When Despicable Me came out back in 2010, it was a refreshing change of pace for animated fare. It made the concept of rooting for the villain appealing and multiplied the cute sidekick factor immeasurably by having hundreds of yellow, babbling, pill-shaped creatures called minions.
But any sequel worth its salt doesn’t just rely on the same formula; it takes the familiar and turns it on its head. Despicable Me 2 tries to do that by having Gru (Steve Carell) turn his back on his super-villain ways to be a domesticated dad to his three adopted daughters.
Sensing Gru might be in need of a change, the Anti-Villain League, led by Agents Silas (Steve Coogan) and Lucy (Kristen Wiig), recruits him to track down the latest super-villain, who could be hiding out in plain sight at the local mall.
Gru (Steve Carell) is forced into being an amateur private detective, a role he doesn’t wear well.
Right from the start, there’s a sense of reluctance on Gru’s part, something that carries over to the movie as a whole. In the first film, Gru took great glee in trying to one-up his fellow super-villain.
Here, though, he’s forced into being an amateur private detective, a role he doesn’t wear well. There’s no joy in his mission, either for him or the audience.
The other plot elements fail to inspire as well. It’s obvious that the filmmakers want to pair up Gru and Lucy romantically, but they push so hard that it feels like the worst arranged marriage in history. And Gru balking at his oldest daughter, Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), starting to date touches on every over-protective dad cliché in the book.
The saving grace of the film is the presence of the minions, who never fail to elicit at least a chuckle with their never-ending arguments, pratfalls and general unruliness. But even they are used a bit too much, as if the filmmakers knew that the main plot was such a dud that they needed to insert minions into the story as much as minionly possible.
Aside from Carell as Gru, none of the voice actors make that much of an impact this time around. Wiig brings a bit of her Saturday Night Live wackiness to her role, but the character could’ve used more than that. Benjamin Bratt, a last-minute replacement for Al Pacino, plays the villain El Macho relatively well, but one wonders what kind of flair Pacino might have given the role.
The first Despicable Me took care to appeal both to kids and adults alike; Despicable Me 2, however, aims squarely at the kids. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but if you’re not in the target age range, it makes for a pretty dull experience.