As the title Minions: The Rise of Gru suggests, the minions have ascended to the top of the Despicable Me franchise. In this fourth sequel to that international hit from 12 years ago, which originally centered on an ambitious supervillain named Gru, the main draw is now his chattering support crew of yellow-pill-shaped assistants, which isn't surprising since they are so consistently funny. As the previous films, including Minions (2015) and Despicable Me 3 (2017), showed, much can be done with these humorous oddballs, although this one wisely finds a smooth middle ground between the minions, Gru, and the film's other main star: the hairstyles, music, and couture of the 1970s.
At the end of Minions, the minions had, after much searching, found their true calling in following Gru (Steve Carrell), the soon-to-be Despicable Me when he was still a boy in the late 1960s. We pick up a few years later to find Gru still in his formative years as an aspiring villain, plotting a way to get international attention while also navigating the hum-drum world of going to school and dealing with his hyper-critical mother (Julie Andrews). Although still an adolescent, Gru has grand ambitions that are fueled by his hero-worship of a group of super-villains known as the Vicious 6, which is initially headed by Wild Knuckles (Alan Arkin) before he is betrayed by other members of the gang, particularly Belle Bottom (Taraji P. Henson), a Pam Grier-esque bad momma with a mega-'fro. Never one to be down for long, Wild Knuckles plots his revenge, a plan that eventually involves Gru and his four most loyal minions, Kevin, Stuart, and Bob (who were the main characters in Minions), as well as Otto, a particularly dumpy minion with braces (all of whom are voiced by Pierre Coffin, who co-directed all of the previous films in the series).
Returning director Kyle Balda, who helmed Minions and Despicable Me 3, and screenwriter Matthew Fogel (The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part) keep things fast and furious, spinning the narrative into several interlocking subplots that split the characters and send them on separate journeys. This allows them to maximize the humor while also keeping any one subplot from bogging the film down. Thus, we whiplash from Belle Bottom's plan to steal back a supernatural amulet in Gru's possession, to Wild Knuckles plotting his revenge, to Otto crossing the country on the back of a motorcycle driven by an ultra-cool biker voiced by RZA. We get guest appearances by a younger Nefario (Russell Brand) before he became a doctor, a host of villains voiced by aging '80s and '90s action icons like Dolph Lundgren, Lucy Lawless, Danny Trejo, and Jean-Claude Van Damme, and a lengthy sequence in which the minions learn martial arts from an acupuncturist in San Francisco's Chinatown voiced by Michelle Yeoh. It is all very bright and flashy and heavily reliant on both our affection for the look and feel of the mid-1970s (just as Minions leaned hard into '60s nostalgia) and our willingness to just roll with the absurdity. Minions: The Rise of Gru gets a little too hectic for its own good in the final reel, when the Vicious 6 use the amulet to turn into Godzilla-sized monstrosities that Gru, Wild Knuckles, and the main minions (who are turned into various nonthreatening animals) must battle, but even then the humor is persistent and we can't help but care for Gru and his nascent villainy.
Copyright © 2022 James Kendrick
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All images copyright © Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
Overall Rating: (3)
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