The adorable minions stole the first Despicable Me, and the thinking for Despicable Me 2 must have been to give the little yellow guys the whole movie. It’s an odd picture that technically has a protagonist and slightly builds off the first story, but nominal villain Gru (Steve Carell) is the least interesting part of the sequel, and his daughters Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier), and Agnes (Elsie Fisher) have almost been completely pushed aside. Rather than develop these characters, directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud apparently responded to fan reaction to the original film, and put the minions front-and-center. It’s tough to complain when everything they do is funny, but it also makes Despicable Me 2 feel like a stopgap for next year’s minions spinoff.
Gru has settled comfortably into his role as a single-dad, and almost completely given up his super-villainous ways. He’s pulled back into action when the Anti-Villain League kidnaps him, and requests that he uses his villainous know-how to track down a mysterious super-villain who has stolen a formula that turns normal creatures into big, purple beasts like Grimace on steroids. Paired with AVL Agent and love-interest, Lucy (Kristen Wiig), Gru suspects that the bad guy is mall resident and restaurant owner, Eduardo (Benjamin Bratt), who looks suspiciously like missing supervillain, El Macho. Gru’s disdain for Eduardo deepens when Eduardo’s son, Antonio (Moises Arias), begins dating Margo.
Gru’s relationship with Lucy plus his frustration with Margo’s new boyfriend feel like attempts to keep the protagonist occupied rather than let him grow. They’re obstacles, and Lucy is another piece of Gru assembling a family. The two characters, despite being animated, have no chemistry with each other because we don’t learn why Lucy would be against supervillains like Gru, and the two don’t seem to have much in common other than their predilection towards creative weapons like freeze guns and lipstick Tasers. The story gets a bit more mileage out of Gru disliking Antonio, but that’s partially because it builds on his relationship with Margo from the first movie. Meanwhile, Edith and Agnes have almost nothing to do other than carry around a sword and be adorable, respectively.
There’s also no room for the “main” characters because the minions have taken on a much larger role, and receive more development than their human co-stars. Their gibberish is even less comprehensible (they had a few more English words in the first film) and yet they’re even easier to understand thanks to their intonations and body language. They also have clearer personalities although it’s still hard to differentiate between them. Nevertheless, I have come to the conclusion that I will laugh at just about anything the minions do.
They’re the only unique aspect of the sequel because Coffin and Renaud have ditched the world building they attempted in the first film where being a supervillain was a profession like any other. It had fun toys, its own internal workings like the “Bank of Evil”, and competition with other supervillains. All of that is pretty much gone in Despicable Me 2, and Gru is stuck with antics like wearing hi-tech goggles while inside a trashcan. Meanwhile, the minions get to dress up in costumes, visit exotic locales, and excitedly chase after ice cream trucks. It reduces Gru to a distraction in what’s ostensibly his own movie.
The first Despicable Me is a cute albeit simplistic movie. The animation is cartoony, it occasionally panders to its audience with jokes like a fart gun (a lamentable invention that returns in the sequel), and it’s mostly inoffensive family fare. Despicable Me 2 shares those traits but it’s made a big trade-off in terms of focus. What made the original slightly more defined has been discarded in favor of stripping down Gru’s storyline and making room for more popular characters. Despicable Me 2 comes off as a set-up for Minions, the movie I’d prefer to see.