Few animated movies over the past decade or so have taken people off guard quite like Despicable Me did in 2010. The first film made by the fledgling Universal Animation production company, Illumination Entertainment, the combination of the Dr. Horrible-esque villain reversal and an overwhelming amount of crowd-pleasing cuteness made the film into one of the most critically and financially successful original animated movies of all time (well, excluding Disney and Pixar that is). Too often, animation studios struggle to find a tone that pleases kids without alienating their parents. On either end, this imbalance can range from the excruciatingly idiotic (The Smurfs, Alvin and the Chipmunks) to the intelligent yet somewhat joyless (Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole), but every now and then movies like Despicable Me manage to find that happy medium which everyone can enjoy. Well, as is the case with any movie that enjoys even the smallest amount of financial success nowadays, it now remains to be seen if the sequel can hold up against the original. Having now seen the finished result, I can assure you that the answer is yes… for the most part. It lacks the originality that gave the first movie a lot of its charm, but Despicable Me 2 still contains enough of the best aspects of its predecessor to make it a great option for every age bracket.
The Plot: 6/10
Gru is recruited by the Anti-Villain League to help deal with a powerful new super criminal.
The plot itself is fairly unspectacular, especially when you compare it to the first movie. Not only did the original have the benefit of setting up the intriguing premise, but it also had a lot of different factors that kept things feeling fresh (the adoption angle, the competition among villains, etc.). Despicable Me 2 opts for a pretty standard secret agent plot that occasionally brings the unwelcome comparison to Cars 2 to mind. Of course, a predictable plot is rarely an issue that matters very much when it comes to animation. A better measure of a story’s contribution to a movie like this is whether or not it gets in the way of the things you actually came to see, and by that measure Despicable Me 2 gets a passing grade.
The Writing: 7/10
In terms of writing, Despicable Me 2’s biggest successes come from the things that remain the same from the first movie. Gru is still a cantankerous softie, the girls are still adorable emotional foils, and the minions are still… whatever the hell the minions are. The problem is that the new characters that are introduced just aren’t that great. Nearly every new addition is some sort of cliche that’s played up for laughs, and while this isn’t wholly unexpected it still feels a little lazy at times. The only new character with any sort of real personality is Lucy Wilde, an overly-quirky agent of the Anti-Villain League and Gru’s handler-slash-partner-slash-love-interest. I appreciated the fact that they at least tried to flesh out Lucy’s character beyond the normal levels of animated love interests, but a lot of the personality they give her comes very close to being simply annoying rather than funny.
The Acting: 6/10
One of the biggest surprises of the first movie for me was how little Steve Carell’s over-the-top Russian accent annoyed me. As much as I usually hate over-acted foreign accents in animated movies (i.e. Madagascar 3), Gru’s voice just seemed to fit his character. For that, my hat goes off to Mr. Carell; very few voice actors can get away with fake accents or similar vocal alterations but he nails it here. The rest of the cast… not so much. Benjamin Bratt’s salsa dancing/making Eduardo is an overplayed latin cliché, while Steve Coogan’s Silas Ramsbottom is basically every dull, proper British Director since the beginning of the spy genre. While Kristen Wiig’s character doesn’t fit into any similar clichés, her voice work still isn’t enough to overcome the weird writing for her character.
The Comedy: 8/10
If you’re planning a family outing, this is probably the only category you really care about. Regardless of any other issue with the movie, it still has all of the weird quirks that made the first one so fun to watch three years ago. Some bits work better than others, but at the end of the day you can always rely on the minions to bring it back around and keep you laughing along with the kids next to you. Gru’s little helpers are funnier than ever here, with all of the slapstick comedy and silly pseudo-language we’ve come to expect from them. It’s hardly surprising that they, like The Penguins of Madagascar, are going to be getting their own spin-off movie in a few years (which I am absolutely going to watch; maturity be damned).
The Verdict: 7.0/10 – Good
+ All of the characters and quirks that made the first movie fun are just as good here
+ The minions are funnier than ever
– The originality that set the first one apart isn’t really added to here
– The new characters just aren’t that great (I still love you anyways, Kristen!)
Rotten Tomatoes: 75%
Fast Film Reviews: 4.5/5
The Code is Zeek: 2.5/5
Black Sheep Reviews: 2.5/5
Average: 6.4/10 – Perfectly Adequate