Minions: The Rise of Gru benefits from low expectations. Arriving in theaters just two weeks after Pixar’s high-profile, frustrating new science fiction epic light year, the latest expansion to Illumination Entertainment’s most popular franchise doesn’t have to be groundbreaking, memorable, or even particularly hilarious to impress. In a dry summer that is light on big blockbusters, The Rise of Gru – the fifth feature spewing gibberish, indestructible, blob of henchmen, the color of bananas (which happen to be their favorite fruit) just need to do its job, get out and not linger in the mind for long. For that matter, The Rise of Gru does the job. This is neither a uniquely miraculous film nor a teeth-grinding pain. Right now it’s okay, and it evaporates once the credits start.
The Rise of Gru is strange for two reasons. First, while this is ostensibly a movie about the Minions, from some leaders Stuart and Kevin to childish Bob and others, they’re closer to supporting players in what amounts to Despicable I 0.5, while their supervillain Overlord Gru (voiced, as always, by Steve Carell) takes center stage. Stranger still, The Rise of Gru brims with plot details, even if it focuses primarily on the preteen version of Gru living in the mid-1970s. This young Gru is overrun by Minions, who have longed throughout history to serve a large, evil boss. (For now, Gru is their “mini-boss,” a phrase that causes him a lot of grief.)
While the Minions desperately want to prove their worth to the selfish Gru, Gru wants to prove to be worth to the legendary Vicious 6, a group of bad guys led by his favorite villain, the old hippie Wild Knuckles (Alan Arkin). Wild Knuckles, meanwhile, wants to return to the remaining Vicious 6, now led by Belle Bottom (Taraji P. Henson), who left him for dead after stealing a powerful Chinese totem that imbues its wearer with animal powers. Considering that Minions: The Rise of Gru is respectfully closed within 90 minutes, the amount of stuff what happens is a whirlwind at best, hopping from one hyper-action scene to another, and frenetic at worst.
If director Kyle Balda or writer Matthew Fogel could give the film a little breather, the telling of the story would feel more truly episodic. †Everything everywhere at once star Michelle Yeoh is utterly wasted as a San Francisco acupuncturist who is an afterthought as a kung fu master helping Stuart, Kevin and Bob learn a few martial arts skills.) Instead, The Rise of Gru is Illumination’s usual odd, frenetic, toppling balance of chases, slapstick, pop culture references and quick attempts to create pathos and emotion amid visual cacophony.
The Rise of Gru manages to be both bearable and full of missed opportunities, often in the same scene. Some of the adult-friendly references, like an opening credits with Gru and the Minions in silhouette intended to evoke an old-fashioned James Bond credits scene, are funny precisely because they’re so random. But casting choices meant to appeal to adults — like Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren, Danny Trejo, and Lucy Lawless who voice the rest of the Vicious 6 — don’t go beyond the concept stage: Wouldn’t it be funny if JCVD played a guy named Jean Clawed, who inexplicably has a lobster claw? Of course, unless the character has just a little bit of dialogue and no action in the movie other than randomly wielding that claw. While rise of GruThe fast pace is admirable, it moves so fast that none of the B-plots masquerading as A-plots can hold the viewers.
Amid all this, there are plenty of background references and cameos, which tie in with the other entries in the Despicable Me franchise. Many are flashing and you’ll miss it, but they’re also present enough that they were probably inserted to satisfy die-hard Minions fans. The creators aren’t stupid enough to require viewers to remember details from previous films in the series, but any parent who’s rewatched these films with their kids often enough might see a Steve Coogan and Russell Brand joke or cameo for a dollar-store version of a reward.
While the Minions—including a novice named Otto whose garrulousness bothers even his extended brethren—are more than enough to keep this movie moving, Carell and Arkin are the two brightest spots, in what amounts to a particularly strange Little Miss Sunshine meeting. Arkin’s moodiness is charming, and Carell (whose voice was presumably sweetened in post-production to make it sound more childish) is a fun foil as he personifies Gru’s boundless energy.
In the last moments of Minions: The Rise of Gruthe multitude of Minions sing an unreadable version of The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” which is perhaps a little too much, creatively speaking, in a summer when the family movie options have been both. rare and unsatisfactory. Minions: The Rise of Gru is a dutiful trademark filing, a spin-off that does indeed give us more of a sense of how a small kid with a Boris Badenov-esque accent turned into a super villain. As the song implies, the movie doesn’t give adults what we want, in that sense The Rise of Gru isn’t particularly entertaining or hilarious. It’s also not really what we need. But in a summer film season with meager harvests, it will suffice in terms of a short balm of the outdoor heat, even if it’s just a very quick fix.
Minions: The Rise of Gru opens in cinemas from July 1.