Minions: The Rise of Gru, 2022.
Directed by Kyle Balda.
Featuring the voice talents of Steve Carell, Pierre Coffin, Russell Brand, Alan Arkin, Taraji P. Henson, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Lucy Lawless, Dolph Lundgren, Danny Trejo, Michelle Yeoh, Julie Andrews, and RZA.
A fanboy of a supervillain supergroup known as the Vicious 6, Gru hatches a plan to become evil enough to join them, with the backup of his followers, the Minions.
Sometimes you have to do some good before the opportunity to be bad presents itself. Case in point, the titular Minions (Twinkie-figured yellow creatures wearing goggles and blue overalls, voiced by Pierre Coffin) and a young Gru (still voiced by Steve Carell) in 1976 find themselves centered as heroes, squaring off against a villain stable called the Vicious 6. The naming of the supervillain group brings to mind Marvel’s Sinister 6, and I feel comfortable saying that’s by design, considering Minions: The Rise of Gru (which is the fourth entry in the entire Despicable Me franchise) feels like it’s stealing from that successfully proven formula given that the third act boasts a noisy and colorful battle against them but transformed into unstoppable beasts coming from a stone’s supernatural power.
Aside from functioning as white noise, it brings to mind a more significant issue with Minions: The Rise of Gru in that director Kyle Balda (working with co-directors Brad Ableson and Jonathan del Val, all collaborating on a screenplay from Matthew Fogel with Brian Lynch also receiving a story credit) has shockingly little to do for the Vicious 6, which is monumentally disappointing factoring in that they are likable quirky villains and voiced by action legends. Jean-Claude Van Damme plays a supervillain with a crab claw for a hand and is named, wait for it… Jean-Clawed (he also finds himself operating a piece of machinery at one point reminiscent of the memorable robot crab boss battle from Final Fantasy VII). Lucy Lawless is also here as a mischievous nun skilled in the art of nunchucks, going by the moniker Nunchuk.
Unfortunately, these villains are nothing more than what meets the eye. They are led by Belle Bottom (voiced by Taraji P. Henson) upon betraying their aging leader Wild Knuckles (voiced by Alan Arkin), following a mission to obtain a powerful hidden stone containing the strength of six unstoppable beasts. Taraji P. Henson has the most lines and brings some spunk to the role, with Belle accepting a replacement application from Gru to join the league only to mock and belittle him during the audition. Sensitive and on the verge of tears, Gru decides to cop the stone, prompting a citywide chase that sees the Minions involved. One of those Minions also ends up with the stone, eventually going on to amusingly lose it in a way that proves to be annoying for Gru, especially since they escaped. Wild Knuckles also wants the stone back to stick it to his former partners in crime. He reacts by kidnapping Gru, who no longer has the stone, which means that the Minions have a short window to reclaim and deliver it before Gru is killed (it’s all cartoonish and still family-friendly). Of course, the Vicious 6 will not stop their pursuit, either.
That might sound like a hell of a lot going on for a Minions movie, but the filmmakers are sharp at keeping the proceedings moving to the next joke or action sequence while balancing the time for all these groups and their escapades. One particularly funny stretch sees a kung fu master voiced by Michelle Yeoh (hot off one of her best performances in Everything Everywhere All at Once) training a few Minions for combat. If you’re wondering how that comes to be, trust me when I say there are small groups of characters here constantly all over the place getting involved in shenanigans. It’s a visually anarchic sugar rush that is so stuffed with chaos and Minions inadvertently causing destruction that there’s not much time to pick apart flaws, which is most likely intentional.
When the filmmakers are playing off of the 1970s setting (whether it be clothing fashions, hairstyles, or numerous one-hit wonder needle-drops, sometimes sung by Minions), Minions: The Rise of Gru has a little extra charm going for it. But there is also no interest in straying away from the Minions enough to make something noteworthy out of the evil villain supergroup, which is the most interesting aspect here.
However, one good lesson does arise from the juxtaposition of Gru wanting to fire his incompetent underlings and finding a connection with the betrayed Wild Knuckles: stick with your friends, especially the loyal ones, rather than gunning for new ones just because they might make life easier or yourself more credible. Many people will probably take that advice before heading into the theater, sticking with a familiar, safe, and fun time with yet another Minions outing. Hopefully, they will notice this iteration is a bit over the place and too routine. Do something different; give me the Jean-Clawed origin story.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com