Saturday, 24 August 2013

Despicable Me 2 (2013)

Despicable Me was the animated success story of 2010 which saw audiences embrace the story of super-villain Gru and his accidental move into family-life. It was a refreshing and original concept that quickly became a firm favourite with moviegoers. This was thanks in no small part to his little, yellow minions who provided the young audience with plenty of incredibly silly moments. As we all know, that film ended with Gru giving up on his plan to prove just how evil he is (by trying to steal the moon no less) and dedicate himself to his new daughters. So where did that leave us in terms of a sequel?

Despicable Me 2 opens with Gru (Steve Carell) adjusting to life as a single father having to deal with such missions as throwing children's parties, dating, interacting with pushy parents and raising his three young adopted daughters alone. After throwing in his evildoer towel, he has chosen to turn his hand to home-made jellies and jams. Unfortunately, Gru and his sidekicks aren't exactly naturals when it comes to stewing fruits. Despite his satisfaction at playing the doting dad, Gru can't help but suffer from the lack of excitement in his suburban life.

Thankfully, for both the super villain and his audience, Gru's life is turned upside down when he is kidnapped by Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig), an agent working for the Anti-Villain League. Her boss, the uptight and snooty Silas Ramsbottom (Steve Coogan), offers him the chance to work with them to help foil a plot by an, as yet, unknown criminal who is responsible for stealing an entire laboratory to get their hands on a dangerous chemical. Leading to a completely ridiculous and unnecessary sequence where Gru is placed in a mall so he can use his inside knowledge to guess who the culprit is.

So the man who can be credited with having once stolen the moon is now working for the good guys. And therein lies the problem. Gru was a fantastic character because we found ourselves caring about a man whose sole purpose was causing chaos. It was hard not to become embroiled in his struggle to chose between his evil deeds and his new role as father figure. However, this conflict between good and evil has been long forgotten in this sequel. No longer hoping to make a name for himself as a villain, Gru now spends his time worrying about his eldest daughter's move into the world of romance and Agnes' dream of him finding her a mother. These side-lines attempt to bring about the emotional aspects that fuelled the first but there is no getting away from the fact that something is missing. Gru is now a disappointing watered-down version of himself. He just doesn't have the same presence that he once had and there is a lack of energy in his family-sagas.

So Despicable Me 2 turns out to be anything but despicable. It's just another in a long-line of unnecessary sequels intended to squeeze as much money out of families as possible. There was no need to continue Gru's story aside from the fact that he and, more importantly, his tic-tac like minions were a big hit with the kids. It is these little yellow bastards who are the real stars of the show and they will certainly keep the youngsters watching falling out of the seats with laughter. Their hark back to a simpler brand of comedy, associated with the silent era of film, with a focus on over-the-top physical gags, visual jokes and pantomime. The Minions appeal because they were created as a symbol of silliness. They are nothing more than unadulterated fun.

However, the sequel is almost solely devoted to creating moments where the Minions are given freedom to lose control and reference as many popular trends as possible. It feels as though the dull search for the mysterious villain was simply created to glue these sequences together. Even the eventual reveal of the man Gru is searching for is rushed and he is never given the chance to explain just why we should be concerned about his plan. It's lazy film-making and the focus is clearly on potential merchandise (as the new breed of minion goes to show). Time that should have been given to setting out the various plot-strands has instead been used up to show Minions dressed in various costumes dancing or fighting each other.

Despicable Me 2 has the unavoidable feel of a sketch show that has been fleshed out with a flimsy story-arc that was written 5 minutes before the deadline. This means that the remaining cast never get a chance to make much of an impression and the returning characters are unable to remind us of what made them so great in the first film. Most notably seen in Gru's crazed scientist friend Dr Nefario (Russell Brand) who is brought out at the moments when an easy fix is required. Some great talent has been wasted in favour of cheap laughs. This film is miles away from its innovative predecessor and you feel it throughout.

Despicable Me 2 was created by the same team who brought us the first one and the team from Illumination Entertainment continue to channel the work of Chuck Jones in their follow-up. This is a animation that harks back to the early days with the Looney Tunes style humour, slapstick and in-your-face animation. It is a film that really makes use of cartoon physics and logic, where violence and danger have no deadly consequences and cars can turn into submarines and helicopters without any real effort. Despite the flaws involved, there is no doubt that Despicable Me 2 was an enjoyable film to watch and has enough to appeal to its older audience as well as the primary one.

For there can be no forgetting that this is a film intended to be enjoyed by young children and, looking at it from that point-of-view, it is a success. It may not have the overall slickness and precision that Monster's University had but it will certainly keep your young ones entertained. The older sections of the audience may find it disappointing after the freshness of Despicable Me but there is still enough of the same spirit and heart that appealed first time round. Whilst there have been far greater animated sequels, this one certainly does the job it intended to: get us all ready for the upcoming (and I'm guessing farcical) Minions movie.

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