‘Minions’ are fun but not quite as ‘Despicable’

One of the posters for ‘Minions.”

(My apologies, Giga Readers, for the lateness of this and my previous movie review. I’ve been quite busy of late).

Gru’s pill-shaped, banana-colored henchmen steal every scene in the Despicable Me films, so it was only natural that they’d get their own movie. The question is whether their gibberish-fueled antics could be stretched out to a full-length feature. Surprisingly, it works better than even I expected.

After years of boredom and ennui, Kevin, Stuart and Bob leave their Minions tribe in search of a new boss for them all. They soon find themselves entangled with supervillainess Scarlet Overkill, who wants them to steal Queen Elizabeth’s crown.

Minions could be classified as a spin-off or a prequel. Perhaps “spin-off prequel” (or vice versa) would be the best description. It details the origin of the Minions tribe early on, but it mostly focuses on a harrowing adventure that brought the titular goofballs to the (somewhat) civilized world and introduced them to supervillainy. What makes it a little strange is the Minions seem to be ageless. It shows them attempting to help previous bosses throughout history—including a T-Rex and Napoleon—yet it’s implied these are the same Minions seen later and not descendants. For children this probably won’t mean much, but for everyone else it begs crazy questions like, “Are these guys immortal?” It would explain their comical durability as seen throughout the Despicable Me movies.

Unlike the Minions, though, their bosses don’t live as long. A running gag—one that borders on being bit dark for a family film—is how the Minions accidentally get their masters killed. A T-Rex falls into a volcano. A rock crushes a yeti’s head. Now, these deaths aren’t gruesome and are often off-screen, but it does seem a bit weird that an otherwise kid-friendly film would play death as a joke as frequently as it does.

However, this sort of edginess has been a staple of the series since the beginning. It manifests itself in other ways. One Minion uses a gadget called the “hypno-hat” to, well, hypnotize some British guards into doing a Full Monty-esque dance routine. It’s yet another example of a joke that, hopefully, goes over kids’ heads and hits their parents in the funny bone, yet I must admit it did seem a bit inappropriate.

Thankfully, most of the comedy is the usual Minions antics we’ve all come to love. Their seemingly nonsensical gibberish is in full swing as well as their penchant for getting into slapstick-fueled trouble. The stars in this one are the Three Stooges-like trio of Kevin, Stuart and Bob. Each of them have distinct personalities and quirks that not only play well off one another and others, but also generate much of the comedy. Kevin is the responsible one, always trying to do the right thing and help others; Stuart is a loyal musician; and Bob is a naïve but enthusiastic animal lover. That’s a recipe for shenanigans, if there ever was one. It also gives kids different characters to relate to, since the Minions have always been child-like.

The film’s greatest achievement is making these antics work for a feature-length film. Essentially, it takes the Minions’ scenes from both Despicable Me movies, which often served as colorful respites from the story, and stretches them to 100 minutes. Yet they never become boring or annoying. It’s a testament to the filmmakers and the strength of the Minions as characters.

I was once again struck by an unusual element of the world of these films: it’s full of supervillains (including a few new ones introduced in this story), but there doesn’t seem to be any superheroes in it. Perhaps it’s better that way. It helps to prevent it from becoming too cliché, since superheroes are all the rage at the moment. Although, an interesting story I could see for the inevitable Despicable Me 3 would be to have Gru and the Minions face a superhero.

Speaking of supervillains, Sandra Bullock almost steals the show from the Minions as their new “boss,” Scarlet Overkill (which is one of the best villain names I’ve ever heard). Equal parts funny, likable and homicidal, Scarlet is a loose cannon of a character who’s predictable and yet not. She always seems to be teetering on the brink of madness (I’m talking an almost Joker-like insanity). As with any good villain, she has a tragic backstory where she was bullied as a child, constantly told she was ugly. It compelled her to prove them all wrong by becoming the best supervillain(ess) of all time—and the queen of England. Yep, she wants the Minions to steal the crown so she can become queen simply to inflate her fragile ego. Hilarious and sympathetic.

Speaking of the Queen, she’s funny in her own right. Plucky and tough, she seems only slightly outmatched by the combined forces of the Minions and Scarlet. (SPOILER WARNING!) After she’s dethroned and Bob is inadvertently crowned king, she’s seen at an English pub arm-wrestling patrons. I was expecting she’d join the Minions in battling Scarlet for the climax, but she doesn’t appear again until afterward. It was an unfortunate missed opportunity.

Another expected but delightful guest star was a young Gru (voiced by Steve Carrell), who appears at the end and steals the crown from Scarlet after shooting her with his freeze ray. It was love at first sight for the Minions, who immediately chased after him despite him not warming up to them at first. It was a wonderful bow to tie onto the film. (SPOILERS END!)

While it isn’t quite as good as Despicable Me or as deep as Pixar’s Inside Out (which I wish I’d reviewed for GIGA, but I waited too long), it’s still a fun and hilarious summer flick for both kids and kids-at-heart.

Final Grade: B