Despicable Me 3
(SPOILERS) The Illumination formula is at least reliable, consistently and comfortably crowd-pleasing where DreamWorks often seems faintly desperate (because they are – who's their distributor this week?) Despicable Me 3 ploughs the same cosy, affirmative furrow as its wholly safe predecessor. When I saw Despicable Me 2, I mentioned that it reminded me of Shrek 2 in its attempt to continue a story that was complete in itself. Despicable Me 3 is similarly redundant, suggesting the most airless of brainstorming sessions – Gru has the kids, the wife, the job, how about now he gets a sibling? – although this time I was put in mind of the Lethal Weapon sequels and their ability to continue churning out/expanding on the family vibe long after Riggs had become a (relatively) well-adjusted member of society.
The dual roles of Gru and Dru give Steve Carrell the chance to play opposite himself, the former villain's twin brother revealed as a contrastingly coiffed, upbeat would-be bad guy. Except he isn't very good at it, in a Rowan Atkinson kind of way. Gru is granted a legitimate reason to revert to old ways in that he's planning a theft from another villain, Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker), who snatched the world's largest diamond in the opening sequence.
Wife Lucy (Kristen Wiig) meanwhile, must traverse the perils of adoptive motherhood; cue much predictable sentimentalising and ass-kicking of anyone who might pose a potential danger to her brood. Of the kids, Agnes, purpose-built from the Pixar handbook of adorable infants, is still as resistibly cute as ever. I couldn't work out why Gru and Lucy needed to promise to find jobs after being sacked by the AVL, as they do an astonishing job of living the high life if they're hard up.
Bratt's a complete bust as a villain, screenwriters Cinco Paul and Ken Duario falling into the ever-present (it seems) nostalgia trap of referencing everything about their childhoods, which means he's all about the '80s (mullet, former child actor and TV show star, shell suit, moustache, repeated period soundtrack choices). It all seems tiresomely familiar, probably because we’ve had variations on the same since Zoolander and The Incredibles, and the intervening period has, on a bad day, felt like a relentless paean to the decade.
Despicable Me 3 can count itself lucky to have grossed as much as it did, given the relative scarcity of minion antics therein. They are, after all, the only real reason to watch, as the main franchise-topping performance of their spinoff movie proved. This time, they leave after Gru refuses to return to his villainous ways, but directors Pierre Coffin and Kyle Balda cut back to them more intermittently than before. There’s an amusing interlude in which they become the stars of a TV talent show (a cheerfully uproarious mangling of Gilbert and Sullivan's I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General) before being arrested and incarcerated. A whole movie could have been based on their doing stir, but this is about Gru, so they’re required to start missing him and breakout.
If you have a billion-grosser, you aren’t going to call time on your franchise, so a Despicable Me 4 is in the early planning stages. It will land after Minions 2 in 2020, although it's unclear which will pick up from this one's ending, in which Dru and the minions set off on their own villainous venture. Given the level of narrative inventiveness here, what’s the betting Gru discovers his dad faked his own death, inviting more affirmative intergenerational bonding? Illumination need to be careful not to outstay their welcome, as Ice Age was another unstoppable franchise. Until it wasn't.
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