moments that don’t hold together.
The original Despicable Me was a film that I quite enjoyed. Of course, it had a great mix of slapstick, jokes and action conveyed through blistering but stylised animation but it also had some interesting themes in the background that engaged parents and children alike. For example, themes like, coping with being “yesterday’s news”, the challenges/rewards of family and friends and the notion of making a fresh start and changing our lives for the better. The combination of all these things made it a really enjoyable but thought provoking film so would the sequel live up to it?
Well in word, no. Having said that, I must warn you, this was another film that split the Perry family down the middle in terms of opinion so read to the end for an alternative view. As far as I was concerned, it was a bit of a disappointment.
The film once again centres around Gru who now lives a reformed life as a devoted father. However, his comparatively quiet life is interrupted when he’s approached to help locate a dangerous DNA transforming serum which has been stolen. Having tracked it down to a shopping mall Gru has to go undercover as a bakery owner and quickly gets suspicious of another shop proprietor who bears a striking resemblance to one of his villainous pals from years gone by.
You would think that this story set up would at least fulfil the two aspects mentioned above that the the original film did so well. i.e. There would be plenty of opportunities great action and jokes as Gru uses his over the top villain technology for good. And you’d also think that there would be lots of interesting themes explored as Gru adjusts to his “poacher turned gamekeeper” role whilst exploring his developing role as a father? Well, unfortunately, no, it didn’t. So why?
Well, firstly because the majority of the film takes place as a covert operation in a shopping centre and this has the effect of severely restricting the opportunities for the action elements of the film. Imagine trying to stage an entire Bond film in The Trafford Centre or Bluewater without anyone noticing and you quickly see that it’s not the best setting for the mad cap villainous technology action that worked well in the first film.
Secondly, those interesting themes weren’t developed or just weren’t there in this one. The idea of Gru now working for the opposition wasn’t really explored at all and the themes that were present didn’t quite seem to work. For example, in the first film, the development of the relationship between Gru and the kids as it progressed from Kidnapper and Kidnapped to Parent and Children was a key part. But whilst there were a few attempts to develop this relationship in this film (such Gru’s paranoia about the kids growing up and the prospect of a love interest/new mum for the kids) all of them kind of fizzled out without really going anywhere.
But the overarching problem with all of these aspects was a distinct lack of plot. The events I described above in my plot introduction all occur in the opening 20 minutes of the film but that is, pretty much the entire plot, which kind of makes sense, in light of the two points I’ve just made. That’s not to say that the film isn’t full of great moments, there are lots of them (watch out for my personal favourite which is a bit of a tribute to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade). But that is the problem, really, the film has lots of great moments but no real underlying plot to hold them all together.
And the animation itself? Well, we’ve all got so used to such brilliant digimation that it’s difficult to know what is a “bad” film these days. There was nothing spectacular, but that might be more to do with the restrictions of the storyline than a lack of quality in production which again brings me back to my point about the plot, above.
Nevertheless, there are great performances. Steve Carrell (Gru) is a dependable as ever, and it’s encouraging to see Brit’s such as Russell Brand and Steve Coogan continuing to do well in Hollywood. Both put in solid performances as Dr. Nefario and Silas Ramsbottom respectively. As does Kristen Wiig as Lucy. Despite the film’s problems, I don’t think anyone will be massively disappointed and it’s still well worth going to see. Both my wife and Son (9) both thought this was the best film they’ve seen so far this year, so what do I know?
Oh, and one positive footnote to all of this…the outtake reels are back…almost! Those who’ve read my earlier reviews of films this year will remember my lament for the traditional outtake reel (which used to follow every digimation film) that seems to have disappeared of late. Well, stay in your seats for this one folks, it’s back…except that it’s not really outtakes and it’s not that funny. Nevertheless, having read this review, whilst everyone around you is hovering an inch above their seat in that “should I, shouldn’t I move” pose that grips us all as we wonder if we will miss something during the end credits, you can smugly sit back in your seat knowing that something will happen. Wait untill the minions fall off the screen. Then, and only then, is it really over.