Film Review: Illumination's 'Minions: The Rise Of Gru'

Film Review: Illumination’s ‘Minions: The Rise Of Gru’

The Minions have risen to astonishing heights since Sergio Pablos birthed what would become the franchise some 12 years ago — if you’ve lost count, their progeny includes three feature sequels (one due two years hence), two prequels, more than a dozen shorts , a TV special, video games and the inevitable theme park attraction.

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For parents who might have lost track (kids don’t tend to forget such things), Despicable Me gave legitimate birth to its first offspring, Minions, five years ago, and while it’s hard to argue that it was worth the wait (its debut was postponed by two years due to Covid), this set-in-hippie-era San Francisco sequel serves up reasonable amusement for roughly the first hour , only to rather overstay its welcome thereafter. All the same, it will keep kids tolerably amused upon its opening via Universal on Friday.

Among many other factors it has in its favor, this is yet another Illumination creation that adults will not just put up with but can actually enjoy up to a point, thanks in large measure to the cheeky counter-culture jokes, hilariously tweaked wardrobes, riffs on biker culture and a ’70s-era soundtrack; at one point, a major villain pops into a booth at a record store to restore his self-worth by listening to Linda Ronstadt’s “You’re No Good.”

But while amusement such as this is amply sprinkled around throughout the film, which is also strikingly well designed and animated, there is also a gathering sense of running on fumes here, of continuing the exploits of some highly remunerative characters just because it’s financially worth it , not because inspiration demands it. There are, in the end, simply too many narrative-complicating flip-flops, close calls, frantic chases, left turns and right turns inserted just to fill out 90 minutes of feature film time.

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All the same, Minions goes down without too much discomfort, and its reasonable laugh quotient serves as a pointed reminder that comedy has been in very short supply on the big screen so far this year.

Since last seen, the Vicious Six have been experiencing some disruptions, the latest being the ouster of one of them, Alan Arkin’s Wild Knuckles. This unexpected opening inspires Gru (Steve Carell) to apply for the job—“I want to be a supervillain!,” he loudly proclaims—but when he’s rejected, new strategies must be found.

He takes his revenge by stealing the gang’s most prized possession, the Zodiac Stone, and is immediately pursued by both Wild Knuckles and the gang, who at this diminished point consist of the felicitously named Belle Bottom (Taraji P. Henson), Stronghold (Danny) Trejo), Nunchuck (Lucy Lawless), Svengeance (Dolph Lundgren) and Jean-Clauded (Jean-Claude Van Damme).

From this point on, Minions shifts into nonstop action mode, hightailing it to the heart of the decades-ago San Francisco counterculture. In a distinctly un-mellow mood, hippies meet biker baddies (who morph into animals) in a boisterous climax that’s spiked with a fair amount of site- and era-specific humor that will surely go right over the heads of youngsters, not that it will matter with so much else going on once the power of the Zodiac Stone is unleashed. Even when it seems like the film has shifted into overdrive and diminishing returns, you still feel that the smartypants brigade is in control; they’re just hitting doubles rather than home runs.

It almost goes without saying that the visuals are sharp, imaginative and witty, sometimes even more so than the dialogue, not to say that the colorful voice cast doesn’t do a first-rate job. No doubt Gru will return for more rounds now that he’s risen.

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