Review by James Lindorf
Every year studios release animated films hoping to be the one that captures the imaginations of children without giving their parents a migraine. In 2010 the winners were Illumination and Universal with their four-quadrant hit “Despicable Me.” That first film introduced us to Steve Carell’s eccentric villain Gru, a trio of orphan Annie’s, and an army of banana-loving, gibberish-speaking, overall-wearing Minions that captured the hearts and wallets of a generation. In the subsequent decade, two additional Despicable Me films and the 2015 prequel “Minions” have been released and combined for over $3.7 billion in total box office. That number makes it the highest-earning animated franchise of all time. That gap will only widen when “Minions: The Rise of Gru” storms into theaters on July first for the long holiday weekend.
After witnessing his use of a freeze ray at the end of “Minions,” Bob, Stuart, Kevin, and the rest decided that their next boss would be the young Felonious Gru. “The Rise of Gru” picks up a couple of years after those events in the early 70s, with a 12-year-old Gru working with the minions to build his first lair. He spends his days at school dreaming up evil plots worthy of his “heroes,” the Vicious 6. When the supervillain supergroup’s leader, the legendary fighter Wild Knuckles (Oscar® winner Alan Arkin), is lost on their last mission, Gru interviews to become their newest member, with less than desirable results. Things go from bad to worse when Gru ends up with the critical element to their ultimate evil plan and has danger coming at him from every direction. To survive, Gru will need guidance from unlikely sources and the help of his most loyal minions, Kevin, Stuart, Bob, and Otto, a new Minion sporting braces and a desperate need to please.
This entry in the franchise features its most spectacular action and best cast. The action is well-choreographed, vibrant, and varied, thanks to the large number of villains. While excelling in those areas, the action never feels that threatening. Sure, Gru can get hurt, but as far as we know, the minions are immortal and essentially impervious to all damage. This puts extra weight on the fighting to be both fun and funny. Luckily in that department, this is the most successful of the five films by a wide margin. The minions find an opportunity to make a joke with nearly every punch, kick, and retreat.
The newest stars in the Despicable Me universe include Taraji P. Henson as the brutal Belle Bottom, whose chain belt doubles as a lethal disco-ball mace. Action icon Jean-Claude Van Damme is the nihilistic Jean Clawed, who can crush anything with a giant robotic claw. Best known as Xena, the warrior princess Lucy Lawless is Nunchuck, whose traditional nun’s habit hides her deadly nun-chucks. He-Man himself, Dolph Lundgren, plays Swedish roller-skate champion Svengeance, who dispatches his enemies with spin kicks from his spiked skates. The final member of the Vicious 6 is the beloved Danny Trejo as Stronghold, whose giant iron hands allow him to defeat anyone in his grasp. Also joining the star-studded cast is Michelle Yeoh as Master Chow, an acupuncturist with mad kung fu skills.
With multiple returning characters and many new cast members, there isn’t time to explore everyone’s motivations. Instead, most characters are glorified cameos designed to tug on the nostalgia heartstrings of the adults in the room. Most of the screen time is divided between two groups of minions taking different paths to rescue their mini-boss and Gru as both a student and prisoner. Returning franchise director Kyle Balda, with the help of co-directors Brad Ableson and Jonathan del Val, beautifully balanced the humor while providing more humanity to the minions than in any movie to date.
Due to the covid and the five-year gap between films, I don’t think “Minions: The Rise of Gru” will end up being the second most successful entry in the franchise. However, it is the film I will most likely revisit after the original. From the action to the killer ’70s soundtrack courtesy of legendary music producer Jack Antonoff these 87 minutes of fun earn a 4 out of 5 from me.
Rating: PG (Some Action/Violence|Rude Humor)
Genre: Comedy, Adventure
Original Language: English
Director: Kyle Balda
Producer: Christopher Meledandri, Janet Healy, Chris Renaud
Writer: Matthew Fogel
Release Date (Theaters): July 1st, 2022
Runtime: 1h 27m
Distributor: Universal Pictures
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