Even the title of DESPICABLE ME 2 doesn't make any sense. Remember how in the first film, the title referred to the villainous doings of its lead character Gru (voiced by Steve Carell)? By the end of that movie, he learned that being a bad guy wasn't so good, and he changed his evil ways and adopted three little girls…as one does. But as DESPICABLE ME 2 opens, Gru is the epitome of domestic bliss, minus a lady friend, which is actually one of the main plot points of the film. But not only is Gru no longer despicable, he actually helps out an organization called the Anti-Villain League to help them catch a particularly nasty baddie whose identity has yet to be uncovered. Gru knows bad, so they ask him for a little assist.
Putting my issue with the title aside, DESPICABLE ME 2 has made a few other adjustments, the biggest of which is pushing as many minions (most of whom are voiced by the film's directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud, who also did the first film) as possible to the front and center. If I'm not mistaken, the little capsule shaped creatures have their own movie coming out next year, so this makes some sense, since they are weirdly entertaining and always find ways to make me giggle. And it's a good thing too, because the rest of the film is whole-heartedly average.
One of the biggest surprises/letdowns for me is how little newcomer (to the franchise) Kristen Wiig is given to do. She plays Lucy, the AVL agent assigned to help Gru find the faceless villain, who the agency believes is hiding in plain site, running a business at a shopping mall; they just don't know which one, and the film follows Gru and Lucy as they go store by store, looking for villainous clues. Gru fixates on Eduardo (Benjamin Bratt), who runs a Mexican restaurant and Gru believes was once the notorious masked bad guy El Macho. Of course, his suspicions may be warped since Eduardo's suave son Antonio (Moises Arias) is making love eyes at Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), the oldest of Gru's daughters. Also a suspect is hairpiece salesman Floyd (Ken Jeong). My money was on Gru's recently departed partner in crime, Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand), who quits at the beginning of the film because he misses doing bad.
DESPICABLE ME 2 is certainly harmless enough and seems even more geared toward younger viewers than the first film, which is not necessarily a bad thing. There is some strong voice work by the likes of Steve Coogan, Kristen Schaal, Nasim Pedrad, and others, but outside of some outrageous behavior by the minions, the film lacks any real edge or big laughs. The one bright spot in the film comes in the final act when the minions are dosed with a serum that turns the little yellow guys into raging purple monsters that seem to eat everything and cause mayhem.
Certainly the film isn't as actively awful as this week's other big release, THE LONE RANGER, and Carell knows how to deliver his accented vaguely Eastern European drawl with a certain deadpan quality that I've always liked. But I sat through DESPICABLE ME 2 with a free-floating sense of missed opportunities everywhere I looked--the biggest being having Wiig be a part of this and no give her something to do beyond being Gru's sidekick/love interest. Did the filmmakers really need it to be her to pull of such a thankless role? Probably not. This is the mildest of recommendations, but the minions won me over just enough for me to say that your kids are probably going to drag you to it anyway, so you might as well go in knowing it's not the worst you could see this holiday weekend.