2010′s Despicable Me was a humourous, heart-warming, and original sleeper hit about James Bond-type supervillains battling each other, more for reputation than world domination, and one such villain who gives it all up to savour the joys of fatherhood. Despicable Me 2 is only occasionally funny, and shares none of the other qualities of the first. Kids may enjoy it, but otherwise it feels like the sort of soulless, quickie sequel that animation houses often churn out on DVD.
Ex-bad guy Gru (Steve Carell) has settled into family life with his three adopted daughters, Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier) and cute little Agnes (Elsie Fisher). He’s devoted to the girls, and they to him, though Agnes would really love to have a mom around. But Gru is largely intimidated by women, and wants no part of the set-up dates continually offered by his nosy neighbours.
Then he’s abruptly kidnapped by Lucy (Kristen Wiig), a wacky-yet-highly-competent agent with the Anti-Villain League, and asked to help locate a mysterious villain who has stolen a top secret genetic mutation formula. The AVL has tracked the chemicals to a local shopping mall, and they need Gru’s evil experience to identify the perpetrator among the shop owner suspects. Gru reluctantly agrees, and partners up with Lucy for the mission.
Meanwhile, Gru’s former head scientist, Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand), unhappy with Gru’s leaving the evil business, has moved on to new employment. So no one is around to notice that Gru’s army of mischievous yellow minions is being slowly kidnapped, one by one, for reasons unknown.
Everything about this sequel feels half-baked, from the weak mystery (there are only two suspects, and Gru fingers the culprit almost immediately) to the lack of anything useful for the other main characters to do. It’s still nice to see such a positive relationship between Gru and his three daughters, but otherwise they’re merely hangers-on here: Margo gets a new boyfriend, who then abruptly drops her, and Agnes is only grist for Gru’s romantic subplot. It’s surprising that returning writers Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul couldn’t come up with more – maybe they painted themselves into a corner with the neat ending to their previous effort.
The only thing there isn’t less of is the throng of capsule-shaped minions. With their gibberish language and manic energy, it’s hard not to laugh at their antics – the kids certainly will. But they pop up so often that they wear out their welcome. When cute, funny, animated characters are leaned on so heavily, it’s hard not to be cynical and think of it as the product of a marketing exercise – an impression that isn’t helped by the "Minion Movie Auditions" gags over the end credits. We can expect that film to arrive sooner or later.
It’s a testament to the breezy direction of Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud that Despicable Me 2 is still mildly engaging, despite its conspicuous faults. But it still falls disappointingly short of the bar set by the original. Better to wait for that DVD.
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