Directed by Pierre Coffin & Kyle Balda
Written by Cinco Paul & Ken Daurio
Illumination Studios has seen tremendous success with its Despicable Me franchise which has spawned now two sequels and a Minions spin-off for the lovable, nondescript yellow henchmen. When Despicable Me came out in 2010, it was a breath of fresh air, something different from Pixar, and quite frankly all the other studios trying to mimic Pixar. Illumination paved its own path with a semi-evil, semi-violent, semi-likable lead character named Gru, voiced extremely well by Steve Carrell. I wonder, though, if after now four movies within this universe, if the studio is running out of momentum, and even worse, running out of fresh ideas. Despicable Me 3, the latest installment, feels stale.
After throwing out the evil charm of Gru in the first installment, Despicable Me 2 saw Gru (Carrell) turn to the good guys, fighting bad guys with the Anti-Villain League. Here, we pick up where we left off with Gru, now married to Lucy (Kristen Wiig), on a mission to stop super villain Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker) from stealing the world’s largest diamond. After they stop the heist, but let the former child-star turned villain Bratt get away, Gru and Lucy are let go from the AVL. Soon Gru finds he has a long lost twin brother, Dru (also Carrell), which takes the family (with Lucy still trying to impress as the girls’ new mom) to a new place, where Dru tries to once again convince Gru to do evil.
I started this review saying I though the studio was running out of fresh ideas for this franchise, and I truly do. But I didn’t mean they were running out of ideas altogether. Despicable Me 3 is full of ideas. So much so that it comes off like Illumination and directors Pierre Coffin and Kyle Balda and just throwing everything against the wall to see what sticks. Spoiler alert: not much. The biggest problem I had with this film was how many directions in which it pulls its audience. The subplots, and the subplots to the subplots. Like Agnes searching for a real life unicorn, or Margo ending up engaged to a cheese-toting little Italian boy. As a result of being pulled in a million different directions, nothing ever feels developed, even the main rivalry between Gru and Bratt.
All of this is a shame, because at its core, I believe this film has a good idea. The persona of Bratt, while an obvious 80s homage in hopes of pulling in the parents in the crowd, is actually quite infectious. The manner in which the character is designed and animated brings an infectious and rhythmic cadence every time he comes around. The 80s music and style is a cheap homage, but that doesn’t stop it from being cool and fun at the same time. Bratt’s villainous ways are far better and more interesting than anything else going on in the film. It’s also confusing as to what the main plot is really supposed to be – Gru/Dru, or stopping Bratt? None of the family drama is ever gripping enough to carry the scenes.
Despicable Me needs a shock to the system if it wishes to continue succeeding. Oh, this film will make plenty of money, probably mostly just for the minions. Minions are one of the greatest pop culture creations of the decade in my opinion, and they don’t disappoint here, stealing the screen anytime they appear, but that’s it. They’re comic relief. They proved with Minions that they can’t carry their own film, and now that Gru is on the good side, it’ll be on Illumination to bake up enough fun and interesting villains to go toe-to-toe with their leading man to continue their success. Otherwise, they risk sinking another installment in the franchise with superfluous, unfunny, uninteresting subplots, like they did with Despicable Me 3.