Minions: The Rise of Gru (2022) Review
THE RISE OF IMPROVEMENT FOR THIS
ANIMATED PREQUEL ENDEAVOR
In 2015, Illumination Entertainment released Minions, an animated spin-off tale to the Despicable Me series, and offered plenty of cartoon mischief for fans of the franchise. Directed by co-director Pierre Coffin and Kyle Balda, the movie, which starred Sandra Bullock, Jon Hamm, Michael Keaton, and Allison Janney, followed the journey of the Minions (focusing on characters Bob, Stuart, and Kevin) as they travel the world in search of a new leader to follow as well as stopping the efforts made by popular supervillain named Scarlett Overkill. Despite facing mixed reviews and thoughts from both critics and moviegoers alike, Minions, which was praised for its animation, voice acting, and score, was a surprising and major box office success, raking in roughly $1.15 billion at the global box office as well as becoming the fifth highest grossing film of 2015. Thus, given the amount of money that the film had received during its theatrical run, a sequel Minions movie was eventually put into the works following the release of 2017’s Despicable Me 3. Now, almost seven years later since the release of the first film, the Minions are back and ready to get caught up in more maniac tomfoolery in the movie Minions: The Rise of Gru. Is this sequel-prequel worth a look or has the franchise itself run of ideas for these small, yellow pill-shaped creatures?
In 1976, Gru (Steve Carrell) is a young evil mastermind; working on his ultimate plan to become the world’s most notorious supervillain, with his Minion henchmen happily working for their “mini boss”. Looking for inspiration, Gru finds hero worship in the Vicious 6, a super team of villains that includes Stronghold (Danny Trejo), Svengeance (Dolph Lundgren), Jean-Clawed (Jean-Claude Van Damme), Nun-Chuk (Lucy Lawless), and Belle Bottom (Taraji P. Henson) and during an operation to retrieve the all-powerful Zodiac Stone, the gang turns on their founder, Wild Knuckles (Alan Arkin), leaving him for dead. Learning of the new position opened in the elite group of supervillains, Gru applies for a chance to join the Vicious 6, only to be laughed out of the room. Although, Gru, on his way out, swipes the Zodiac Stone from the bad guys, commencing a fierce battle for ancient magic control that finds Gru encountering Wild Knuckles, learning more about the ways of evildoing from experience master who (in turn) wants to exact revenge on his former team. At the same time, some of Gru’s Minions, including Kevin, Stuart, Bob, and Otto (Pierre Coffin) head to San Francisco, receiving some unexpected kung fu training from Master Chow (Michelle Yeoh) along the way, as they search for their “mini-boss” and the Zodiac Stone.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
I will say that Despicable Me franchise is the flagship staple of Illumination Entertainment. While the animated studio has other films in their catalogue (i.e., The Secret Life of Pets, Sing, and The Grinch), Despicable Me is the one that has been expanded upon the most; providing plenty of cartoon humor and zany mischief that incorporates heart and warmth, especially in Gru’s relationship with his three adopted daughters. 2015’s Minions was an off shoot of the main series, with the prequel primarily focusing on the origins of the Minions in a time before meeting with Gru and, while that’s an interesting notion to present, the results were (at least to me) a bit of a mixed bag. Sure, the animation was great, and the voice talents were solid across the board (I personally loved Bullock as Scarlett Overkill), but the film itself (as many would come to realize) was a bit too weak to solely focus on the exploits and misadventures of three Minions characters. There just wasn’t enough substance to make a story centered around Bob, Kevin, and Stuart…. let alone an entire dedicated feature film to them. Plus, most of the movie’s jokes and gags were a bit “hit or miss”. I sure did laugh at few of them, but those were few and far between. Even more to the point, Minions lacked the emotional heart that the main Despicable Me subtly provided within the endeavor that, while not as palpable as say a Disney or Pixar film, still provides plenty of context to make it wholesome. Thus, in the end, Minions, despite having its fair share of problems, provide to be a an effective, yet imperfect spin-off endeavor; acting as a sort of “pit stop” or “steppingstone” placeholder for moviegoers until Despicable Me 3 came out.
Of course, this brings me back to talking about Minions: The Rise of Gru, a 2022 animated film, the fifth Despicable Me movie of the series, and the second installment of the Minions prequel narrative. Given how the 2015 ended, there was a little bit of room to provide a further continuation of this spin-off project, but it wasn’t fully there….at least for me. After the release of Despicable Me 3 in 2017, I was satisfied with the franchise, but felt like it had run its course a bit and really didn’t need a Despicable Me 4. Nevertheless, when it was announced that Minions 2 would be coming out, I was little bit leery about it, especially since that means that franchise would be returning back to the main focus of Minions and not so much on Gru and his family life of Margo, Edith, and Agnes as well as recent love interest Lucy. After its initial announcement, I really didn’t hear much about the upcoming film until sometime after the film’s movie trailers started to appear online and in “coming attractions” previews at the movies. From the trailers alone, the new Minions looked to be something a little bit better than its 2015 predecessor, which featured more of the character of Gru, a younger iteration of the character, and have more of a plot than just the Minions trying to be find a new master / boss. Thus, I was bit more interested in seeing Minions: The Rise of Gru was originally going to be released in theaters on July 3rd, 2020. Unfortunately, the film was one of the many 2020 movies that got delayed and shuffled around due to the on-going effects of the COVID-19 pandemic; further pushing back the new movie from 2020 to 2021, and then one last time in 2022, with a firm theatrical release date set for July 1st, 2022. I did the film a week after its release, but I had to get a few other movie reviews done and completed before tacking this particular animated feature. And what did I think of the movie? Well, both good and bad. While the feature does have its fair share of problems, Minions: The Rise of Gru has plenty goofy and large-than-life moments to make this Despicable Me prequel installment superior to its Minions predecessor. It’s still not quite as a good as the original Despicable entries, but it’s still plenty of zany and wacky fun throughout the cartoon feature.
Minions: The Rise of Gru is directed by Kyle Balda, whose previous directorial works includes co-directing 2015’s Minions as well as Despicable Me 3 and co-director for The Lorax. Given his overall familiarity with the Despicable Me franchise, Balda seems like a quite the reasonable (and suitable) choice to helm this latest project in this series; approaching the material with the same type of finesse and energy as he did with the previous two Despicable Me endeavors. To that end, Balda succeeds by creating a very kid-friendly and fun cinematic cartoon adventure for its various character to bounce around in for some harmless “juice box crowd” entertainment. While I did mention above that the first Minions movie felt a bit disjointed because the movie didn’t have much of a central plot nor a proper focus on its main characters, The Rise of Gru refocuses on that notion by placing a larger emphasis on the character of Gru, who is a younger iteration of the character from Despicable Me movies and not quite the “supervillain” that he would later become. Thus, Balda makes the movie exactly the “rise of Gru” by intertwining the film’s plot to make the character show his rise to villainy as a young age, including seeing a few callbacks and references to the main features. This then makes the film itself feel more like a direct prequel to the original Despicable Me feature (and its subsequent sequels) than the previous Minions flick and definitely has more substance to it than what was previously done. Like before, the movie will definitely strike a strong chord with its target audiences quite well, with lots of maniac and zany mischief and fun that is customary for a Despicable Me movie. Of course, this being a Minions 2 endeavor, Balda knows that many viewers have come to see the actual Minions character themselves of which they are plenty to see and laugh over in the film. The Rise of Gru, while having a better connection with the Despicable Me movies, is still a Minions feature; finding the likes of the little mischiefs running around and getting into all sorts of trouble is the order of the day. It works and provides plenty of humorous scenarios that are littered throughout. I did always like the Minions characters in the Despicable and it’s still great to see them again, especially though all the jokes and gags that await in this sequel motion picture.
This goes into another big part of Balda’s contribution to the movie, which is how fun The Rise of Gru. Yes, despite its problems and shortcomings, the movie itself is a fun ride to go on and, while it doesn’t hit all the right notes exactly, it’s still a entertaining to sit through. Of course, the younger audiences will enjoy more than the adults out there, but the movie is design for the “juice box” crowd in mind. Nevertheless, the overall enjoyment fun of the feature is worth a positive for me as it was an amusing animated film to just watch and get lost in for a good hour and half. Looking beyond, I would also say that the film’s pace moves at a pretty brisk pace. With the feature having a runtime of only 87 minutes (one hour and twenty-seven minutes), there is not a whole lot of bloated feeling in the movie, which is kind of a good thing, with Balda keeping his “eye on the prize” to make the feature function properly. Some substance could’ve been added a bit more, but more on that below. Suffice to say that Balda makes The Rise of Gru lean enough for its lean runtime to be effective by never straying away from the main plot and / or filled with unnecessary subplot threads. In the end, while not the absolute best, The Rise of Gru manages to be make the most of its narrative, with plenty of comedic angst and gags littered throughout as well as Balda keeping the feature light on its toes.
In terms of presentation, The Rise of Gru is solid animated feature; finding its dazzling array of colors have a very vibrant display throughout many of the feature’s scenes. Given the film’s narrative time setting (circa 1976), Balda and his team utilizes the 70s period throughout the feature, with the backdrop looking alive with its visual aesthetics as well as the costume outfit attire for many of its characters. Thus, the film’s era is nicely represented through its presentation, with Illumination Entertainment utilizing the latest CG effects and computer wizardry / artistry to bring this particular cartoon movie with such great detail. Seriously…. the level of detail that was used in The Rise of Gru was amazing and is definitely one of the studio’s best-looking films (as of reviewing this movie) to date. This, of course, means all the visual artiste team, the entire art department team, and cinematography work on the project should be commended for their work on the movie. Lastly, while the film’s score, which was composed by Heitor Pereira, is great and definitely helps bolster a lot of the various parts of the film through the usage of musical composition building, The Rise of Gru features a lot of songs in the picture and are quite fun to listen to throughout.
Unfortunately, The Rise of Gru isn’t quite as awesomely great, with the movie being weighed down by some problematic areas. These points of criticisms don’t derail the movie from being enjoyable, but hold the feature back from reaching cartoon greatness. Perhaps the most apparent in the film is the overall predicable nature of the film’s plot….and what goes along with that. Yes, the main story in The Rise of Gru is indeed quite the formulaic conception, with the narrative trending familiar territory quite often that it becomes a bit redundant at times. This, of course, means the movie’ script, which was penned by Matthew Fogel and Brian Lynch, doesn’t really color outside the lines of your standard animated feature film endeavor, with a set of problems that are atypical to follow, challenge, and eventually overcome in a very traditional manner. Sometimes this can be a good thing, but not in the case of The Rise of Gru, which does “drop the ball” in this category; producing a narrative that, while fun at times, is quite stale and predictable. To even had more salt to the wound, most of the narrative structure for the film is a bit haphazardly put together, with the movie feeling disconnected at times. Yes, I did praise Balda for keeping the feature more focused that the previous Minions movie, but still doesn’t help the fact that the feature’s story feels lacking in substance, especially in a few certain scenarios and even the film’s final big conflict.
This creates a sort of unbalanced feeling in several crucial parts, which hamper the movie down. The Rise of Gru could’ve been something a bit more with a beefed-up finessing in the storyboard process, but it just wallows in its predictable narrative as well as its underwhelming balance of juggling everything together. It wasn’t a complete “deal breaker” for me, but for some out there….it might. Additionally, struggles to find a medium within its heart and emotional. Well, basically, the movie doesn’t really have that much emotional heart. Much like the first Minions flick, The Rise of Gru doesn’t have that emotional connection. Of course, there is a slight one with the bond between Gru and White Knuckles, but that’s very strenuous and shouldn’t be the “crutch” for the entire feature. This (again) goes back to the unbalanced nature that the film has, including some of the film’s character getting sidelined.
Much like the previous movies in the franchise, the greatest strength of the movie lies within the various recognizable voice talents that brings these colorful characters with strong (and almost) memorable performances more so than the actual story being told in the animated endeavor. The Rise of Gru fits perfectly into the category, with the cast involved on the project elevating the points of criticism that weigh the feature down. However, some of these characters fell a bit generic and underwhelming in the feature. Perhaps the best (of course) in this Minions movie are the actual the Minions themselves, especially in the primary focus of Bob, Stuart, and Kevin. Like in the 2015 film, these three characters, who are once again voiced by Pierre Coffin, are the feature’s “bread and butter”, with a large emphasis on their personal journey to help find and save Gru. Additionally, each one as their own personal quirks and traits that are displayed, with Kevin being the leader of the trio, Stuart being the youngest of them, and Bob is more of the comic idiot (as the movie points out several times). Collectively, this trio works together much like the “three stooges”, with the group running around and getting caught up larger events. It worked in Minions (to a certain degree) and The Rise of Gru further proves that point by refine them slightly and make room for other major players in the narrative, which helps bolster the film more efficiently. Interestingly, the movie also introduces a new Minion character called Otto, who is also voiced by Coffin, and it’s quite an amusing journey that he goes solo on.
Behind Coffin, it’s also nice to see that actor Steve Carrell returning to his Despicable Me character in The Rise of the Gru as (of course) the younger version of Gru. Known for his roles in The Office, Foxcatcher, and The Big Short, Carell is no stranger to this particular cartoon franchise; headlining most of the films with his comical supervillain role of Gru. In The Rise of Gru, Carell shares the limelight a bit more with Coffin’s Minion character, yet he is still quite vital to the main narrative in the film, which (again) feels more like direct connection to the main Despicable Me storyline. Throughout the movie, we (the viewers) see how Gru starts to become a supervillain and Carrell is up to the task to interject the same type of humor, energy, and zippy one-liners into the character. Thus, regardless of if one doesn’t really particular care for the movie, there is no denying the fact that Carrell’s reprisal of Gru is terrific fun.
Behind Carrell’s Gru, the character of Wild Knuckles, a former member of the Vicious 6 and who is voiced by actor Alan Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine and Argo). To be honest, I wasn’t quite sure that this particular character was going to get enough screen time, but sure enough he had plenty and actually became part of the part of the movie’s plot, especially as a mentor-like character to Gru. Plus, Arkin has fun playing such a role like Wild Knuckles, which makes the character than much more endearing from beginning to end. I personally liked him in the movie and I’m sure a lot will do as well. Another great supporting character in the movie is the role of Master Chow, an acupuncturist and kung fu master who helps the Minion on their quest to save Gru and who is voiced by actress Michelle Yeoh (Crazy Rich Asians and Everything Everywhere All at Once). Yeoh is put to the task of playing such a character in a Minions movie and one can tell she had fun playing the role of Master Chow, with plenty of cheekiness as well as playing up the “old school” kung-fu master from vintage 70s era feature films. Yet, despite that, I felt that the character could’ve had been added a bit more than what was given, especially since she’s presented during the second act and then quickly dismissed by the time the movie reaches its climax. Still, for better or worse, Yeoh is another voice talent that is welcomed addition to the movie.
On the villains’ side, the character of Belle Bottom, the newly appointed leader of the Vicious 6, gets the attention for some screen time throughout the movie and makes for an interesting main baddie. Voiced by actress Taraji P. Henson (Hidden Figures and Empire), Belle Bottom has a unique character design by rocking the classic 70s African American attire and vibe, which makes for a visual fun antagonist. Additionally, Henson completely owns the voice, and her bombastic voice and personality comes through Belle Bottom’s character in the spades. As for her written character, she’s pretty straightforward and not much of a backstory other than just a simple bad guy looking for world domination. Still, Belle Bottom makes for a fun main bad guy in The Rise of Gru. Perhaps the most disappointing characters in The Rise of Gru are the rest of the team members that make-up the Vicious 6, which is a little bit of a shock because the recognizable voice talents behind them. This includes actor Dolph Lundgren (Rocky IV and Creed II) as the roller-skate bad guy Svengeance, actress Lucy Lawless (Xena: Warrior Princess and Spartacus) as the nun-chunk wielding nun who goes by the name of Nun-Chuck, actor Danny Trejo (Heat and Machete) as the big metal hands baddie Stronghold, and actor Jean-Claude Van Damme (JCVD and Double Impact) as giant mechanic lobster claw villain as Jean-Clawed. For most part, these antagonists are merely there to round out the “bad guys” team in the Vicious 6 and really don’t make an impact on either the film’s narrative nor on their own respective villainy. That being said, these characters are good physical constructs, with the animation artist deliver some fun-looking designs for the villains. I sort of kind of expected this a few minutes into the movie, so it didn’t bother me as much, but I would’ve been better
The rest of the cast, including actress Julia Andrews (The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins) as Gru’s mother Marlena, actor Russell Brand (Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Death on the Nile) as Dr. Nefario, actor Steve Coogan (Philomena and Alan Partridge) as AVL agent Silas Ramsbottom, actor Will Arnett (The LEGO Batman Movie and Up All Night) as the banker teller and the Bank of Evil called Mr. Perkins, musician artist / actor RZA (American Gangster and The Man with the Iron Fists) as the unnamed biker who befriends Otto in the movie, and actors Jimmy O. Yang (Crazy Rich Asians and Patriots Day), Kevin Michael Richardson (Mortal Kombat and Lilo & Stitch), and John DiMaggio (Futurama and Adventure Time) as White Knuckles three unnamed henchmen. While are delegated to smaller roles in the feature (making their appearance in this movie), the other half are younger iterations of Despicable Me characters and are a welcome sight for their cameo-like appearance throughout the feature as well as the return of the voice talents that had previous played them before is a small yet delightful treat.
Looking to fulfill his dream of being a supervillain, a young Gru seizes an opportunity to claim a coveted prize, which sets off a chain of events that involves him, the villainous Vicious 6, and several of Gru’s loyal minions off on adventure in the movie Minions: The Rise of Gru. Director Kyle Balda’s latest film sets the return of the spin-off Despicable Me endeavor by providing a prequel-style animated tale is loads of fun to watch and offers comical escapism to all who watch it While the movie does falter slightly with its conventional / formulaic plot, unbalanced structure, and a few underwhelming characters, the film still does manageable to a surprise hit, especially thanks to the film’s lighthearted humor, fun entertainment, Balda’s direction in a few parts, a solid visual presentation, and some terrific voice talents. Personally, I thought that this movie was good. It wasn’t great as the Despicable Me movies, especially the first one, but it definitely was an improvement upon 2015’s Minion. Still, the film was amusing and fun to watch and I, for one, enjoyed for it was. A good animated distraction. Thus, my recommendation for the movie is a favorable “recommended” as I’m sure it will delight the younger “juice box” audience as well as being an acceptable family friendly movie viewing. The film’s ending leaves a little wiggle room open for a possible third Minions movie, but I’m not quite sure about it, but I do have feeling that one might materialize. Or maybe just a Despicable Me 4 would suffice. In the end, Minions: The Rise of Gru sets out what it was made to accomplish…. providing a comical and high energy filled animated feature that breezy, light, colorful, and easy to digest for a vibrant (and often humorous) viewing cartoon experience that’s filled with everyone’s favorite yellow-ish pill-shaped beings and their “mini boss”.
3.8 Out of 5 (Recommended)
Released On: July 1st, 2022
Reviewed On: July 26th, 2022
Minions: The Rise of Gru is 88 minutes long and rated PG for some action/violence and rude humor