Dir: Kyle Balda. Starring: Steve Carell, Taraji P Henson, Michelle Yeoh, RZA, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Lucy Lawless, Dolph Lundgren, Danny Trejo. U, 88 minutes.
I do feel sorry for the Minions. Surely, when those severely jaundiced sentient tic tacs first hit screens in 2010’s Despicable Me, no one envisioned that they’d one day be hyper-weaponised into Boomer Facebook memes. Now it’s hard to look at their little, gormless expressions and not immediately picture some nauseating pun like “a balanced diet is chocolate in both hands” floating by their head. The cultural omnipresence of the Minions has backfired spectacularly. Now, a decent chunk of the population considers them an active threat.
It certainly doesn’t help that there hasn’t been a Minions-centric film since 2017’s Despicable Me 3, meaning their reputation has been left exposed and entirely vulnerable. Until now. Minions: The Rise of Gru is an enthusiastic, though in no way daring, reminder that the Minions really aren’t as annoying as you remember. They’re quite funny even, when functioning as pure agents of chaos – like a U-rated version of Gremlins. That The Rise of Gru has been sold as a Minions film, when it’s really a Despicable Me prequel, underlines the real reason this franchise has gained the momentum for five instalments (six when Despicable Me 4 comes out in 2024).
There’s nothing all that special about The Rise of Gru, but it runs like a well-oiled machine. The year is 1976. Gru (Steve Carell), the franchise’s ambiguously European-accented villain and longtime Minion boss, is 12 years old. And his dreams are on the verge of coming true, after he lands an audition to join the malevolent supergroup known as the Vicious Six after their founding member – and Gru’s personal hero – Wild Knuckles (Alan Arkin) is unceremoniously given the boot and left to plummet to his death. When Gru’s application is denied purely on the basis that he’s just a kid (Carell makes no effort to sound like a child, which seems to be part of the joke), he decides to prove himself by stealing the all-powerful magic stone that’s at the centre of all of the group’s villainous plans.
The film’s plot feels largely structured around how many celebrity voices they can stuff into the film’s brief, 88-minute runtime: Michelle Yeoh, Taraji P Henson, Danny Trejo, Lucy Lawless, Dolph Lundgren, Jean-Claude Van Damme all appear, alongside a returning Julie Andrews as Gru’s mother. But a light framework is, arguably, exactly what a film like this needs. The Minions, stripped down to their basic core (speaking of, have you ever thought about which internal organs they have?), are simply vehicles for slapstick.
And The Rise of Gru offers plenty of opportunities for them to goof around, whether they’re using fart bombs to vacate a screening of Jaws or attempting to fly a commercial jet to San Francisco. While Pixar’s Lightyear somewhat ineffectually strove for visual realism, Minions and Despicable Me 3 director Kyle Balda here doubles down on the primary colours and bombastically improbable action in a way that feels like it’s really making the most of the medium while still maintaining its mainstream appeal. And if there is any kind of distinctive look to The Rise of Gru, it’s the way its Seventies setting has been amped up to a psychedelic extreme. The soundtrack is stacked: from Linda Rondstadt’s “You’re No Good” to a “Bad Gru Rising” spin on the Creedence Clearwater Revival classic. There’s even a tribute to the classic Bond title sequence, with Minions giving come-hither eyes to the camera. All in all, it’s almost enough to forgive them for directly lifting one of the most famous jokes from Shrek 2 (you’ll know it when you see it). Almost.
‘Minions: The Rise of Gru’ is in cinemas from Friday 1 July