Back in 2010, two new animated features made their debut (and their pitch for franchise glory). One was the star-loaded DreamWorks film “Megamind” boasting Brad Pitt, Will Ferrell , Tina Fey and Jonah Hill, the other a more eclectically cast feature from fledgling studio Illumination Entertainment. Both dealt with the concept of a super villain finding redemption and ultimately saving the day.
In advance, and from the trailers, I assumed Megamind would emerge triumphant and the oddly titled “Despicable Me” would fizzle. Fast forward three years and you can see how wrong I was. “Despicable Me” was an utterly charming, funny, surprising and enchanting movie which may have lacked “Megamind’s” flash but trounced its rival in terms of genuine warmth and sincerity.
It’s often far trickier to deliver a satisfying sequel to a film that’s been a surprise hit so it was with high hopes but not a little trepidation that I went into “Despicable Me 2”.
Thankfully, “DM2” largely manages to pull off the difficult balancing act of giving us more of what we loved (*cough* the Minions *cough*), developing the existing characters and bringing something new(ish) to the table. Steve Carrell brings his A-game as the begrudgingly tender-hearted Gru who thankfully hasn’t quite lost his bite – as the opening kids’ party scene shows. But it’s not just a retread of his journey in the first film – we see the consequences of his reinvention as a super (single) dad, setting in motion the major themes and plot of the movie.
Keeping with the 60s James Bond/ Man From UNCLE vibe of the first film, we’re treated to an even better look at the wider world Gru and the girls live in with the introduction of the Anti-Villain League, a nice counterpoint to the first film’s Bank Of Evil. There are also numerous blink-and-you’ll-miss-them visual gags, sly one liners and shout-outs running the gamut from “The Love Boat” to “Return Of The Jedi”.
Of course, the breakout stars of the first film were the Minions and there’s plenty more of their shenanigans here without them being allowed to overshadow everything else. The three girls from the first film get their cute moments, as does Dr Nefario but they’re largely relegated to the background while Gru and his new AVL partner Lucy pursue their mission. Gru’s mother, played in the first film by Julie Andrews, merely makes a silent cameo right at the very end – designed, I think, just to reassure you that she hasn’t died at some point between the first and second film.
It’s not an unqualified success, though. The film does sag a little in the middle when the plot loses momentum, the villain simply isn’t as entertaining or as much nutty fun as Vector was and while the finale raises the stakes suitably, the peril is resolved a little too quickly. But, as this leaves enough time for a hilarious musical coda which neatly wraps up the story for Gru and his family, you can overlook the hasty resolution.
For a real measure of this film’s quality, I saw this film with 8 seven year olds hopped up on Fruit Shoot and Haribo and all eight of them stayed in their seats for the duration, happily entertained. And, to be fair, I did my fair share of chuckling too.
This is a worthy sequel to the unexpected delight of the first movie and with Gru’s story at an apparent end, it’ll be interesting to see next year if the Minions can make the step up from supporting players to the headline act. In the meantime, I look forward to rewatching Gru’s adventures many, many, many times.