Gru and his oddball family are back for some more hilarious villainy. Only this time Gru has sworn off a life of crime to look after his 3 new daughters and make jam. Of course it is not too long before Gru is back in the international crime game.
Despicable Me 2 suffers from the usual issue with a sequel to an original story, especially one that is character driven like Despicable Me was, in that the original has all the surprises. Fortunately this sequel doesn’t try too much to introduce new elements to spice up the story but instead opts to continue with the setup from the original with only minor changes. The result is that the viewer is immediately immersed in a warm and comfortable familiar environment (especially if, like me, you’ve only just watched the first film) and can just get on with enjoying the story rather than spending a long time learning about new characters and situations.
Of course there are some new characters and organisations. The Anti Villain League (AVL) is introduced, a mysterious organisation with a brief (from whom?) to combat international super-criminals. The most notable new character is AVL employee Lucy who is assigned to work with Gru and track down the latest bad guy. Since there are obviously multiple master criminals active in this world it makes sense that there is an organisation in existence to fight them but it feels a little awkward that there wasn’t a hint of the existence of the AVL in the previous film. This film is very good at tying in to the previous film with lots of subtle reference and background images but things like the AVL appearing out of thin air feel a little bit bolted on for convenience.
The last film left arch villain and Gru’s nemesis Vector stranded on a newly replaced moon so a new enemy is required for this movie. “El Macho” is introduced as a super villain with a macho reputation having supposedly died riding an explosive-packed shark into an active volcano from 10000 feet. No one is really sure why he did this, possibly he was just looking for the most macho thing to do at the time. Gru and Lucy’s assignment is to find out which of a parade of shop owners at a local mall is actually El Macho in disguise. I wonder if Vector is still on the moon…
Gru’s girls are as delightful as ever and, as in the first film, they and their relationship with their father are the real heart of the story. They have all grown up a little since the first film but are more or less the same characters as last time. Much to Gru’s dismay Margo has started to develop an interest in boys and he spends a lot of the film trying to “protect” her from these evil creatures. Edith has become even more of a tomboy and seems to have aspirations of becoming a ninja, as long as she can still wear her pink bobble hat. Agnes retains her endearing optimism and obsession with unicorns.
Gru has thrown himself into the role of father to the three girls and doesn’t seem to miss being a master criminal at all. His legitimate business ventures aren’t going too well though and the change of direction has not gone down well with some of his staff. When he’s given a chance to get back in the game but working for the good guys this time Gru jumps at the chance.
A lot of the plot revolves around situational comedy and the obvious growing romance between Gru and his new colleague Lucy. Interestingly, Lucy is played by Kristen Wiig who provided the voice for Miss Hattie, the evil mistress of the orphanage in the first film. While the budding romance between the 2 characters is formulaic and a bit obvious it is nicely done and fun to watch.
Lucy gets some of the best lines as well as some really cool gadgets (hers seem to work a lot better and are a lot less comical than the ones that Dr Nefario and the minions come up with for Gru). Some of the best scenes of the film are where Lucy and Gru work together, whether it is getting into a fight with a guard chicken while infiltrating a potential enemy hideout or tazing obnoxious dates and shipping them home strapped to the roof of the car. There is a great chemistry between the characters from the beginning.
Since this is a Despicable Me movie, of course the minions play a big part in this film. Their role is subtly changed from the first film. In the original the minions started as the surrogate children of Gru as well as his employees. Now that the girls are officially Gru’s children, the minions are still a part of the family but have moved more towards an employee role. Devoted to Gru and all his schemes, the minions are having just as much fun pressing fruit and making disgusting jam for Gru as they did stealing the moon in the first film. It is nice that the writers didn’t go down the obvious route of making the minions jealous of Gru’s new children and make them into the bad guys. Indeed the minions and the girls accept each other as part of the family from the start.
There are a few loose ends that would have been nice to see tied up. Most notably Margo’s boy troubles which are a big part of the first and second acts in the film are just dropped for the finale. Either a soppy happy ending or a satisfying revenge ending to that storyline would have been a nice conclusion but the very existence of the boy in question seems to have been erased from the final act.
Being a children’s film, and like the original, the plot is relatively simplistic and has some odd holes. For example, “El Macho” is a famous criminal who Gru seems to be very familiar with, possibly even having met him back in the day. However when Gru meets El’s alter-ego he doesn’t suspect anything despite the fact that the look very similar. This could be a nod to other characters in popular culture who hide their identities effectively just by changing clothes, putting on a mask or taking off their glasses, or it could be that it just doesn’t matter in such a silly film anyway.
Despicable Me 2 has some flaws and doesn’t quite come up to the standard of the original but it is still a great fun film. Some of the jokes don’t quite work and some scenes are a bit uncomfortable but most work well and have you laughing out loud. Most importantly the characters and relationships we love from the first film are preserved and developed which is lovely to watch. If you loved the first film you’ll really enjoy this one too.