‘Minions: The Rise of Gru’ Review: Stellar Vibes, Terrible Pacing

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Minions: The Rise of Gru has finally come to theaters after 2 years of delays thanks to the pandemic. I’ll admit, this wasn’t something exactly on my radar, nor was it even something I was expecting to see in theaters. But, there we were, on a Saturday, with nothing to do after lunch; somehow we all landed on this. Then, to my surprise, I found myself with more and more things to say about this film. Now here I am, writing a movie review for the Minions movie.

More Minions and Gru-vy vibes abound

Minions: The Rise of Gru taps into an electric style, rooted in its 70s setting. From the very first frame of the movie, the whole thing is dripping in delicious and groovy colors. Although, it’s not a stylistic choice that lasts through the entire film. The opening made a very distinct decision, but once that opening comes to a close, all of those unique flares are dropped. So much so, that I jumped to the conclusion that there must’ve been a large time jump. There wasn’t, but the movie decided to turn back into an average Illumination film, lacking anything interesting or unique from a visual standpoint.

However, just because it isn’t wholly unique doesn’t mean it doesn’t have any redeeming qualities. The sharp edges of the Despicable Me villain aesthetic clashing with the trademark overly-round Illumination animation style is as stunning as ever. The implementation of choice settings like San Francisco allows the action to use those winding mountainous hills to great effect.

The cute way the film portrays a smaller and less–legitimized Gru (Steve Carrell) is very well done, too. Little quirks like the truncated secret lab, and the minimal gadget – it’s all great. They did a perfect job making this a story in an era that I wanted to see, but there’s this constant THING that gets in the way of the thorough success of this film.

Minions: The Rise Of Gru
Young Gru (Steve Carrell) and his Minions and is on a journey to earn his supervillain status in The Rise of Gru (Universal)

The Battle Within Minions: The Rise of Gru

The opening moments of the film are really flexing their muscles: the animation style and visuals are all on point (as I said), the action sequences are stellar, and the story is gripping. But then the Minions happen, and everything comes to a screeching halt.

The narrative of the story follows a famous villain team, The Vicious Six, who have an opening for a new member. Gru, being the ambitious little villain hopeful that he is, sends in his application. He goes to an interview, but he’s sadly rejected. However, in a big turn of events, Gru teams up with the ex-leader of the Vicious Six and his personal idol (Alan Arkin) to get ahold of the magical MacGuffin before the Vicious Six can.

The Vicious Six in ' Minions: The Rise of Gru
The Vicious Six in ‘ Minions: The Rise of Gru (Universal)

It’s a pretty compelling story, and even at its weakest, it’s still fine enough to stand on its own. It allows for Gru and all these cool villain characters to stretch their legs. Gru gets to be a fun, cute little charismatic guy with big ambitions and motivations. The other villains in the movie even get to have their great moments of comedy and tragedy.

But, then the Minions come crashing onto the screen like a storm I wish would just go away. The movie is far too often completely derailed by bits of Minion-focused comedy that go on far longer than it should’ve. These little yellow monsters are best used sparingly, and I think they’ve realized that. I think that’s exactly why they share the screen with Gru in this movie.

But this movie toed the line far too closely and wastes probably 30 whole minutes of Minion-focused bits that only serve to take away from the narrative. What’s made worse is that those bits are almost entirely removed from the story at hand, and it brings the pacing to a dead crawl.

Truthfully, this movie is just a prequel to the Despicable Me films. An opportunity to bring something new and fresh to the table with a child version of our main character. It’s almost as though they had a 60-page concept for a Gru prequel film, realized it wouldn’t be enough for a full feature, and then crammed 30 more pages here or there to pad out the runtime. 

The Franchise Future for Despicable Me and Minions

The defense of these kinds of movies I often hear is “this is a movie for children.” That’s not exactly the compliment to the creatives of this film you think it is, but I totally agree. It is a movie made for children, just like Pixar’s Up. Just like Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse. Just like a ton of other amazing animated films that reach peaks higher than the average adult-oriented drama. Despicable Me has had that emotional and thematic core inside of it since the very first installment, they’ve just got to tap into it once again.

The first film was a very appropriate introduction to the complex concept of morality made for children to experience. “What makes people good or bad?” That was the heart of that first film.

But I feel this sense of dread that the iconism of the Minions led the executives to just demand more of them, and it worked. Despicable Me 2 doubled the box office of its predecessor, and each film since has raked in more and more. But they bit off more than they can chew with Minions (2015), and I think they realized that. That movie is hard to watch, and there’s nothing to grab onto within the story.

This franchise is so original, and I would hate to see that all go to waste. I think it has so many worthwhile concepts inside, but I don’t know if we’ll ever tap into that as long as Minions reign supreme.

Given that this movie is just a Gru-focused movie with Minions taking up more screen time than usual, I am worried about the state of the entire franchise. Are all future installments going to rely on the Minions? Will they all designate so much of the runtime just to low-effort bits that the Minions can do to get kids laughing?

As of now, Despicable Me 4 is set to be released on July 3, 2024, so I guess we’ll have to wait until then to see. But I hope they can hit that perfect balance once again.

My rating for this film: 

★★★/ ♥♥♥

Minions: The Rise of Gru is in theaters now. Have you seen it yet? What did you think? Let us know in the comments or on social media at @mycosmiccircus.

 

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