MINIONS: THE RISE OF GRU - Review - We Are Movie Geeks



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(from left) Kevin, Gru (Steve Carell) and Stuart in Illumination’s Minions: The Rise of Gru, directed by Kyle Balda.

As we enter the “middle Month” of Summer, moviegoers will finally get to see another “franchise flick” that’s been sitting on the shelf for well over two years now, much akin to the high-flying pilots that have dominated the box office. In fact a major fast-food chain offered toys based on the title characters back in June of 2020, though I’m betting those meals were still pretty happy. As you guessed this is an animated feature looking to fill the screens as that Space Ranger blasts away to a streaming service. And this is a most unusual movie for a “tent-pole” picture as it is both a prequel and a sequel…of a spin-off. Yes, it’s another look at the beginning of everybody’s favorite super-villain “wannabe” and the aides that assist him (when they’re not causing chaos) in MINIONS: THE RISE OF GRU.

The story does take us back, waaay back to the golden days of 1976, when a major metropolis was under seige by the criminal genius gang known as the “Vicious Six” As the story begins we’re watching the getaway of member Belle Bottom (voice Of Taraji P. Henson), who’s just grabbed a rare map, and is helped by the other members of her team (Jean-Clawed, Stronghold, etc.). Safe at their lair, the leader of the Six, Wild Knuckles (Alan Arkin) lays out the journey to a remote tropical jungle where they will acquire a magical device known as the “Zodiac Stone”. Ah, but the mission doesn’t go as planned. Belle double- crosses Knuckles, snatching away the stone, and dropping him into the murky nearby waters. Meanwhile, pre-teen Gru (Steve Carell) endures grade school so he can get back home and hatch new plots in his secret headquarters under the suburban home he shares with his distracted Mum (Julie Andrews). Oh, that’s where his army of minions also live supervised by the main trio of Kevin, Stuart, and Bob (all voiced by Pierre Coffin). Checking the mailbox, Gru is ecstatic to get a reply letter from the Six (maybe he’ll replace Knuckles). Ah, but upon his arrival, Belle calls him a child and dismisses him, though not before he leaves with the Z Stone. And later he’s kidnapped along with his prize, as his main minions look on in horror. Just who has taken young Gru and the stone? Can the minions catch up to him for a rescue, or will the still fuming Six (now Five, really) get to him first?

I suppose we can consider this fifth flick (2nd Minions after 3 DESPICABLE ME entries) a twelve-year celebration of the series that really put Illumination Studios on the map (and partnered them with Universal). And despite most of the work being “farmed -out” to their European branch, the quality is consistent with their other efforts. Carell is still an engaging riff on the “Cold War” spy flick masterminds and the minions still engage in lots of slapstick coupled with their “baby-talk gibberish”. But it’s starting to wear more than a bit “thin”. Too many “passing gas” gags (!) and bare yellow bottoms, though the very-youngest viewers can’t get enough (for the post-school crowd, we’re filled to the brim). The new voices are a welcome addition with many classic film “baddies” and even action heroes getting brief bits (Dolph Lundgren, Danny Trejo). Especially welcome is Arkin who appears to be doing a parody of his WAIT UNTIL DARK killer creeper. Henson’s has lots of funky fury,, though the character isn’t given much to do. Parents may appreciate the 70s pop songs and that era’s fads and fashions (flared hair, pet rocks), which are re-created in pastel candy colors. But the entire end product proves that three isn’t always a “magic number” as a trio of directors and writers have the story moving in sluggish spurts with odd detours ( a long subplot of the minions learning martial arts skills from a Michelle Yeoh acupuncturist seems “tacked on” for the overseas Asian markets). Plus it feels as though the producers were “beaten to the punch” as the recent animated caper THE BAD GUYS explored similar themes more vividly while this flick languished on “the shelf”. And it’s odd that one of this film’s biggest laughs comes from the use of a rotary phone ( a red one, not THE BLACK PHONE). And. like many recent animated features, the action set-pieces slow down long enough for the characters to give out a long scream into the audience’s face as their eyes “bug-out’ in fear. The constant use of this “technique’ is exhausting. The “pre-K’ set may still have “giggle-fits” at this yellow “pill-shape” destructive demons, but most animation afficianados will hope that MINIONS: THE RISE OF GRU will end its ascent. Of course, another DESPICABLE ME is in the works for 2024, so…

One and a Half Out of Four

MINIONS: THE RISE OF GRU is now playing in theatres everywhere

Jim Batts was a contestant on the movie edition of TV's "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" in 2009 and has been a member of the St. Louis Film Critics organization since 2013.

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