Minions: The Rise Of Gru Review: Illumination’s Big Banana Is Officially Rotten

Maybe the Minions do make for better Facebook memes than movies.

Otto stands awkwardly among the rest of the Minions in Minions: The Rise of Gru.
(Image: © Universal/Illumination)

Animated franchises sometimes have rather wild trajectories – especially when you take into account how long it takes to make a movie in a series like Despicable Me. One year’s hot property in family cinema can be another’s abysmal failure, and the time from one point to another depends on where your franchise peaks. Arguably, 2012’s Despicable Me 2 seems to be that summit for Gru and his pals, as the slow monetary descent started with 2015’s Minions and continued with 2017’s Despicable Me 3. If Minions: The Rise of Gru is any indication, just based on the movie alone, then Illumination’s big box office banana is officially rotten.

Shifting into the soulful ‘70s, this second spinoff picture in the franchise sees Kevin, Stuart, and formerly King Bob (Pierre Coffin) firmly buddied up with young super-villain in training Gru (Steve Carell). As the team had assembled at the end of the first film, Minions 2 sees the mini-boss trying to land his dream gig as a member of the supervillain team, the Vicious 6.

Headed by new leader Belle Bottom (Taraji P. Henson), the group laughs off Gru’s application, which naturally sends him on his despicable way. While it’s a natural point to launch this story from, what results is a nearly 90-minute movie that feels longer, more chaotic, and less charming than any other installment in the Despicable Me canon.

The latest Minions installment squanders every opportunity to be a decent movie, and there are plenty.

The Minions were one of those cadres of sidekicks that were better off playing second fiddle to a lead like Gru. Yet Minions was still a pretty decent series starter. Just enough characters were added so that Kevin, Stuart, and Bob could expand their schtick, while the movie also maintained another story that could entertain the non-Minion enthralled audiences. 

Minions: The Rise of Gru really does try to use that formula to amp up its bigger, louder sequel, but it fails in more ways than one. Apparently three central Minions weren’t enough, as the awkward Otto (Pierre Coffin) is now a fourth Minion with a name and a quest. Audiences are now treated to two separate Minion storylines, on top of the Vicious 6/Gru story that plays out. A lot more characters are expected to be doing things in Minions latest chapter, and they definitely do. But few of the angles can be considered a story worth following.

Perhaps the one and only prospect that would have made sense is the mentorship between Gru and recently ousted Vicious 6 leader Wild Knuckles (Alan Arkin). Showcasing the sweetness that Despicable Me’s protagonist would lose and regain in his own adventures, those moments simply come out looking the best when sifting through everything else Minions: The Rise of Gru has to offer. 

Keep in mind, this is a movie that packs its cast with the likes of Lucy Lawless, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren, Danny Trejo, Michelle Yeoh, and Dame Julie Andrews. Yet for as talented as this cast is, barely any time is spent with most of those names mentioned, and you’ll probably be disappointed to learn that such a killer roster isn’t given enough time to be recognized in this mess.

This is a movie that wants to be a Despicable Me sequel, but isn’t allowed to be due to the branding power of Minions.

Looking at the title itself, Minions: The Rise of Gru calls out its major problem before anyone even sees the movie: not all Minions fans want to see Gru’s story, and vice versa. At least in the Despicable Me trilogy you could expect both would be balanced, with Gru and his daughters maintaining prominence. The same cannot be said with Minions 2, as the result is so scattershot nobody gets what they want.

Now that the Minions have met Gru, you’d think that maybe Despicable Me: The Rise of Gru would have made more sense. After seeing the movie itself, I think that’s exactly what was intended from the beginning, as there’s tons of easter eggs and in-jokes with characters from the main series in the franchise appearing as younger incarnations. Three figures in particular appear throughout Minions: The Rise of Gru, standing out as moments that jab you in your side as if to say, “Remember them?” 

Were this to unfold as Gru’s story, there would have been room for Minion mayhem to slide into the background and give everyone a movie that would have felt like an easier fit. That was never going to happen though, as it seems  the marketability of the Minions was meant to mash some more bananas at the box office. Succumbing to the hold that these Facebook friendly fiends have, the returns that began to diminish after Despicable Me 2 plummet pretty far and pretty fast here. 

Minions: The Rise of Gru was never going to win this franchise any new fans; but this may be the first entry to actively annoy loyal ones.

Animated franchises tend to be critic-proof, as all the parents are hoping for with something like Minions: The Rise of Gru is something to entertain their children. But it appears that the well of ideas has finally run dry, as some jokes can only last so long, and the gibberish laden, PG-nudity filled antics of these yellow cretins can only entertain for so long.

While his name is in the title, Gru feels like an afterthought in his own saga, despite being the one character whose plot has the most laughs. That running total, the last I checked, was three. Outside of that, Minions: The Rise of Gru is a slog that tests the borders of franchise fatigue, bawdy family humor, and above all else, patience. 

Whether you're looking for a movie focused on the Minions, or a story that centers itself around Gru, you’re going to get neither here. A tug of war of competing stories and “characters” is what winds up on the screen with Minions: The Rise of Gru. The resulting casualties are prime needle drops, a stellar cast that could have shone brighter, and a franchise that could see its next installment crushed before it has a chance to begin. Then again, these are the Minions; and they find a way of surviving when you least expect it. 

Mike Reyes
Senior Movies Contributor

CinemaBlend's James Bond (expert). Also versed in Large Scale Aggressors, time travel, and Guillermo del Toro. He fights for The User.