Most of the creative personnel from Despicable Me have carried over to the sequel, Despicable Me 2, so we shouldn’t be surprised to find this second adventure to be more of the same. Like the $250 million hit from two years ago, this sequel is pleasant, slight, and inoffensive, and its most creative touches can be found at the margins of the movie.
Picking up where the last movie left off, fatherhood has inspired Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) to leave his job as a supervillain in favor of an abortive career as a jam manufacturer. The failure of that venture leaves him at a loose end until a top-secret international crime-fighting agency recruits him and sends him undercover with a chipper rookie agent named Lucy Wilde (voiced by Kristen Wiig) into the local shopping mall to expose a supervillain hiding among the merchants and foil the latest plot to take over the world.
Turning this sequel into a spy thriller for kids sounds like a nice idea, and it might have been one if writers Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul hadn’t thrown so many other plotlines into the mix: Gru tries to ask Lucy out on a date, reconcile with his former henchman Dr. Nefario (voiced by Russell Brand), and keep his eldest daughter Margo (voiced by Miranda Cosgrove) away from a boy named Antonio (voiced by Moises Arias) whom she’s smitten with. If that’s not enough, the supervillain tries to turn Gru’s cute yellow minions against him. One of the minions falls in love with Lucy, too, and while that initially looks like the setup to another plot, it only turns out to be a puzzling joke that’s dealt with in 10 seconds. Simply put, this movie is all over the place.
The saving grace is that directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud have gotten very good at inventing and crafting gags like the wordless extended sequence near the beginning when Lucy transports a tasered Gru to the agency’s headquarters. Margo’s first dreamy sight of Antonio, framed by the shopping mall fountain and backed by Pharrell Williams’ “Just a Cloud Away” on the soundtrack, is neatly done. (Williams contributes a number of songs to a very good soundtrack.) Gru’s army of minions is better used for comic effect here, and they ring in the movie’s happy ending with a gibberish rendition of “I Swear” that lets the filmmakers parody early 1990s R&B music videos.
All this is nice to have, but the movie as a whole would have been far more memorable with a more resonant story. Look at how much more Wreck-It Ralph accomplished last fall with a similar setup. Coffin and Renaud are terrific visual talents, but they need to find better collaborators.
Despicable Me 2
Voices by Steve Carell and Kristen Wiig. Directed by Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud. Written by Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul. Rated PG.