Saturday 6 July 2013

Despicable Me 2 Review - Illuminatingly Hilarious, Minion-Packed Fun

*This review is largely spoiler free, and most plot-details mentioned are evident in the trailers, but read cautiously if you haven’t seen the film yet*

2010 was a very strong year for animation, providing two of the best animated films of the last few decades with Toy Story 3 and How to Train Your Dragon; other great films were also released that year, including Tangled, Megamind and the debut feature from Illumination Entertainment, Despicable Me. The film won itself a lot of praise, with audiences loving the tender dynamic at the centre of the film, the adorable orphaned girls who Gru adopts and, most crucially, the hilarious little yellow swarms known as the minions. I loved the first film, but have been sorely disappointed by Illumination's two subsequent films, Hop and The Lorax. As such, I, sadly, didn't have high hopes for Despicable Me 2. And I've never been quite so spectacularly wrong: Despicable Me 2 is hilarious, well told and even manages to be better than the first film.

Despicable Me told the story of Gru (voiced brilliantly yet again by Steve Carell), a supervillain in command of an army of minions, bent on stealing the moon. Then entered Margo, Edith and Agnes, who melted his heart. He adopted them, they came to look on him as a dad and all was happy-happy. But where do things go from there? Despicable Me 2 tell us that Gru's hung up his despicable ways in favour of a more honest job making jam (yet still for some reason carries around his freeze ray) - a far more boring occupation which prods Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand) into looking for another job. This quiet life is short lived though, when Agent Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig, who also voiced Miss Hattie in the first film) of the Anti-Villain League enters the scene asking for Gru's help. A new villain, with a similarly outlandish penchant for ridiculous schemes (this one in the form of a giant magnet ship stealing an Antarctic research facility), is on the scene and in possession of a particularly potent serum, which has the ability to turn cute little bunnies into decidedly less cute giant, purple, indestructible killing machines. If you've seen certain designs and images from the film, you can probably guess what said serum is used for later in the film. The perpetrator is decided to be one of several shop owners in the Paradise Mall, and it's up to Gru and Lucy to try and find out which one and stop them.

So things are different this time round; rather than being a bad guy who eventually does good, Gru is now firmly a good guy. What drives him emotionally is different too, he still has responsibilities for the girls and faces new challenges as he comes face to face with their growing up, but they're not put in peril this time around like they were in the first film. Despicable Me 2 is less about Gru's relationship with the girls than it is about his budding new relationship with Lucy. Given that she's the only real grown-up female character in the film (aside from a hilariously over-the-top neighbour determined to set Gru up, and a health-obsessed Kristen Schaal-voiced character with whom she disastrously does set him up with), it's quite obvious that this is where Illumination are going to run to from the start, but how they get there is a fun journey all the same. Parts of the dynamic between the two might feel a little rushed in order to get things to an inevitable happy ending, but the chemistry is so abundant and the pairing so charming, that you likely won't mind. Plus, it's nice to see things tackled in less of a clichéd, head-on manner than usual.

The main reason the film is so damn funny is still the minions. There is other funny stuff - Gru's premature-announcement of his weapons; fighting with a chicken; some of the most playfully outlandish, cartoony animation you'll see in CG, for instance - but it's the minions who steal the show. Even the team behind Despicable Me have professed genuine surprise at how popular the minions have become; all laws of reason dictate that the bumbling, inept little things should be brutally annoying, but they're instead the most easily loveable animated creations since Ice Age's Scrat or Up's Dug. They're endearing, they're ridiculous, their gibberish is fun and almost every moment they're on screen has the entire audience in hysterics. Directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud took the minion comedy from the first film and dialled it up to eleven with the sequel (in fact, the two actually voice the minions - Coffin apparently voiced 899 of them), and the hilarious yellow pill-people are the real through-line in the movie. If you've seen the film, I'd be very surprised if you could honestly tell me you weren't crying with laughter at their antics in, particularly, the last 5 or so minutes. The during-credits antics got a little tiresome, but that was mainly just 3D gimmickry, and it doesn't alter the fact that I'm hellishly enthusiastic for the Minions movie coming next year now.

Factor into the loveableness of the minions the absolutely adorable Agnes, and there's a lot to "aww" at in Despicable Me 2. The characters are just inherently likeable; they're fairly predictable and they're not the most complex, multi-layered characters in the world, but they're sweet and they're fun. In fact, the world of Despicable Me is a fairly candy-coated, sweet one - even down to the very colourful production design of the film - and that's not a bad thing.

That's worth mentioning too: the look of the film was top notch. While the quality of Illumination Entertainment's storytelling seems constantly to be in flux, the quality of their visuals and their animation is always high. The Lorax was a flawed, pretty unoriginal and not nearly fun enough film, but it looked bloody fantastic: the design of the forest and the characters was up their with the best of the year. Despicable Me 2 is equally visually impressive, toting bright, vibrant colours, fun character designs and over-the-top, full-bodied, exaggerated animation that is just as fun here as it was in Sony's Hotel Transylvania last year.

The film (particularly the first half) does feel a little episodic in structure though: Here's Gru at Agnes's birthday party, here's Gru with the Anti-Villain League, here's Gru working at the mall, here's some minion stuff. This doesn't provide the most cohesive structure in the world, but the film does get stronger as it goes on and is, crucially, constantly hilarious. I loved the first Despicable Me, but felt it lost its way a little during the third act, where all the actual moon-stealing stuff got a trifle ridiculous. In contrast, DM2 gets better as it goes along, with the resolution to the film being both impressive in spectacle and rewarding in emotion.

I'm harping on about how funny the film is, but that isn't to say that it's devoid of emotion - in fact, there is some heart and feeling to be found amongst the slapstick, fart guns and minions - but just to hammer home that the film is an absolute riot from beginning to end; this is easily the funniest animated film in recent years.

There was a bit of a quibble with the film recently, when it was announced that Al Pacino, who had long been announced as voicing the film's villain and had in fact already recorded his parts, had left the project - citing "creative differences". Benjamin Bratt (who plays Manny's dad, Javier Delgado, on Modern Family) stepped in to replace Pacino (not an enviable task). This caused some concern at the time, but I didn't notice any jarring lack of lip-sync with the character in the film. In fact, I thoroughly enjoyed the villain: he was energetic, flamboyant, a little ridiculous and just ultimately a very memorable villain - more so than the already rather good Vector from the first film.

The entire voice cast was pretty spot on, actually. What made the first Despicable Me's voice acting so great is what makes 2's great too: the actors aren't doing the "hey, look, it's me, A-list celebrity Steve Carrell!" kinda shtick - as we got with Nicolas Cage in The Croods - this is all the actors turning in frenetic, energetic, comical performances worthy of the film's cartoony, slapstick style. Kristen Wiig was unsurprisingly very fun, and Russell Brand was entertaining despite his limited screentime. New additions Steve Coogan and Ken Jeong were both hilarious in their respective roles as the head of the AVL, Silas Ramsbottom (ha. Bottom.), and a Paradise Mall wig store owner. But it was young Elsie Fisher turning in another "oh please can I keep her?"-inducing performance as Agnes that was the real highlight. The music too - again by Pharrell Williams and Heitor Pereira - was very good.

I liked The Croods, I liked Epic - less so, but I liked it - but Despicable Me 2 is easily the best animated film of 2013 so far, and in fact the funniest film of the summer. Before you jump to thinking that's me throwing Pixar under the bus, remember that Monsters University still hasn't opened here in the UK yet. That said, MU can be as marvellously intricate, beautifully animated and resonantly poignant as it likes, but it's going to have a very hard time being quite as fun as Despicable Me 2.


If you've seen the film, what did you think of it? How does it compare to Monsters U? How do you think it compares to the first film? If you haven't seen it, do yourself a favour, go and do so now.


The next film in the Despicable Me franchise, Minions, - or, as it was referred to during the end credits of Despicable Me 2, The Minion Movie - is due on 19th December, 2014. It stars Sandra Bullock and Jon Hamm as she-villain Scarlet Overkill and her inventor husband Herb. The film is directed by Pierre Coffin and Kyle Balda (The Lorax).


  1. Munir Abedrabbo8 July 2013 at 16:49

    Great review William! I agree with pretty much of it. Is a great and immensely hilarious film! The only part I don't agree is that Megamind is a great film haha but that's another discussion.

    Is not better than MU in my opinion but still is a great film and is easily the second best animated film of the year so far. In a year that started disappointingly for animation, finally I'm seeing a ray of hope with these two great animated offerings.

  2. William Jardine8 July 2013 at 19:10

    Well we have to disagree on some things!... Epic, for instance. ;)

    Well I'll have to take your word for that until Friday! You're right in saying this year hasn't been all too stellar so far, especially compared to how great 2012 was for animation, but things are looking up!


  4. William Jardine9 July 2013 at 23:36

    HOORAY! You won't regret it! Monsters U for me this Friday, maybe Pacific Rim too if I'm feeling like getting rid of my money en masse.

  5. yeah im ready to see it and monsters u is good wait and find out i live in the us so i have seen it