dir: Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud
I know, I know. There are far more 'important' recent flicks to review. Far more worthy. The list of stuff I've seen recently keeps growing, and my unease and terror at letting them get too old before putting them out there in review form keeps me up at night. So are you finally going to get to read my trenchant thoughts on The Great Gatsby? No. World War Z, or Hangover III, or Fast Furious 6, or worthier arthouse fare like The Place Beyond the Pines, or Mira Nair's latest The Reluctant Fundamentalist?
No, alas and alack, I'm sorry to say - no. In short, having watched Despicable Me 2 in the last few days, I am forced by my own psyche at virtual gunpoint to review this blessed film.
As sick as I am of the ubiquitous Steve Carrell, there's just something about these flicks that I really, really enjoy. The main premise of a monstrously egomaniacal super-villain becoming a nice person through the love of three little adoptive waifs is nothing new in the realms of fiction even if the setting and CGI and 3D make it seem flashy and shiny and new. Horrible misanthropes have been redeemed (incredibly, as in 'not credibly', much of the time in my humble opinion) in books and movies for the last century to the tune of one a week, probably. It's the premise of every Clint Eastwood film where he's not shooting people for looking at him funny or for not answering politely when he asks them to make his day. It's the premise of almost every film ever made - well, at least the one's where it's not about killing some guy for REVENGE.
Most of them don't make an impression upon me, but for some reason this one resonates with me. I have never been, that I know of, a villain or a super-villain in my life. And as far as the rest of you will ever know, it should be fairly obvious that I wasn't one of the people involved in stealing Picasso's Weeping Woman from the National Gallery, nor did I have any involvement in the Great Bookie Robbery, nor have I tried and succeeded in stealing Ayers Rock, replacing the original with a papier mache model. Though I have mastered my maniacal laugh *Mu-ha-ha!*
But what I might have possessed at certain stages in my immature life was a seemingly unshakeable misanthropy for the rest of our cursed species and for the entirety of this incredibly dumb planet and all the wretched things that occur upon it. Does the love of a good man or woman make all this fade away? Hell no, if anything it makes you hate the rest of the world even more for having kept you apart from them for so long.
The unconditional love of a child, though, the love of someone who doesn't know what wretchedness you've perpetrated, what awfullness you're capable of, well, it can make you want to be a better person, if only for them and no-one else.
And so we come to Gru (voiced by Steve Carrell). In the first film he was a Bond villain par excellence, except for the fact that he hadn't really achieved much yet. He has great gadgets, he loathes people, he has a great evil scientist inventing stuff for him, Dr Nefario (Russell Brand), and he has hundreds of stupid yellow minions to somewhat carry out his bidding.
He's 'evil', but he's incompetent, perhaps, and so his dastardly plans have never come to fruition, just as holds true for the rest of us. He came up with a scheme to infiltrate a rival villain's headquarters for the tech required to steal the moon, which somehow required orphans, and eventually they'd become the centre of his entire world, and he transformed into a slightly less monomaniacal person.
You know, it's pretty much the same way my own adoptive yet biological daughter came into my life. I was planning on stealing the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London, and needed a baby to distract the Beefeater guards that surround the safe at all times. While they were going to be muttering "hullo, hullo, hullo, what Dickensian abandoned foundling orphan do we have 'ere, then?", I was going to snatch the jewels, punch them in their and pinch the Queen on the bottom just for a laugh.
It was a different time, in the mid 2000s. Sexually harrassing the queen and stealing jewels worth more than some medium-sized nations' GDP seemed like a laugh back then, but now I realise that they would have been very wrong things to do, because when I looked into that child's eyes, I knew I'd never be the same man ever again, and that pulling off the Heist of the Century would have to wait at least until she was out of college.
As films they share not only this premise, but a great combination of being flat-out funny and almost unbearably saccharine sickly sweet. The treacly cutesiness when the littlest of his adoptees, being Agnes, ever speaks is almost so powerful that I might have gotten diabetes just from watching this flick.
At the very least I did sometimes laugh to the point of pain. Agonising, mind-tearing pain.
Gru, who was never really that evil, is now effectively neutered, but that's meant to be a good thing. He loves the three kids, Margot, Something and Agnes, and does all the embarrassing things loving parents are meant to do, like dressing up like Tinkerbell-inspired drag queens. You know, like every Saturday.
Being a declawed, defanged little critter, what else would Gru do but be dragged into a nonsensical and absurdly humourous plot where he has to be the hero instead of the villain. Even though, he was the hero in the first one anyway, because he never really did anything that bad.
He did pop someone's balloon once, so there's that I guess. And no, that's not a euphemism, or at least I don't think it is.
He's given a redheaded partner called Lucy (Kristen Wiig) with which to search for the actual villain who's planning to take over the world one purple fluffy steroided bunny at a time.
Sure there's a plot, and sure it's absurd, and I'm not sure whether it all hangs together, but I remember laughing out loud. Out Loud! That almost never happens. Mostly, it's everything to do with Gru that I find funny, or maybe it's just the strange pseudo-Russian, but I find almost every over-the-top or outright goofy thing this guy does funny.
The transition between the Good Day Gru was having, how filled with joy and love for the world and everything in it, versus the following sequence when his day has gone Bad, putting him in the monstrous mood he's more used to, had me laughing inappropriately. Really inappropriately, in a cinema full of kids and mothers.
However, when Gru sees someone whom he believes is also a supervillain, called El Macho, and relates the tale of just how villainous and macho El Macho was before he rode a shark strapped to a bomb into an exploding volcano, it made me laugh until I detached one of my retinas.
Strange things make me laugh. Sometimes I need the cerebral, sometimes I need the stupid. As much as I don't want to like the brainless yellow minions and their sheer idiocy, I have to admit their ferocious abandon made me laugh too. Their many scenes where they attack a problem with the dedication and single-mindedness of complete morons made me chuckle as well. The ‘fire alarm response’ moment, used and abused in the trailers, was pretty much a pinnacle, but the scene where an ice cream truck comes through the neighbourhood was pretty funny too. Most importantly, my kid was carrying on like her seat was receiving random electrical shocks.
I don’t care about the plot, no-one should care about the plot, but unfortunately getting Gru paired up with a female figure (for the children, you see) becomes so important later on that it made me want to vomit with rage. Despite being imperious and disdainful of humans, male or female his entire life, they now decided this character had to become even more castrated by domesticating him further with a blushing bride.
C’mon… Seriously. The shaved head, the turtleneck sweaters and scarfs, the former plans for world domination? I don’t think he was really needing a wife. What he needed was not what that flighty lady’s going to be able to provide, and the marriage he needs isn’t legal in our fair, enlightened land, at least not yet.
Marriage Equality for All, Brothers and Sisters!
As funny as seeing the awful dating scenes with an awful Jersey Shore reject were, and what happens at the end of the date thanks to an artfully aimed tranquiliser dart, who really needed this almost Disney-like fear of leaving any characters single at the end of a flick?
Leave him free to do what he does best: look after the kids, and the same thing he does every night, Pinky: Try to Take Over the World!
It’s funny, it moves briskly, it’s neither too adult nor too childish, and I had a ball watching it. I don’t ask for more than that out of an American animated movie.
8 times watching this kids’ flick wasn’t an exercise in agony out of 10
“You really should announce your weapons after you fire them. For example: Lipstick Taser!” – words of advice for young people – Despicable Me 2