I wasn't the biggest fan of 2010's “Despicable Me.” It was this film that inspired me to begin using the term “junk food” to describe many kids' movies. By this, I mean that the film was a collection of dumb (usually annoying) humor that was likely to entertain kids, but wouldn't enrich them in any way. The humor in “Despicable Me 2” is about as useless, but at least this time around it seems sharper, with almost all of the new ideas succeeding even if there's too much reliance on the old ones.
The new movie sees reformed supervillain Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) as a full-time loving dad to his three adopted daughters. He now uses his “evil” expertise to throw the girls lavish birthday parties, make them incredible toys, and run an unsuccessful jelly business. The girls occasionally complain about not having a mother, but Gru figures the family is big enough if you count his live-in mad scientist (voiced by Russell Brand) and the hundreds of jellybean-like Minions who live under the house.
Gru's conversion to good guy is complete when he's recruited by the shadowy Anti-Villain League. They want him to use his inside knowledge of villainous tendencies to discover who stole a top-secret formula that turns harmless creatures into ravenous destructive forces. He's assigned a rookie partner named Lucy (voiced by Kristen Wiig) and the two go undercover in a shopping mall where he recognizes a restaurant owner named Eduardo (voiced by Benjamin Bratt) as former supervillain El Macho. Tensions rise further when Eduardo's teenage son (voiced by Moises Arias) puts the moves on Gru's daughter Margot (voiced by Miranda Cosgrove). Gru is determined to take down Eduardo at all costs. And if it turns out that he's El Macho and has the formula then so much the better.
Most of the film's funniest moments come from the new characters. Lucy is such a welcome presence that even her straight lines get laughs (I could be wrong, but I think the animators have her eyes move faster than the other characters' to create a more manic performance). It's no wonder that the other characters immediately consider her girlfriend/wife/mother material.
Eduardo is a delight, making it hard to stay mad at him for embodying a checklist of Mexican stereotypes. Even Eduardo's wannabe Casanova son has his moments. This is to say nothing of my favorite new character, whose identity I will only reveal if you email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The familiar humor is a mixed bag. The good news is that Gru's youngest daughter Agnes (voiced by Elsie Kate Fisher) is as cute and funny as ever. Forget the spy gadgets, Gru should just have Agnes spend some quality time around the new villain and see if she can get another evildoer to renounce their wicked ways.
But the film is sandbagged by those awful Minions, who exist for no other reason than to save the film from being considered smart. All they do is botch their jobs, fight with each other, and exert crude humor. I'm annoyed to no end that they're the face of the franchise. Actually, I take back what I said about them only existing to dumb things down. How silly of me, they're also there to sell toys.
Without the Minions, “Despicable Me 2” might have had a shot at being recognized as a respectable animated comedy. As it is, it is merely a moderately funny animated comedy with occasional painful humor.
This sequel shows improvement, so I don't need to dread the future of this franchise (and make no mistake, this franchise will have a future), but the inescapable presence of the Minions tells me that this is about as good as any “Despicable Me” film is going to get.
Two and a Half Stars out of Five.
The film is rated PG for rude humor and mild action. Its running time is 98 minutes.
Contact Bob Garver at email@example.com.