Review: “Despicable Me 3”

Despicable Me 3 poster

With Despicable Me having turned into a multi-billion dollar franchise, it was inevitable that a second sequel to the hugely-popular movie would be released; less certain was whether the threequel would be an improvement over the previous films. Now that Gru and company’s new film has been released, the answer is clear: it isn’t.

Balthazar Bratt (Trey “Cartman” Parker) was once a child actor with his own top-rating television series, adored by children the world over. But after having his show cancelled and being rejected by Hollywood, he sought vengeance by turning into the very character he used to portray. Nowadays, Bratt is the world’s most notorious and flamboyant supervillain, his activities constantly drawing the attention of the Anti-Villain League.

Having become a full-time employee of the AVL, Gru (Steve Carell) is more often than not the agent who thwarts Bratt’s nefarious plans, yet has never succeeded in apprehending Bratt. After once again letting Bratt elude him, Gru – along with his wife Lucy (Kristen Wiig) – is fired from his job and left to break the bad news to his adopted daughters Margot (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier) and Agnes (Nev Scharrel), as well as his loyal Minions.

Fortunately not all is glum, as the household is informed about the existence of Gru’s long-lost, blond-haired twin brother Dru (Steve Carell also) who invites them to stay in his luxurious European mansion – naturally, the family obliges. Upon venturing to Dru’s home, Gru discovers that his estranged father was himself a supervillain, and that Dru is planning his own heist with his brother as an accomplice.

Unlike Despicable Me and Despicable Me 2, there isn’t anything particularly fresh or unique about Gru’s third adventure. It carries over many of the qualities from the preceding movies, like the creative character designs, bright colours and use of visual cues to foreshadow later events; but the movie has few merits of its own that make it worth watching – the animation looks the same, the soundtrack is no better and the comedy isn’t as funny. In other words, Despicable Me 3 struggles to justify its own existence.

The script, which is easily the weakest of the series so far, is the chief contributor to this problem. As well as the central story involving Balthazar and Dru, there are three separate, non-connecting subplots involving a change in leadership at the AVL, Lucy having difficulty being a motherly figure and Agnes going on a quest to find a unicorn, all of which leads to lack of coherence. Additionally, there’s an overuse of clichés which were once eradicated from the series, yet somehow have found their way back.

Despicable Me 3 - Bratt
Bratty: The colourful Balthazar Bratt is one of the few redeeming qualities in Despicable Me 3.

Thankfully, there is one distinctive attribute that sets Despicable Me 3 apart, and that’s its maniacal antagonist. Balthazar Bratt is a entertaining cocktail of Eighties references – he clothes himself in purple shoulder-pads, rocks a large mullet, has dance fights to cheesy pop music and uses Rubik’s Cubes and keytars as weapons. His nostalgia-fuelled character has an individuality that the antagonists in the other Despicable Me films lack, making him the most memorable thus far.

Aside from this characterful villain though, there isn’t a lot of praise to bestow upon Despicable Me 3. It possesses qualities which were present in the previous films, but isn’t worth recommending over those same releases. Perhaps one should wait for the DVD release.

2.5 stars

Despicable Me 2

Despicable Me 2 poster

After the surprise success of their debut feature, both critically and commercially, Illumination saw it fit to turn Despicable Me into a franchise. If the studio were to do that though, it would need to place more effort into its follow-up. Luckily, just that happened, with the studio releasing a film that was better in every conceivable way.

Somewhere within the Arctic Circle, an unknown supervillain has used a large magnet to thieve a top-secret research laboratory. While the audience is left unsure as to who, or what, is responsible for the heist, they can rule out Gru (Steve Carell) as a suspect – he has left the criminal life behind, and is trying to start a business selling various jams. When not making preserves, Gru looks after his three adopted daughters Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier) and Agnes (Elsie Fisher) who all adore him greatly.

Presently, Gru is approached by a woman named Lucy (Kristen Wiig) who represents the Anti-Villain League, an elite, secretive taskforce dedicated to stopping ever-ludicrous acts of evil-doing. Lucy brings Gru to the agency’s underwater headquarters where her superior, Silas Ramsbottom (Steve Coogan) assigns Gru with his mission: to uncover who was behind the recent Arctic theft. To undertake his objective, Gru is paired with Lucy and, weirdly, sent to work undercover at the local mall, where the AVL believes their suspect is hiding.

Despicable Me 2 feels a much fresher picture than its predecessor. Gone are the tropes and clichés which all-too-often afflict animated movies, giving way to a far smarter script. Quite often, the movie will produce a seemingly off-hand gag that actually serves as a set-up for a later scene, kind of like a smaller, more subtle Chekov’s gun. Adding to the freshness is Kristen Wiig, who brings an endless amount of energy to the voice of Lucy and is a very welcome addition to the cast.

Despicable Me 2 - Gru's family
Clockwise from left: Gru. Edith, Agnes and Margo in a still from Despicable Me 2.

The more significant improvement is the animation, the quality of which is at last comparable with its contemporaries. There are a wider variety of colours, the characters move more freely and the rendering looks cleaner, giving Despicable Me 2 a bright and professional aesthetic. Equally bright is the soundtrack of Pharrell Williams, containing the most cheerful song ever put to film: “Happy”. Though Pharrell’s other compositions are nowhere near as catchy as the aforementioned one, they too are upbeat and breezy.

Of course, the Minions are also present, which will no doubt raise the ire of some viewers. They have more screen-time than they did in the first Despicable Me, yet are no more irritating here than they were last time around, nor any funnier – but the movie itself is, thanks largely to the addition of Wiig’s character. While Despicable Me 2 would not be near as amusing without Lucy, the other characters can be funny when they need to be.

Unlike its initial outing, Despicable Me 2 is proof that Illumination can compete with the Hollywood heavyweights, with significant improvements being made to the story, animation, music and humour. Although lacking the creativity one might expect with the medium, it does set the benchmark for all of the studio’s future projects.

3.5 stars