One of the things that instantly made the banana loving minions in Despicable Me so endearing was their ability to offer bursts of slapstick humour at just the right moment. Their childlike innocence provided a nice counterbalance to their seemingly more serious supervillain boss Gru (Steve Carell). However, much like indulging in one’s favourite dessert, the minions are best when consumed in moderation. Unlike its predecessor, 2015’s Minions, this is something that Kyle Balda’s charming Minions: The Rise of Gru understands in spades.
Picking up where the previous film left off, the overalls wearing minions have settled into the home of their newly found boss Gru. At only 11-years-old, Gru aspires to one day be part of the supervillain supergroup Vicious 6, whose members include Belle Bottom (Taraji P. Henson), Jean-Clawed (Jean-Claude Van Damme), Svengeance (Dolph Lundgren), Stronghold (Danny Trejo), Nun-Chuck (Lucy Lawless) and Gru’s idol Wild Knuckles (Alan Arkin). Little does the young supervillain in training realize that his chance at the big leagues might be arriving sooner than expected.
After pulling of their greatest heist yet, stealing the powerful Zodiac Stone, the Vicious 6 unceremoniously decide to oust their aging leader Wild Knuckles in favour of recruiting younger talent. While Gru’s application made the team’s shortlist of nominees, they assumed his height meant he was a little person and not still a kid. Spurned by the supergroups mocking rejection, Gru decides to steal the Zodiac Stone to prove he has the ruthlessness needed to join Vicious 6.
Unfortunately, when Otto, one of his loyal minions, inadvertently loses the stone, Gru ends up being abducted by a once presumed deceased Wild Knuckles. With both Knuckles and the Vicious 6 searching for the stone, it is up to the minions to find the mystical item and figure out how to save their boss in the process.
By bringing Gru back into the fold, Minions: The Rise of Gru manages to recapture the sense of fun and balance that was missing from the previous film. Rather than simply watching the minions move from one silly pratfall to the next for 90 minutes, this sequel offers more substance to offset the comedy. The abduction of Gru allows the story to branch of into three directions, each feeling like its own short film intertwined into a larger narrative.
The most fulfilling thread follows Gru as he goes from captive to mentee of Wild Knuckles. It is here where one see’s the compassion and genuine sense of adoration for the craft of villainy that makes Gru so endearing to fans. The minions take up the other two thirds of the film, they are the headliners of the film after all, with their special brand of comedy. Some of the funniest moments arrive in the arc where Kevin, Stuart, and Bob set out to San Francisco to find their boss and encounter acupuncturist and former Kung Fu teacher Master Chow (Michelle Yeoh). To a lesser extent, the narrative strand involving the chatterbox Otto searching for the medallion is light on plot beats, but full of comedic moments.
Maximizing its 1970s setting, including in its great soundtrack, Balda and co-director Brad Ableson and Jonathan del Val fill the film with plenty of gags that adult viewers of a certain age will love. Referencing everything from Tupperware parties to Evel Knievel to Easy Rider, there are jokes that will chisel a smile onto even the most stone-faced individual. The sequence involving the minions dressing up like 70’s pilots is a perfect example of this.
While the humor and narrative has greatly improved this time around, Minions: The Rise of Gru has some flaws that were present in the first film. One being that the spin-off franchise still has not figured out how to utilize the rouge gallery of villains in the criminal underworld the minions navigate through. Outside of Wild Knuckles and Belle Bottoms, most of the Vicious 6 lack any real personality. As a result, the climatic battle, which is just plain odd as it dips into ancient mysticism, is less engaging since one has little interest in what happens to most of the individuals involved.
The strange ending aside, the film is a pleasant surprise for those who detested Minions. Filled with plenty of humour and genuine heart, Minions: The Rise of Gru is a charming return to form for a franchise that once seemed at the end of its rope.