"I want to be a super villain."
The Despicable Me franchise hasn't been the same in quite some time. Thankfully, for the most part, kids don't mind. So long as the yellow minions continue their hijinks. But it's hard to ignore the lack of creativity and ingenuity that exists within the mundane, lackluster box that is Minions: The Rise of Gru.
Set in the hustle and bustle of the 1970s, Steve Carell returns as twelve-year-old Gru, an aspiring supervillain and unapologetic fanboy of the Vicious Six, the most notorious villains on the planet. When a spot within the group opens up, the future baddie concocts a plan to join his heroes in their criminal ways. But the group, led by Taraji P. Henson's voiced Belle Bottom, can't see the potential, outcasting him without much thought.
Simple, anti-climatic, and downright silly, The Rise of Gru is as nonsensical as you would expect. Though built on heartwarming storytelling and stellar animation, the franchise's latest entry showcases how troublesome a character arc gets when imagination and inspiration are removed.
When Gru is turned away from the group during a quick, routine interview, he steals the elusive zodiac stone. His minions, always loyal, rarely helpful, assist in the impulsive operation. But for all their support, they are ultimately the ones who lose the stone (a pet rock is involved), setting in motion a series of events that includes a trip to San Francisco, where they will hopefully reunite with their leader.
Again, the film's story isn't great. But, unsurprising, the visuals hold their own.
Playing to the mind (and attention span) of the franchise's young fan base, The Rise of Gru utilizes bright colors, loud sounds, and fast movement to distract from an otherwise mild adventure. The by-the-numbers approach leaves much to be desired, even if the objective appears evident from the onset.
Michelle Yeoh, Alan Arkin, Lucy Lawless, Russell Brand, and Julie Andrews round out an awe-inspiring cast, though one has to wonder if any of them read the film's script before signing on. Uninteresting and underdeveloped, none of their characters are memorable as they sift through the city, attempting to reclaim the power-laden stone before midnight on Chinese New Year.
Outside of a trite premise, The Rise of Gru feels like something we've seen before, something done better. The jokes, one note from start to finish, fail to move the needle, giving viewers a dull taste in their mouth as they struggle to stay engaged. Even when Kevin, Stuart, and Bob enter an acupuncturist's studio and walk out masters in Kung Fu, there is little to capture your attention.
It isn't necessarily that everything is terrible. It just isn't good. Or interesting. Or exciting. And with so many side plots and tangent segments, there isn't much time to highlight the franchise's true stars: the minions.
When the characters meet, and Gru must save the day, gimmicky visuals take precedent during a somewhat restrained Chinese New Year. Likey a play for the franchise's international box office receipts, the story embraces the country's culture, integrating it with the fought-over stone. Visual similarities between it and 2008's Kung Fu Panda aside, our interest and care have faded by this point. And though kids will cheer for the bright colors, The Rise of Gru is a significant step back for a franchise that used to be a first mover in superhuman storytelling.