Should I Watch..? 'Despicable Me 2' (2013)
What's the big deal?
Despicable Me 2 is a computer animated family comedy film released in 2013 and is the sequel to Despicable Me, obviously. Directed once again by Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud, the film sees supervillain Gru recruited as a spy when a new supervillain threatens world peace. The film's cast includes Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Benjamin Bratt, Russell Brand and Steve Coogan. The film became a box-office smash with global takings of around $970 million and received a positive reaction from critics. It was also nominated for two Academy Awards but lost out to the other hugely successful animation of 2013, Frozen. It was followed by the prequel spin-off Minions in 2015 while a third film in the franchise was released in 2017.
What's it about?
After a top secret research laboratory in the Arctic is literally snatched into the sky, the Anti-Villain League (AVL) have no choice but to recruit former supervillain Gru to help identify the culprit. After initially turning them down citing his commitment to his foster children Margo, Edith and Agnes, Gru reluctantly turns up with AVL agent Lucy Wilde. The lab was working on a powerful mutagen known as PX-41 and as luck would have it, traces of PX-41 have been detected at the local shopping mall.
Despite evidence suggesting that the unknown villain is wig-maker Floyd Eagle-San, Gru suspects that the owner of a Mexican restaurant in the mall is actually former supervillain El Macho who everyone thought had died years previously. As Gru's paranoia starts to get the better of him, he becomes distracted - by his growing attraction to Lucy as well as Margo's infatuation with El Macho's son...
What's to like?
It isn't often that a sequel manages to match the quality of the original, let alone exceed it. But Despicable Me 2 is an impressive feat of family comedy. This film isn't just funnier than the first one but better animated and more imaginative as well. The story is also superb with the sub-plots all coming together instead of pulling the film in different directions. And if you loved the Minions then you'll be in your element here as the yellow devils provide the majority of the laughs here. It's no surprise that they ended up in their own movie but without Gru, they simply aren't as funny.
Carell deliver another solid performance as Gru, encumbered as he is with his strange accent. But I think Bratt deserves a great deal of praise for his performance, given how late he came into the movie's production (see "Fun Facts" below). I like the fact that the film expanded on the overall world established in the first film, introducing super-spies like Lucy to compete against the likes of Gru. I would have liked a bit more characterisation for the three girls - who are essentially spectators this time around - as well as Dr Nefario who is once again despicably underused despite another good performance from Russell Brand.
- All the voice actors were filmed while recording their lines so that facial expressions and hand gestures could be animated to suit. Steve Carell's wife was amused at how similar Gru and her husband seemed to be at times.
- Both Wiig and Jeong played different characters in the first film. Wiig played Miss Hattie who ran the orphanage while Jeong played a talk-show host.
- Al Pacino was originally cast as El Macho but dropped out due to "creative differences". With the character already animated and with only a month before the film's premier, Benjamin Bratt stepped in and had to record his lines to fit the animation exactly.
What's not to like?
What made the first film stand out was the fact that throughout all the action, gadgets and slapstick from the Minions, the protagonists felt human due to Gru's warming to the three girls who also contributed to the family dynamic. Sadly, I felt Despicable Me 2 only paid lip service to such a strong and important angle - yes, the girls pressure Gru into giving in to his feelings for Lucy but like Gru's bad chat-up lines, it felt forced and ineffective. I also thought much more could have been done with the AVL who are introduced in such a cool, 007-style that I thought they would have had a much bigger part to play. Hopefully, they'll get a bit more screen-time in the future but with Gru's rehabilitation almost complete, I fear we've seen the last of him being... well, despicable.
Minor niggles aside, this is a strong family film that challenges the long-held belief that only Pixar can produce decent CG-family films. It's funnier and more entertaining than films like Brave or the limp Cars 2 and while the quality of the animation might not be as good (the thing still looks like a cartoon, for obvious reasons), there is an undeniable energy that has been lacking from Pixar's efforts of late.
Should I watch it?
Like I've said, it's a rare film that matches or even exceeds the first film but Despicable Me 2 is one such film. Loaded with humour, colour and excitement, it's another shot across the bows of HMS Pixar who suddenly look a little shaky in form. Imaginative, well-paced and able to overcome its flaws, this should be an instant addition to any family's movie collection. It also avoids pandering to the youngest of viewers, a mistake made by the one-trick-pony Minions. Devilishly good fun!
Great For: the whole family, fans of the first film, long car journeys if you're lucky enough to have DVD players in your car
Not So Great For: anyone fed up of the Minions, parents with impressionable kids, Pixar's previously rock-solid reputation
What else should I watch?
Plot-wise, it obviously helps if you've seen the first film which explains how a self-confessed megalomaniac super-villain came to share his world with three young girls. However, adult viewers might want to think twice about Minions which is a billion-dollar spin-off featuring the yellow devils getting up to all sorts of mischief in their garbled language. Made specifically for the younger viewers in mind, it will do nothing to prevent your little darlings from wanting every piece of merchandise out there - and there seems to be no limit...
As for Pixar, who are widely acknowledged as the kings of the genre, things don't look so rosy now that they have some serious competition at last. The Good Dinosaur was the lowest-grossing movie Pixar have released so far while neither Brave or Monsters University matched the universal acclaim given to the studio's earlier efforts. However, they still can produce the goods when they put their minds to it - Inside Out is a wonderfully touching and imaginative look inside the mind of a young girl experiencing a difficult period of her life and shows that if you want something unique, Pixar are still the ones to trust.
Eduardo "El Macho" Perez
Pierre Coffin & Chris Renaud
Cinco Paul & Ken Daurio
Release Date (UK)
28th June, 2013
Animation, Comedy, Family
Academy Award Nominations
Best Animated Feature Film, Best Original Song ("Happy")
© 2016 Benjamin Cox