Review: As Origin Stories Go, Minions: The Rise of Gru Doesn’t Offer Any New Insights…or Even Much Entertainment

Admittedly, I’ve given up on keeping track of not only the stories of the Despicable Me/Minions movies, but also how may of them there even are. I believe the latest, Minions: The Rise of Gru, is the fifth overall feature, and it begins in the 1970s, when a 12-year-old boy named Gru (still voiced by Steve Carell) has fantasies of being the greatest supervillain the world has ever seen. But more than that, he wants to be a member of his favorite evil supergroup, the Vicious 6, led by a legendary Wild Knuckles (Alan Arkin). When Knuckles is double-crossed by the team’s other members, they hold auditions looking to fill his position, and Gru sees this as his chance to get into the group, despite his age. 

While the other members are impressed that someone so young already has henchmen (namely, the Minions), they practically laugh him out of the room. He shows them who the true evil genius is by stealing an ancient necklace, thinking this will endear him to them; instead, they go after him hard, forcing Gru and Minions Kevin, Stuart, Bob and newcomer Otto to flea. Eventually, Gru ends up seeking guidance from Wild Knuckles himself, who is also out to seek revenge on his former teammates.

If I’m being honest, as I write this, I saw this movie three days ago, and I barely remember specifics of the plot. What did stick out were the voice actors. The other members of the Vicious 6 include Dolph Lundgren as Svengeance; Danny Trejo as Stronghold; Jean-Claude Van Damme as Jean-Clawed (because he has a giant lobster claw for a hand); Lucy Lawless as Nun-Chuck; and Taraji P. Henson as new team leader Belle Bottom (sort of a villainous Foxy Brown). Michelle Yeoh shows up as kung fu master Chow; Russell Brand arrives as scientist Nefario; and even Julie Andrews is on hand as Gru’s mom. Throw in other actors like Will Arnett, RZA, and Steve Coogan, and you’ve got yourself a pretty impressive cast, but they’re given absolutely nothing funny or interesting to do.

Instead, the world will likely focus on the Minions (all of whom are voiced by Pierre Coffin), the yellow, pill-shaped creatures, speaking a mystery language that seems more like a mixture of French and Spanish, with a fascination with bananas. They’re kind of dopey, cute and easily put on the side of any merchandising without having to pay anyone for their likeness, so it’s a good deal for everybody. 

Directed by Kyle Balda (and co-directed by Brad Ableson and Jonathan del Val), working from a screenplay by Matthew Fogel, The Rise of Gru is simply another reminder that character means very little in most mainstream animated films that aren’t from Pixar. All you need to know is that Gru and the Minions are devoted to evil deeds but not really. The Minions supplanted Gru in his own franchise because kids find them cute and parents like giving kids things that are cute, even if they celebrate (or at least recognize) that bad behavior is sometimes a thing to be honored. But the Minions are also fiercely loyal, slightly dumb, and always willing to forgive. There are lessons to be learned from that too, I suppose, but you have to sit through a whole lot of junk to get there. This Minions adventure is highly skippable unless you are seriously into origin stories that teach us nothing about characters at the center of the tale.

The film is now in theaters.

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet
Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for
Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and
filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a
frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine.
He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently
owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for
the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer
for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the
city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.

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