There are a few easy to laugh moments, but the main villain's catchphrase is 'I've been a baaaaad boy' and I think that says enough about it.
The latest in Illumination Entertainment’s foremost franchise-vehicle, Despicable Me 3 (which, if you’re counting the 2015 Minions movie, is the fourth of its kind), trots out a funny little sequence that sees Gru (Steve Carell) and his recently reunited brother Dru (also Steve Carell) wield matching black and white skin-tight suits and climb, enter and navigate the booby-trap infested tower that villain Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker) calls home. Given that Bratt, a former child actor who played a young supervillain in a popular television show before being cancelled and swiftly forgotten as he reached puberty, is stuck in some sort of 80s time-warp, the pair are met with a horde of knock-off era gimmicks. This means giant self-inflating bubble-gum bombs, keytars that shoot out weaponised Van-Halen riffs, and a slew of 80s bops straight from the hands of Madonna, Michael Jackson, and a-ha. The slapstick is so palpable you can practically hear the stick slap, but it’s a nice sequence.
It’s that tight comic rhythm and coloured exuberance that makes the sequence, and a handful of others throughout the film, so great, but also makes it pretty damn obvious that the rest of the film is sucked entirely dry of it. That’s the thing with the Despicable Me films, and the rest of Illumination’s major output (The Secret Life of Pets, Sing, Hop), they’ve never really found what they are – unless you’re counting the Minions, which definitely count as something. Think about The Lego Movie, which set its bright-eyed, gags-ablazing aesthetic down in the first three minutes, or Inside Out which sparkled with a new ingenuity and understanding of children’s entertainment. But I’ve always thought of the Despicable Me series as a little bland. The latest instalment only confirms it.
As Gru finds himself free of his former villainous ways subsequent to the prior two films, recruited by the Anti-Villain League (AVL), the film seems to register on some level how miserably boring it is without its main attraction by bringing in Dru, yearning to be a villain after spilling the deets about their late, supervillain of a father who just wasn’t proud enough of him because he didn’t have the capacity to be bad. I can’t believe we’re in 2017 and kids movies are still using daddy issues as an admissible motivation. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 would be proud.
But apparently, somehow, their muddled plan to take down Bratt (whose catchphrase is literally ‘I’ve been a baaaad boy’. I’m not lying.) wasn’t enough to take up an entire 90 minutes, and we cut to a handful of subplots at regular intervals that aren’t even loosely tied to what takes an embarrassingly long time to ascertain as the central plotline. This includes, but isn’t limited to: the Minions abandoning Gru after he refuses to take up villainy, then realising their mistake, parading after him and getting imprisoned in the process; Gru’s youngest attempting to find a SOFLUFFYICOULDDIE unicorn in the woods but finding a one-horned goat instead; and Lucy (Kristen Wiig) getting to grips with motherhood (because of course) and facing off with a young Freedonian boy who is under the impression he is to be wed to Gru’s oldest, Margo, because of something to do with eating cheese. I honestly can’t explain the last one, but it’s there and it’s true and I’m going to leave it at that.
Personally, I would have preferred to sit through an hour and a half of Agnes’ quest to find the unicorn-turned-goat, all of which was far more interesting than whatever Gru was doing, self-inflating bubble-gum bombs and weaponized Van Halen riffs and all. Instead, the fourth outing of the Minion-infested universe falls short of its predecessors, and falls flat on its little yellow face trying to keep up. Russell Brand isn’t even in this one. But considering the series’ fans will toddle anywhere the franchise leads with Minion-like contentedness, here’s to it, for the next seven years and five sequels, and here’s to me, fed up and going home.
Despicable Me 3, directed by Pierre Coffin and Kyle Balda, is released through Universal Pictures. Rated U.