Review: 'Despicable Me 2'

The sequelization of big studio films, which is really just rampant commercialism, has led to some interesting results. On one hand, you always want to see more of the characters you've grown to love, from "The Lord of the Rings" to "Iron Man" to, yes, even good ol' Bella Swan. The downside of this familiarity comes, sadly, with the temptation to merely do the same thing all over again. For if it worked once, why not just run it back, collect the check, and go about your merry way? "The Hangover Part II" was the worst modern version of a sequel turning in a lazy effort, though films such as "The Hobbit" and "Taken 2" aren't exactly blameless either. Where does "Despicable Me 2" land in this equation? Somewhere in the middle, never quite reaching the heights of "Monsters University" or most of the "Harry Potter" series, though never fully falling flat on its face.

Basically, "Despicable Me 2" is more than content to glide along, trading upon the goodwill generated by the original's charm. Precisely where does this become a bad thing? Well, if you ascribe to the notion each story must stand on its own, or perhaps if you believe in the idea of wanting each film you watch to bring a little something new to the table. "Despicable Me 2" doesn't check the box on either of those accolades. However, if you're looking for the always popular "good time," "Despicable Me 2" certainly has that going for it. The film is lovable, though in the same way an adorable puppy is, even when careening into the refrigerator in pursuit of a tennis ball or stumbling over wobbly feet on the way to feeding time.

This time around, Gru (Steve Carell) has gone legit, and his focus is the business of jams and jellies. Clearly, that's delightful, and his adorable trio of little ladies is back in full force too, together forming an unstoppable bond of cuteness. Still, none of this makes for a story arc, and so Gru is enlisted into the Anti-Villian League, brought into the fold to find an unknown baddie, one intent on building a group of monsters with a stolen secret formula. Gru going good comes along with a partner from the AVL, Lucy (Kristen Wiig), who naturally brings her own wonky charms to the story. The animated chemistry between Gru and Lucy is apparent, and the temptation to focus more on this plot device must have been seriously tempting (more on that shortly).

Unfortunately, "Despicable Me 2" isn't really about chasing down an evil-doer. There are plenty of asides, and these dalliances from the story sap some of the momentum from the piece. Many other themes are introduced in a relatively haphazard manner, leaving "Despicable Me 2" balancing numerous storylines, many of which have completely different tonal directions. Should Gru stay a bachelor? Do the girls need a mother figure? Once you've been evil, can you make the transition to positive deeds? Finally, how is Gru going to handle the oldest daughter, Margo, taking a shine to boys? As you can see, alternating chase scenes with parental frowns toward dating is a bit like neutral dropping your engine, and it leads to some clunkiness.

That said, "Despicable Me 2" is fun, especially near the culmination. Structural issues aside, it's impossible not to like these characters, all of them, rendered with love, always entertaining even when the story around them doesn't make much sense. The minions also routinely score on the comedy front, though let's be clear, they are basically glorified little yellow stooges. Their humor is completely based upon miscommunication and physical comedy. Again, not a bad thing, but a worry as the series goes forward, because physical comedy tends to wear thin if continually repeated. The strongest elements of the film are the father-daughter relationships, and in fact they may have been better off simply jettisoning the "save the world" angle, but ah yes, that's a trap, because while it would have made the movie better for adult viewing, just as with the Lucy-Gru attraction, it would have completely alienated any young minds watching. A nine-year-old doesn't want anything to do with protective parental hijinks or adults dating, so it's understandable why "Despicable Me 2" is somewhat muddled, because the intended audience ranges from seven to everybody else.

Near the end of "Despicable Me 2" there's a musical interlude that slays, and it's clear that the creators of the film were just dying to get to this bit, figuring (correctly) anyone who made it this far with a mere smirk would depart the theater with a huge smile.  "Despicable Me 2" is a generally effective sequel, even if it often doesn't qualify as a stand-alone bastion of cinema.

SCORE: 6.3 / 10

Laremy wrote the book on film criticism and thinks parenting a young lady about to date boys would be a nightmare.