This film (without any ounce of hesitation) is one of my favourite animated films (of all times!)
After the hit-and-miss reaction that Despicable Me displayed to me I was slightly worried that Despicable Me 2 was going to be a similar deal, i.e. be entertaining but not great, a simple kid’s movie that serves to be bright and colourful with a few cheap laughs. But damn, this sequel hit all the right beats and even managed to add in some genuine emotion that helped to progress the characters (which I felt [for the most part] were completely wasted in the first film).
Things felt more focused within the sequel, refined even, to which the characters actually had “character” instead of being generic stereotypes for the purposes of lazy entertainment. Just because something is directed at children doesn’t mean that it has to feel dumb, or watered-down, it can still have a lot of heart, commitment, and meaning, instead of making it devoid of any real passion, thus simply being mindless art that clouds the children’s creativity and intelligence.
In Despicable Me I didn’t fully agree, or see any clear reasoning, for Gru turning good and becoming a father to his adopted children Margo, Edith, and Agnes. So thank God the pay-off is made perfectly clear from the very beginning of Despicable Me 2 because you see how happy he is, becoming content with his new lifestyle and it’s displayed rather sweetly. Plus, the girls all have defining characteristics now and so no longer come across as annoying, bratty children. They are one big happy family now, and they’re rather delightful to watch (especially when interacting with one another).
Margo is the smart girl who looks out for everyone, Edith is the strange girl who enjoys being a ninja throughout, and Agnes is just all-round cute with her odd behaviour and curiosity. But they all look up to Gru in their own personal way. But for the most part Agnes is the one you get attached with the most because of her brilliantly designed relationship with Gru.
Because she’s the youngest she enjoys the most attention through questions and childish understanding, but she’s also rather intelligent as well. We even have the neatly crafted arc of her acknowledging that she doesn’t have a mother, thus linking back to Gru wanting a sole-mate (with the two needs happily meeting in the middle for a great pay-off).
And as for Gru, he’s still Gru, but obviously his despicable behaviour has toned down quite a lot. However, he’s still rather evil at heart in how he speaks to certain people, quickly showcasing his sarcasm and disgust in interacting and showing care. As for the girls, he absolutely idolises them and this is where the heart of the story lies because it’s very believable. It’s just a massive shame that Despicable Me wasn’t able to give a solid reasoning as to why this change was necessary, but I look past that (and in many ways just completely skip over the first film in order to just enjoy this particular narrative as a successful stand-alone plotline).
One part of his development which I really enjoy is his encounter with father-hood, i.e. witnessing his eldest, Margo, interact for the first time with boys. Sure, it’s played out for laughs and overly exaggerated but it’s still fun to watch and displays some of the best animated comedy out there through the motion displayed. Also, his emotions are brought across extremely well which feels inline with his character.
And then of course you have his awkwardness around woman (which is shown to be caused by a horrible incident when he was a child [which you can’t help feeling sorry for him as the other kids were being massive pricks to him for no apparent reasoning]).
I also really love the main plot of Despicable Me 2, with Gru being appointed by the Ant-Villain League (abbreviated as AVL) in order to save the world, which is an ironic twist on Gru’s character considering in the last film he was desperately trying to be “the world’s GREATEST villain”. This becomes entertainment on its own as he must undergo a fun parody of the usual Spy clichés, even having to go undercover in order to discover the culprit.
But the true heart of this segment is his relationship with new partner Lucy Wilde, who is a rather odd character, to which I still don’t know whether I fully like her due to her annoyance at times through her overactive stupidity and loudness.
However, she is still a good character who is quick to bounce off Gru’s broody behaviour. At first he clearly hates her because of her attitudes and bounciness but soon comes to understand there are feelings between the two of them, and thus a cute little romantic sub-plot enters. It doesn’t feel forced and is paced out perfectly with everything else that is going on in the narrative. The romance is used accordingly and only really appears when it needs to, to which is at first a suggestion by Agnes, but later becomes reality upon Gru’s realisation (resulting in a perfect little moment between Gru and Agnes).
I liked how both Gru and Lucy had their own unique moment of clarity which matched their character’s quirkiness. Gru becomes overly happy by the idea of love, spewing rainbows out of his arse as he interacts with strangers, thereby spreading his joy with them. But then ends-up doing the exact opposite upon his day becoming less joyful, resulting in his usual despicable behaviour.
This was followed by Gru nervously trying to phone her, but ultimately destroys the phone with a flamethrower, whilst his Minions completely fail to put out the fire and cause more damage. Lucy, on the other-hand, starts seeing Gru everywhere she looks on the way to her new assignment in Australia, ultimately declaring her love for him as she jumps out of the plane, thus potentially putting every single passenger at risk (made even more laughable that her return to the plot ultimately has her in need of saving)
Whilst all this is going on the Minions are picked off one by one. This adds to my other delight with this sequel, it uses the Minions to the best of their ability. In Despicable Me they were under-used, just simply being a background ornament to help promote merchandise, but this time round they had a clear position, one that could be used accordingly, resulting in the main-plot ending-up revolving around them without detracting from the main character’s journey. And the few Minions remaining ended-up helping out Gru whenever they could, which resulted in some of the funniest scenes within the entire film.
Gru desperately tries to prove to the AVL that the culprit is El Macho, a villain that supposedly died 20 years prior (via the most extreme, over-the-top death imaginable), and despite countless misleads Gru eventually proves himself right. There is also the surprising reveal that Dr. Nefario (who left Gru near the beginning of the film to pursue new horizons) was helping El Macho the entire time. Although, he does quickly change back sides for the most pettiest of reasoning (despite desperately wanting to become a villain again earlier in the film).
Along with this is the rather clever incorporation of El Macho’s son, thus making him a further obstacle by having him interested in Margo, creating more conflict with the father and daughter relationship (until of course the son performs the dick move of dumping Margo for the latest model, resulting in Gru getting the last laugh after freezing him).
El Macho is a really good villain, another great quality to this sequel compared to the original, as he attempts to use Gru’s Minions (now turned into purple killing machines) to take over the world. This results in a fantastic third act which feels both explosive, and heart-felt. It also rather personal for Gru as he’s facing against his own Minions, making the conflict deeper. Though it is ironic that the Minions are defeated by Gru’s horribly tasting Jelly (finally granting the failed food product a useful purpose).
Plus, El Macho becomes a formidable foe for Gru to overcome (to which Gru made abundantly clear earlier on in the film when describing him, i.e. he committed villainy with his bare-hands), especially after he takes the deadly serum (that transformed the Minions) himself and becomes a giant purple, fluffy, rage monster (which is ultimately taken down [quite humorously] with the Fart Gun). Then of course Gru has to finish his list of Spy clichés by saving the damsel (i.e. Lucy), to which she’s about to be fired into a volcano whilst strapped to a missile and a shark.
And the ending is beautifully constructed. It perfectly brings everything together for a sweet farewell as Gru and Lucy declare their love for one another, and following a time-skip they ultimately get married. What makes this happy moment even more special is Agnes declaring her love to her new mother. And to top it all off we have two great musical numbers by the Minions (“I Swear” and “YMCA”), which I always look forward to watching, thus sending Despicable Me 2 off in the best way possible.
Although, it is kind of hilarious that all this happy imagery is suddenly cock-slapped in the face by the final seconds, which shows the arrival of unexpected EVIL Minion still on the loose (meaning everybody probably ended-up dying [happy ending much?])
I know this review is rather short (at least compared to my usual essays), but there’s not much that needs to be said about this film. It speaks for itself. This sequel is just really entertaining and fun. And sometimes that’s all you want from a narrative. And the reason I know it’s so good is because I can happily just re-watch it at my leisure and it still remains as good as the last viewing. Despicable Me 2 is timeless, and will never get old for me. The film is perfectly balanced and just knows what it’s doing.
Which is a massive shame Despicable Me 3 couldn’t follow suit…