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TAC Reviews...Despicable Me Trilogy

 

The first instalment in this film series hit the big screen in 2010 with Steve Carell providing the voice for the protagonist Gru, an aging once-super villain that longs to hit the big time once again by performing the ultimate heist, stealing the Moon.

 

 

The original has spawned 2 sequels Despicable Me 2 released in 2013 and Despicable Me 3, the most recent of these films is currently being shown in cinemas now in 2017. The series also had a prequel which starred the Minions but I haven’t currently seen that one so it is not going to be part of this trilogy review.

 

Right now that the intro is out of the way, let’s get cracking…

 

TAC Reviews...Update

Since writing the above introduction and the three following reviews of the Despicable Me films I have also found the time to take a look at the spin-off prequel Minions. Now similarly to my Dead Space reviews I have done each film in the order in which I watched them not the order that they happen chronologically. So enjoy the reviews I have done for Despicable Me and it’s sequels, as well as Minions which follows afterwards.

 

TAC Reviews...Despicable Me

 

As I said above this film was released in 2010 with Steve Carell providing the voice for the titular villain, Gru. Joining him are the likes of Jason Segel who voices Vector, and Russell Brand as Gru’s assistant, Dr Nefario. This film introduced audiences to the Minions, cute little yellow creatures that speak in their own language, and seem to be indestructible to harm.

 

Despicable Me Poster

 

The film opens with the discovery that someone has stolen the Great Pyramid in Egypt, this new super villain apparently makes all other villains look lame. Enter Gru, a villain that has had some successes in the past but his days of super-villainy seem to be behind him. Not to be put off he approaches the Bank of Villains for a loan in order to build a rocket to pull off the biggest heist in history, the theft of the Moon. He is refused the loan until he can get a component essential for the heist – a shrink ray.

 

After he steals the ray, Gru is himself robbed by an up-and-coming villain named Vector, the one responsible for stealing the Pyramid.

 

In order to pull off the heist Gru needs the shrink ray but is unable to get through the defences in Vector’s home, however, whilst crawling out of a creator caused by missiles being fired at him Gru spots a trio of girls, selling cookies approaching the house. Much to his surprise, Vector deactivates all of his security measures to allow the girls in so that he can buy cookies from them.

 

Opting to adopt the three young girls, Gru decides to swap their cookies with robots, so he can send them back to Vector’s house so they can deactivate the defences from within allowing him to steal the shrink ray.

 

Things go well, he is able to get his hands on the ray but is then lumbered with three girls who are looking to him to be their new father…

 

Okay, let me get what bothered me the first time I saw this off my chest before we go any further. Gru is a man who is in his 40s (at least) and he adopts three young girls. So, as the film goes on he starts to grow increasingly attached to them until his villainy falls behind his love for the girls. Am I the only one who thinks it is a bit dodgy having a tall, dark and creepy man adopting three young girls??? Surely I cannot be the only one who raised an eyebrow or two when I saw this, Agnes keeps asking him for a goodnight kiss, and he falls in love with the girls as the film progresses. Yes, I get that he loves them as a father would love his daughters but it does strike me as a little creepy that no one would stop him adopting them in the first place, especially considering that he is obviously a sinister bloke and a well known villain. Why does the woman at the orphanage not question a file that is being typed up before her eyes when doing his background check???

 

Right, so now that is out of the way, how does the rest of the film stack up??

 

Honestly it is not bad.

 

I do like the sequence when the four are at the fair and Agnes is cheated out of winning a toy unicorn because it is the moment in which the relationship between Gru and the girls changes. I love key moments in films in which you can see the second when the relationships between characters change, like Stanley Goodspeed sticking up for John Mason in front of his daughter in The Rock, or Hunter and Ramsey clashing over the crew’s morale in Crimson Tide. The evolution of Gru’s transformation from villain to hero starts with that single moment because he does something that a villain would do, destroying the game, but the girls see it as something really cool.

 

Steve Carell does the voice of Gru and whilst you can tell that Carell is the man behind the voice, Gru has an accent of some kind, not sure what kind of accent he is supposed to have but it makes him sound unique. Honestly, to me his voice sounds like someone doing a voice rather than a natural voice someone might have, but it is a minor niggle and doesn’t distract from the rest of the film.

 

The idea of two villains clashing to become the greatest villain of all time is one that I like and the geeky Vector opposes grumpy Gru expertly. Jason Segal seems to be enjoying doing the voice and whilst it is not his own voice, it sounds more natural that Gru. He is a geek but he is also very intelligent and his Fortress of Vectortude complete with its own shark tank is pretty creative. Plus Mr Perkins in the Bank of Villains is pretty intimidating and it is obvious that Gru is more than a little intimidated by him.

 

Russell Brand is the voice of Dr Nefario, now whilst I am not fan of Brand (I think he is a prick) the Dr doesn’t sound like Brand so it is easy to enjoy his mad scientist type character who assists Gru with his evil schemes.

 

Probably the greatest thing this film gave the world were the Minions, little yellow creatures that remind me of the Oompa Loompas from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and serve as Gru’s  army. They have a language which they speak to each other but understand English, they are meant to be evil but they are quite adorable. Although they are all pretty much the same the filmmakers do try to give them individual personalities and they appear to be indestructible no matter what happens to them.

 

The Minions were the best thing about this film, because Gru adopting three young girls and proceeding to fall in love with them always make my skin crawl a little bit. I can’t say that it is a bad film, villains battling one another is pretty good and Vector is given enough screen time to flesh out his character and his motivations for being a villain. However, I can’t get past the older man adopting three children so he can use them to further his own purposes so as far as my Thumb goes I’ll leave it Horizontal.

 

 

6.5/10 – This film introduces the Minions which were the best thing about the movie, Gru being a villain turning into a hero is not the most original story in the world but I cannot deny that the film is colourful enough to make it worth a watch.

 

TAC Reviews...Despicable Me 2

 

The sequel to 2010’s Despicable Me sees Steve Carell returning to reprise the role as Gru, with Kirsten Wiig joining him again (but not as the lady who ran the orphanage like she was in the first film) rather as Lucy an agent for the Anti-Villain League. Russell Brand returns as Dr Nefario and the Minions also get more of a role plus screen time this time around.

 

Despicable Me 2 Poster

 

Gru adopting three young children was a pretty big flaw with the original film that left me with an icky factor but now that has been established this film has a chance to take things in a different direction. I honestly don’t know how much time has passed between the first and second films as none of the girls seemed to have aged and the voice actors for the three girls also return.

 

Gru, the reformed villain is determined to make an honest living for the sake of his three adopted daughters, but his endeavours only manage to produce a foul tasting jelly (or jam if you’re not American). A new villain has stolen a research facility from the Antarctic that was working on a formula that can turn any animal or human into an indestructible monster. The Anti-Villain League sends their agent Lucy to recruit Gru as they need his expertise on how a villain thinks to find out who has taken the formula.

 

Meanwhile Dr Nefario leaves Gru’s employ as he misses being a villain and the girls decide that Gru needs to start dating as he is alone and they want him to be happy. One of his neighbours is trying to set him up with one of her friends but Gru is reluctant to try dating as he has had bad experiences in the past.

 

Gru and Lucy are teamed up and set up in the Paradise Mall because traces of the formula have been tracked there meaning that one of the mall’s shop owners is a villain in disguise. The pair have to work out who is behind the theft of the formula and uncover what they are intending to do with it…

 

The key cast members reprise their roles from the previous ones and this film is smart enough to develop one of the best things about the last film, the Minions. The cute little yellow creatures get a much bigger role this time around than in the previous film and each seem to have more defined personalities than they did before. They are also instrumental to the secret villain’s plans for world domination and start being picked off during the film.

 

Gru’s character is further developed here, before he was the villain who is reformed by the innocence of the children, now he hasn’t got much going on in terms of employment. He doesn’t exactly jump at the chance of joining the AVL but ultimately decides that he misses the high action lifestyle of villainy and catching villains should be just as exciting.

 

Lucy, naturally, irritates him in the beginning but as they get closer sparks start to fly in which they realise that they want to be together. Yes, it is clichéd but you know what, by this time Gru is a reformed villain, he has given three orphans a home, so all he needs is a wife, and the girls a mother to make their family complete.

 

The girls have less to do this time around, but they still manage to be relevant to the story, Margo is at the head of this because she meets a boy and there seems to be an attraction. Gru is protective of his adopted daughter because he believes that the boy is trouble as he is the son of a Mall salsa restaurant owner that Gru believes to be the infamous villain El Macho.

 

Gru is right in his suspicions (obviously) and El Macho ultimately reveals his plan to use the serum to create an army that can destroy the world. Vector was a geek, El Macho is a villain that was considered to be a legend, he committed crimes using his bare hands, and seemingly died after riding a shark, loaded with explosives, into a volcano. He is a fun villain and gets enough screen time to steal a few scenes. El Macho is a better villain than the geeky Vector of the first film and his scheme is a lot more villainous because he is looking to straight up take over the world. He is even a fan of Gru from his villain days.

 

This film also boasts one of the best song-to-sequence scenes in any film, the song Happy which plays over a sequence in which Gru walks to work is so bubbly and perfectly captures how he is feeling in that moment. The sequence in which he walks home after receiving some bad news also suits the man Gru used to be, in the past he was mean, and had no faith in humanity. In this film he allowed himself to hope that he might meet someone, but when those hopes are seemingly dashed he is understandably upset, but it is Agnes who helps to cheer him up.

 

Ultimately this is a superior sequel to the original, the songs are catchier, the animation matches the voices perfectly. The Minions have more personality and whilst they are given more screen time they don’t have too much. El Macho is a great villain. Whilst the fact that Gru adopted a trio of girls in the first film left me feeling a little uncomfortable, in this film that feeling doesn’t rattle through me, as the story is better and Lucy falling for Gru is obvious but still charming. I am giving the film a Thumbs Up because it is the best one of the trilogy.

 

 

8/10 - Overall Despicable Me 2 is exactly what a sequel should be, it uses the first film as a stepping stone, and allows the characters to continue to evolve. Will the third film creatively called Despicable Me 3 be as good as this, or even better?? Well, read on to find out.

 

TAC Reviews...Despicable Me 3

 

Everyone’s favourite (well some people’s) villain turned hero returns for another adventure, this time around Gru must take on Benjamin Bratt (voiced by Trey Parker of South Park fame), joining him is his wife Lucy (Kirsten Wiig reprising the role from the second film) as well as his three adopted daughters, Margo, Agnes and Edith. Gru also meets his long-lost twin brother Dru (also voiced by Carell).

 

Despicable Me 3 Poster

 

This was a film that Abbie wanted to go and see, and so keen was she that we go and see it that she didn’t want to wait for a cheap Tuesday cinema or 2-4-1 Wednesday. So we went and saw it when the tickets were full price. One of the reasons I like cheap-Tuesday or 2-4-1 Wednesday is because even if the film is shit you have only paid half price so it softens the blow. Was Despicable Me 3 worth the price we paid?? Well, read on and I’ll tell you.

 

Gru and his wife Lucy are still working for the Anti-Villain League and are hot on the trail of a child-star turned villain named Benjamin Bratt. As a child Bratt had a successful TV show in which he played a child-villain but when he hit puberty and was no longer a cute kid his show was cancelled. Over time Bratt starts to believe that his is the villain that he portrayed and in his adult life has become a super-villain. Bratt attempts to steal a diamond from a tanker but is partially foiled by Gru, who retrieves the diamond, but Bratt escapes.

 

Soon afterwards, Gru and Lucy’s boss, Silas Ramsbottom (Steve Coogan reprising his role from the second film) announces his retirement from the AVL and his replacement, Valarie De Vinci promptly fires Gru for failing to capture Bratt. Sticking up for her husband Lucy tells De Vinci that if she is going to fire Gru, then she’ll have to fire her [Lucy] too, so they both end up fired…wah, wah, wahhhhh…

 

They tell the girls that they are now unemployed but assure them that they will get new jobs soon, the Minions meanwhile want Gru to return to villainy but he refuses so they all quit and end up getting arrested. Gru is then approached by a man claiming to be in the employ of Gru’s twin-brother Dru, not aware he had a brother Gru confronts his mother who confirms that he does and the pair was separated at birth with Dru going with their father and Gru with his mother. Both parents didn’t tell the children about their sibling and told them that the other parent died.

 

Gru and Co head to Freedonia where they learn that Dru is not only super-rich but that he also has a full head of hair and a very charming, flamboyant personality. He reveals to Gru that their father was also a famous super villain and whilst Dru has never been able to make it as a villain Gru could teach him and together they could become the greatest villains of all time.

 

Meanwhile Lucy seems to be struggling with being a Mum to the girls so sets about trying to bond with them.

 

Meanwhile, meanwhile Agnes learns that there is a forest in which real unicorns are said to exist, so sets out with Edith to find herself a unicorn.

 

Meanwhile, meanwhile, meanwhile Bratt prepares to unleash his ultimate weapon, something that will destroy Hollywood in revenge for them cancelling his show and leading him down the path of villainy.

 

Okay now you may have gathered from the above that once Gru and Co get to Freedonia, the plot really starts to lose focus. Unlike Despicable Me and Despicable Me 2 in which there was a single focus with everything feeding into that storyline, in Despicable Me 3 there are a bunch of story-threads that go nowhere. There is a cheese festival (or something) and a boy is left there with no girl having eaten his cheese (yes that is as weird as it sounds) so Lucy encourages Margo to go and eat the cheese. She reluctantly does but then it turns out the boy thinks they are now engaged, later he appears at Dru’s front door, and Lucy explains that they are not engaged. Moments later his angry mother appears but Lucy (basically) just tells her to bugger off and that is it, there are no further consequences and it is not mentioned again in the rest of the film – what was the point of it?? It isn’t funny and just seems to serve as a bit of filler in between sequences involving Gru and Dru. Similarly with Agnes looking for a unicorn in the woods with Edith, she goes to the woods and finds a one-horned goat which she mistakes for a real unicorn…does she not know what a goat looks like?? These are just a couple of examples of a plot that is all over the place, there are sequences with the Minions that ultimately serve no purpose…it seems like the writers didn’t know what to do with the characters. The girls were crucial to the story of Despicable Me and were somewhat less important in Despicable Me 2 (except keeping Gru on the straight and narrow I guess) but here they serve no real point and are just kind-of there.

 

Lucy seems to be struggling to bond with the girls, but there is nothing at the end of Despicable Me 2 which suggests Lucy and the girls don’t get on. Plus the only one she seems to spend any time with is Margo. The “tension” between them seems to be based around Lucy being too lenient with the three of them and her knowing when to be strict and when to let them have some fun. If Lucy is struggling to get on with the girls why not have a spin-off in which she takes them away whilst Gru is on a mission for the AVL where she has to rescue them after they get in trouble?? That could have been quite fun and interesting but no, we just get a couple of sequences in which we see her apparently failing to bond with Gru’s adopted daughters.

 

Gru’s voice has always struck me as being a little like someone putting on a voice as the inflections and tone always sounded a like someone doing a voice. However, it was never something that distracted before, sadly here is seems really obvious that Carell’s voice cannot do Gru’s voice any more. Whether it is his age or the strain the voice must put on his own voice, I don’t know, but whatever the reason this time around Gru’s voice sounds very forced. I could almost hear Carell straining to make Gru sound the way he did before, with Dru it is not quite so distracting but Gru is a character we’re already familiar with and his voice just doesn’t sound right.

 

Plus whilst I’m on the subject of voices, Kirsten Wiig is still fine as Lucy because she seems to just being speaking in her normal voice and whilst the actresses who voiced Margo and Edith to return from the previous films both sound too old to be voicing children. Margo especially sounds a lot older than she should, Margo is twelve but the voice coming from her throat definitely does not belong to a twelve-year old. However the most jarring of the voices in this film is the actress who has replaced Elsie Fisher as the voice of Agnes, as it sounds nothing like Fisher. It immediately stops you in your tracks the first time Agnes opens her mouth and speaks, she has the big eyes, and the cute innocent expression she had in the first two films, but her voice just doesn’t suit her. If Fisher is too old to voice her then fine but they could have got someone who sounded a little bit like she used to, honestly, it would have been less jarring if the voice of Mark Hamill’s Joker had escaped her lips when she speaks.

 

I don’t honestly know which is worse, someone taking over the role of a character who sounds nothing like the original actor or actress, or a character just not appearing. There is no Dr Nefario because he has apparently accidently frozen himself in carbonite (the stuff Han Solo is frozen in during Empire Strikes Back) so he naturally isn’t voiced. I have no love for Russell Brand, in fact I think the guy is a complete and utter knob-head, but it is a shame that Dr Nefario isn’t in the film. Perhaps that is because like the girls and the Minions the writers didn’t really have anything for him to do, and so he was written out.

 

I have to say that I really liked the character of Benjamin Bratt, which may have something to do with the 1980s sound track that follows him around, but he is not given enough screen time. Basically he is in the trailer and the finale and that is pretty much it. Both Vector and El Macho got time to establish who they are, and why they are doing what they are doing. Both had distinctive personality traits, Vector was a whiny-geek and El Macho was, well, Macho, but Bratt is not given any time to really establish his character. He was a child star rejected by Hollywood when he got too old…okay, fair enough but many child actors have fallen out of Hollywood favour when they’ve gotten older so what made Bratt become a villain?? Yes they say he started to believe he was the character he played in his TV show but that is a pretty throw away explanation. Vector was obviously trying to please his father by stealing the Moon, and El Macho wanted to become the greatest villain of all time…what does Bratt want?? To destroy Hollywood, that’s it. Plus when he does rock up in his giant robot, there is no military response, no police presence, no nothing. The finale of Despicable Me happened in the sky as Gru battled with Vector to get the girls back as the Moon started to return to its normal size. Despicable Me 2 took place at El Macho’s home so there was no reason for the authorities to be involved in either event, but a giant robot attacking a city, surely that is something that the police, or National Guard, or the Military should be getting involved in.  

 

This film is definitely suffering from Tired Trinity Syndrome (haven’t give a film that label for a while). It seems to exist for the sake of it. The story is all over the place, and whilst the animation is nice and colourful, the films seemed to be more like a collection of shorts that were stuck in a single film.

 

The Minions got a few laughs out of me I admit, but like the girls in the film they seem to be here just for the sake of it. I don’t know if what happens with them is somehow linked to their spin-off movie but it ultimately falls rather flat.

 

Ultimately Despicable Me 3 is a bit of a lazy effort, it made me smile a couple of times but I found the plot too distracting, too much was happening which ultimately lead to naught, and the one character that I would like to have seen more of, Benjamin Bratt, was barely in the film. Carell is not capable of doing Gru’s voice any longer and the film struggles with giving the characters enough to do. Basically this was not worth the FULL PRICE cinema ticket that I paid for so Abbie and I could see it, so I think that I’ll have to give it a Thumbs Down

 

 

5.5 – “Quit whilst you’re ahead” – wise words that Despicable Me 3 should have taken onboard. The film isn’t terrible and it can be entertaining. However it just doesn’t give the other characters a reason to really be there and struggles with trying to do too much whilst also really accomplishing nothing.

 

TAC Reviews...Minions

 

Set in the time Before Gru (or BG) Minions gives the audience an insight into the origins of the little yellow servants of Gru that first made their debut in Despicable Me in 2010. This spin-off film was released in 2015 after the second Despicable Me film in 2013 and features the voice talents of Sandra Bullock as Scarlet Overkill with Jennifer Saunders as the Queen of England. Steve Carrel also cameos as a young Gru.

 

Minions Poster

 

Side characters that are the most popular thing about a movie getting their own spin-off…such a thing has happened repeatedly throughout films, TV and video games. The Minions from the Despicable Me films were no different. They were cute and cuddly little creatures in Despicable Me and got a larger role in Despicable Me 2 so it was perhaps inevitable that they would receive their own film.

 

I will just drop in a reminder here that I saw this film after I had seen Despicable Me 3 even though it was released before.

 

The year is…er…sometime BG…

 

As far back as creation itself the Minions have always existed and they have always sought out the biggest and baddest thing they could so they could work for it…(yeah that frown and the why you are asking yourself isn’t important, just go with it). Sadly throughout history things did not go well with their bosses always ending up dead, and more often than not the well meaning but intellectually challenged Minions had something to do with their demise.

 

Throughout the centuries the Minions lost hope and retreated to a cave in a frozen wasteland, because without a boss to work for they lost their purpose. Then the Minion known as Kevin stepped up and announced that he was going to leave the cave, return to the world and find the best and baddest boss they could, thus giving the Minions a new purpose. Not wanting to send Kevin out alone Stuart also volunteers with Bob (who is stupid even by Minions’ standards).

 

So the three heroes set off into the world and eventually find themselves at Villain-Con, the meeting place for all current and up and coming villains. It is here they meet Scarlet Overkill and are determined to make her their new boss but naturally things don’t go according to plan…yeah, plot wise that is pretty much it.

 

Okay, let me get probably the biggest problem with the film out of the way first, the Minions are, by design, all meant to look basically the same. They all have the same basic size, and shape, they are all yellow, and have either one or two eyes. Plus they all have the same voice actor (Pierre Coffin) so they all sound the same too. I seriously doubt that anyone in the audience can tell them apart when they are in a crowd…

 

 

Seriously take a look at this image from Despicable Me and try to point out Kevin, Bob and Stuart…you can’t. I always thought it was supposed to be an in-joke that Gru and the girls seem to be able to tell the Minions apart but no one else is able to. However having said that, I am pretty sure that in Despicable Me Gru calls a Minion with one eye Kevin, but in the next film, he calls a minion with two eyes Kevin. Again perhaps this is supposed to be an in-joke and the Minions are only called Kevin, Bob or Stuart. As I write this I cannot recall the other minions being called other things but haven’t seen the other films for a bit…maybe there was a Dave in their somewhere…but I can’t honestly remember. If they are all only named Kevin, Bob or Stuart then it makes the Minions even more interchangeable and that is the fundamental flaw with the film, the Minions are all pretty much the same.

 

If we take a look at a more recent example of side characters becoming big enough for their own movie consider the Penguins in the Madagascar films. They became more and more popular getting larger roles in those films until they eventually got their own spin-off The Penguins of Madagascar that was set after the third and final Madagascar film. The thing is you know exactly which of the penguins is which; we have Skipper, Rico, Kowalski and Private. Each one has their own voice actor, a clear personality and it is easy to distinguish each one from the others in look, sound and design so in their spin-off the main stars have strong characters of their own. In Minions they don’t. Each Minion is a carbon copy of the other and so none of them have a strong enough personality to carry the events of the film.

 

So the biggest flaw in the film are the Minions themselves…which in a film about them is a pretty major flaw.

 

Still the film isn’t just about them and so we have the villain they are attempting to work for, Scarlet Overkill, unfortunately she just isn’t especially interesting or engaging. She wants to steal the crown jewels and dreams of being crowned Queen of England and through a series of contrived events this is what happens.

 

The Minions naturally prove to be her undoing but again it has already been established that is what the Minions do to their bosses. So all we’re seeing is a longer version of the opening sequence in which the Minions accidentally lead their new boss to their untimely end.

 

Sadly the film is really all over the place and seems to be almost a collection of shorts rather than a coherent film.

 

It is at its core a by the numbers prequel and basically goes nowhere. The Minions find themselves the boss they’ve always wanted by the end credits but this is basically a story that did need to be told. Yes in the Despicable Me films the Minions are cute, funny and so on, but what they lack is a distinctive character. One is the same as another and as a result basing a film on them was never going to work because they don’t have the personalities to carry it.

 

Is the film bad…well no I wouldn’t say that it is bad. It was just pointless, the Minions are cute and watching them struggle to find their dream boss is entertaining enough but realistically this is a film that was only made as a cash-grab. It serves no purpose; still it did get the occasional laugh out of me, and I did not find it dull enough to switch off. I think therefore that I’ll give it my Meh rating and leave my Thumb Horizontal because it is a film that really doesn’t need to exist.

 

 

5/10 – It is okay, it is average, and it will pass the time. Basically I watched it because it was free on Amazon Prime or Netflix (I forget which) so my advice is do the same if you have some time to kill. Just don’t expect much because this is a painfully average prequel that I seriously doubt the fans of the Despicable Me films were crying out for.

 

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© Chris Sharman