Directed By Kyle Balda, Brad Ableson and Jonathan del Val
Starring – Steve Carell, Alan Arkin, Taraji P. Henson
The Plot – In the heart of the 1970s, amidst a flurry of feathered hair and flared jeans, Gru (Carell) is growing up in the suburbs. A fanboy of a supervillain supergroup known as the Vicious 6, Gru hatches a plan to become evil enough to join them. Luckily, he gets some mayhem-making back-up from his loyal followers, the Minions. Together, Kevin, Stuart, Bob, and Otto; a new Minion sporting braces and a desperate need to please. When the Vicious 6 oust their leader, legendary fighter Wild Knuckles (Arkin), Gru interviews to become their newest member. It doesn’t go well, and only gets worse after Gru outsmarts them and suddenly finds himself the mortal enemy of the apex of evil. On the run, Gru will turn to an unlikely source for guidance, Wild Knuckles, and discover that even bad guys need a little help from their friends.
Rated PG for some action/violence and rude humor
The fifth installment of any franchise is a strange occasion to flashback to how it all began for its heralded characters, but the decision to craft “Minions: The Rise of Gru” as a prequel does plenty in the way of exceeding a disappointed predecessor from 2015 that never found its proper footing. First and foremost is the structure of the storytelling, with the return of Gru supplanting an entertaining balance that not only keeps the Minions side of things fresh from the perils of repetition, but also clues us into the insightful backstory of its mastermind to help illustrate the influential circumstances of the devastating force he eventually became. Because of such, the script’s pacing is able to flow seamlessly across a brief 80-minute run time that never has the chance to overstay its welcome, nor linger in the face of the urgency that the film works so abruptly to consistently cement. This is equally earned from what feels like an unlimited number of musical montages that are orchestrated terrifically towards articulating the passage of time, but also endearing from one of my single favorite soundtracks of the year, sifting through a barrage of 70’s tracks to play into its limited but evidential period piece. Also commanding the attention of my ears was the intentionally distorted vocal work from Carell, who after five films still elicits an eccentric energy for the character that attributes itself towards many unique aspects of the character’s exploration. The Russian accent is certainly still there, rolling dialogue off of the tongue naturally in a way that swallows consonants whole, but for my money the bigger praise is for his tone, which captures the inflections of a teenager with Carell’s impeccable timing for comic delivery. Finally, the animation continues an evolution for Illumination Studios that conjures an intoxicating warmth for artistic value, all the while remaining firm to the studio’s signature style that is visually unlike anything else in pop culture existence. Instead of capturing the natural essence of an environment, with all of its movements and various shadow play, the C.G instead permeates a boldness in color that radiates the imaginative essence of animated properties, splashing its influence in a way that practically challenges the audience to look away when the lure is too strong.
One aspect that this prequel absolutely cannot improve upon is its comic muscle, which here is more of the same from characters I simply don’t find humorous in the slightest. Part of the problem is that comedy is subjective, so for everyone like me who doesn’t enjoy it, there are people out there who are roaring in applause, and more power to them. However, the inability to understand 90% of the Minions dialogue, and only being left with their actions, is only a punchline that can go so far for me, made all the worse by the enhanced emphasis that feels like when adults make noises while looking at babies, in hopes they will crack a smile. Aside from the diminishing returns with the humor, the script also feels like a limited idea with little depth to its exploration throughout the narrative. When you consider not only those scenes repeat frequently throughout, such as the Minions learning Kung-Fu training for some strange reason, or just feel rushed in ways that directly underwhelm the need for their necessity, you start to see the spontaneity in its creative process that quite literally throws everything at the wall in hopes of something to stick. This is realized most of all in the ending, which not only flies off of the rails fast from how little its plot device was fleshed out in contrast, but also reached for something big, and monumentally failed with inconsequential essence to the conflict that came and went with very little influence of permanence over its characters and ensuing environment. Even further, the film is a tale of two halves, in that the first half is full of artistic expression and confidence in its comic material, and the second half stunts its growth almost unceremoniously towards feeling like another lukewarm kids’ sequel. Considering the superior half elicited an anime influence in action sequences, and a kick-ass James Bond opening credits sequence, I found what followed in the inferior creatively flat and compromisingly lacking towards the integrity of the project, echoing a disappointment that grew in volume the longer the film unfortunately progressed. Finally, while Carell is game for his fourth turn in the prolific role, the supporting ensemble, with no limited of accolades or talent between them, leaves more to be desired in how they’re respectively used. Henson is the biggest disappointment in this instance, popping up occasionally to voice a 70’s Foxy Cleopatra type, all the while being held hostage to dual arcs, neither of which have any time for her. In addition to this, Alan Arkin sleeps through the role, sounding as monotonously draining as any performance he’s portrayed over the last twenty years, with a complete lack of disguise over his vocal capabilities in transformation.
“Minions: The Rise of Gru” isn’t despicably daunting, but it is another inconsequential installment to a franchise that has been stretched about as far as its animated gibberish-speaking counterpart. With exceptional animation and a creative balance over the usage of its characters, the fifth installment of this franchise is able to elude most of the demons of its cellar-dwelling predecessor, all the while cementing something that is geared entirely toward the kids, for better or worse.
My Grade: 6/10 or C+