I’ve never seen a Despicable Me movie before. I’ve seen a 720p stream of Minions (2015), but I’ve never seen a Despicable Me movie before. In spite of this, nothing was lost on me when I walked into the School of Visual Arts’ theater and saw not the second, but the third installment in Illumination Entertainment’s hallmark franchise. In some cases, this is a good thing! It’s often a testament to good writing when a sequel can stand on its own. Is it a good thing this time? Eh, I dunno, maybe.
The movie starts off strong. An 80s-nostalgic TV broadcast defines for us our 80s-nostalgic villain, Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker), and we’re thrust into awesome 80s-nostalgic action sequences, utilizing clever props to give Bratt a comedic yet dangerous edge. When Gru (Steve Carell) enters the scene with wife Lucy (Kristen Wiig) on a mission to foil villain Balthazar Bratt’s plans to steal the biggest diamond in the world, I started playing catch up from the other two films. “Oh, I guess he turned good at some point? Cool. Oh, I guess he got married at some point? Alright.” Bratt escapes, and Jenny Slate fires Gru and Lucy from their positions at the Anti-Villain League, and then they have to tell their three daughters that they’re jobless. “Gru’s a dad I guess? Okay.” All caught up.
The whole movie kind of goes like that. You’re just processing information as you go, and there’s no real reason to care about anything other than the fact that it’s happening in front of you. I could write a think piece on how Despicable Me 3 is a high culture project meant to represent what it’s like to have depression, but I’m not going to do that.
After the cold open, the movie loses its charm quickly. What could have made for an excellent example of an Underminer/Rhino (The Incredibles /The Amazing Spider-Man 2 )-type character is instead an annoying and uninteresting main antagonist. When Balthazar Bratt is next seen in his Rubik’s Cube fortress, he instantly overstays his welcome, and you’re left to wonder whether the recent influx of 80s nostalgia in media is not the delight that it should be, but the next tired trend to capitalize on. Much like The Incredibles’ Syndrome – though this is an unpopular opinion – Balthazar Bratt’s motivations are severely underdeveloped.
Despicable Me 3 tries to be a lighter version of The Incredibles in a lot of ways. There’s the family dynamic, except instead of a subplot where an entire family is struggling, there’s a small storyline where Lucy is trying her best to be a good mom. There’s the subplot of a father’s need to relive his glory days, except instead of the common (and hyper-masculine) theme of a midlife crisis, there’s the uninteresting fact that Gru is just bored.
This doesn’t have to be a bad thing! It could’ve actually been very good, because whereas The Incredibles struggles throughout its entirety to figure out what kind of movie it’s trying to be, Despicable Me 3 embraces that it’s just a colorful romp right from the get-go. However, that doesn’t excuse it breezing past everything remotely captivating. When Gru is contacted by long-lost twin Dru (also Steve Carell) after Gru is fired, Gru’s decision to return to villainy is owed largely to the fact that the father he never knew was proud of what a good bad guy he was, whereas the mother he was raised by always looked down on him. This is good and gripping emotional development that is never given the chance to mature! Instead, Dru mentions this once in passing and then never again. Once Dru figures out that Gru [Spoiler Alert] is only back in the evil game as a means to get his family life back on track, what would have made for an interesting and well developed twist where Dru becomes the real antagonist of the movie instead becomes the shortest All Is Lost segment of the hero’s journey in history. The continuously boring Randy Marsh steals the kids and Gru and Dru apologize to one another before springing into action to save the day. I’m not an Incredibles fan, but at least that movie takes some risks.
The whole movie from post-cold open to the end feels like one big cleanup. This has to happen after this, in order for this happen so that this can happen, and so on. Too many subplots hold any of the main plots back from being fully developed, and while the Minion’s side story is always funny, it’s completely superfluous and unrelated to what the movie tells us we’re supposed to care about. In true Hollywood sequel fashion, everything in Despicable Me 3 is built off of already existing characters that we’ve grown to love, and we as an audience are expected to be satisfied with that alone.
Eh, it’s okay. The plot is crazy underdeveloped, but it’s never so boring that you’re falling asleep, and while kids’ movies should challenge their target audience at least a little bit and acknowledge that kids are much more able to comprehend grandiose themes than everybody thinks, they’ll latch on easily to the ever-entertaining Minions.