Good sequels build on the films that they follow. They expand the scope of the fictional world. They create new arcs for characters to move through, furthering development seen in the previous story. They learn from previous mistakes and adapt to fix them. All of this, it turns out, was just too much to ask from Despicable Me 2.
Despicable Me 2 feels more like a first draft than a final product. Everything from the central storyline to small, immature gags feels like they were the first ideas that the creatives behind the movie came up with - and then they never took the time or effort to top themselves. The perfect illustration of this is the central antagonist El Macho (Benjamin Bratt), a supervillain who fakes his own death, leading Gru (Steve Carell) to team up with a group called the Anti-Villain League and track him down. It’s certainly convenient in setting up a plot and giving Gru something to do (outside of being half of a ham-fisted romantic relationship with his hyper, annoying crime-fighting partner Lucy, played by Kristen Wiig), but it’s half-baked. The movie never bothers to explain any of the character’s motivations, from why he left supervillainy behind, to his decision to opening a Mexican restaurant in a mall (I guess that’s just what stereotypical Mexican characters do).
Rather than doing any heavy lifting when it comes to story and character development, directors Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio just decide to throw the ever-popular Minions at the screen to eat up runtime. Armed with a seemingly endless number of baseline slapstick gags, the speechless unhelpful helpers soak up the small attention spans of the film’s youngest audience members while adults will only groan, shake their heads, and check the time. Even worse, whenever the plot makes a sharp left turn just to create an opportunity for the pill-shaped yellow henchmen to be in a strange new costume – be it relaxing on the beach or crashing into a room dressed up as firemen -- you can hear the sound of a cash register bell ringing as another variation on the same toy is sold.
The film is disastrous on a story level, but at the very least has some aesthetic value. Fitting with the first film, the sequel employs many different kinds of body shapes and sizes for its cast, both giving a fun variety to the world and helping inform the personalities of the characters. Similarly, it’s also hard not to appreciate the fact that most of the celebrity-filled voice cast – including both new and returning performers like Carell, Bratt, Wiig, Russell Brand, and Steve Coogan – actually attempts to hide their real identity and use a funny voice (something often found lacking in today’s feature-length animated fare). Pharrell Williams, who also did the music for the first film, provides the soundtrack with some catchy pop tracks that at least keep the energy level up.
I can’t claim to be a fan of the first Despicable Me, so I suppose it’s entirely possible that I’m just on a completely different wavelength than those who are. Someone who really loved the first movie will probably get just as much entertainment out of the second. But if you go into Despicable Me 2 hoping that it will change your mind about the burgeoning series, prepare to be sorely disappointed.