Minions. That simple word elicits two different responses in my brain. First, I think of an evil necromancer, commanding a legion of undead ghouls. These minions are disgustingly putrid, wretched creatures with open sores oozing God knows what. Their existence is at the whim of a dark overlord and heaven help the poor people who stand in their way. You know… the classic monster-minion idea.
But ever since 2010, the idea of a minion has taken a turn. A much different turn. Now whenever the word is muttered, I smile. I may even chuckle some. And I begin thinking of bananas.
In 2010, the world was introduced to the Despicable Me franchise by Illumination and Universal Pictures. While the film primarily focused on Gru, a supervillain who adopts three little girls, every great supervillain has his crew. And Gru was no different, having a massive army of cute, lovable yellow creatures known as Minions who came in all shapes and sizes, spoke in a mix of English, Spanish and gibberish, with hearts of gold. They would do anything for this boss and his new daughters. Their child-like affections rubbed off on Gru, cementing his turn from evil to good.
After the success of Despicable Me, a sequel was in place for 2013. And even though audiences loved the wholesome story of a villain turned good, it was clear to see that the Minions were becoming even more popular. And why not? Who doesn’t love these creatures? They show their devotion in so many wonderful ways, that it will crack even the hardest of hearts. So, Universal and Illumination took the feedback from fans and gave us all the Minions we could ask for in the form of short films, books, video games and merchandise.
With one stand-alone, full-length film dedicated just to the denim-clad cuties in their pocket (the 2015 film appropriately titled Minions), Universal has released Minions: The Rise of Gru. Taking place in the 1970s, we find the Minions living with a 12-year-old Gru (Steve Carell) and his mother (Julie Andrews).
When Wild Knuckles (Alan Arkin), Gru’s idol, is lost during a heist, a chance to join the Vicious 6 gang opens up and Gru earns a chance to impress the remaining members: Belle Bottom (Taraji P. Henson), Jean Clawed (Jean-Claude Van Damme), Nunchuck (Lucy Lawless), Svengeance (Dolph Lundgren) and Stronghold (Danny Trejo).
But after things go amiss, Gru finds himself kidnapped. It is up to Kevin, Stuart, Bob and newcomer Otto to save him from certain death!
Let’s get the bad out of the way. Minions: The Rise of Gru hits the ground running, giving you only a few moments to breathe. We are introduced to The Vicious 6 right from the start and follow Wild Knuckles through his ill-fated mission. However, we don’t have any background as to why we should even care. I understand the motive is to get the audience acquainted with the gang, especially Belle Bottom, as she goes on to become the de facto leader. However, as the movie progressed, the pre-title card scenes became less and less memorable. My daughter, who went with me, didn’t even remember it. I had to remind her what happened and how it kinda explained the motives of certain characters. I think the cold open was a mistake, although a forgivable one.
Now, for everything else. As you can probably tell, I loved Minions: The Rise of Gru. Almost everything about this film works. The backstory of how the Minions came to live with Gru and his mom is explained quickly, but easily understandable. The overall story concerning a magical amulet has a satisfying conclusion (I hate when films do not give good explanations of how something integral to the story operates). There is little to the story that seems to be lost on the cutting room floor. My 7-year-old recounted the story flawlessly to her mom on the phone, that is a huge credit to both the writers and the director.
This movie has one of the best soundtracks of the year. As Minions: The Rise of Gru takes place in the 1970s, there is lots of disco-era music. However, the tracks are updated slightly to appeal to a new generation. Typically, I am not a fan of meddling with good music, but the music director does a spectacular job of not only picking the right songs but only making subtle changes. My daughter was rocking out to the soundtrack, which I must admit I downloaded during the ride home.
Minions: The Rise of Gru is chock-full of both action and comedy. Kevin, Bob and Stuart end up getting into situations where they should not stand a chance, but somehow find a way to not only survive but also make the bad guys look foolish at the same time. And when they meet Michelle Yeoh’s Master Chow, they even get trained in the arts of kung fu. (The training goes about how you would expect it to go — with lots of laughs.)
There is one moment where Kevin tries to break a piece of wood with his head, only to fail. Bob then steps up to the plate, preparing his noggin for the hit, but then grabs Kevin and slams his head down on the wood. I know it is a simple slapstick comedy bit, but I thought it was simply hilarious.
The film does have some heartfelt moments. The interactions between Gru and his Minions show that the evil genius actually has a soft core, even at this early age. He loves his little partners in crime, even though they mess up his plans for world domination from time to time. We also get to see a young Dr. Nefario (Russel Brand), and how he took an immediate liking to Gru. Last but not least, Gru and Wild Knuckles develop a pseudo-father/son dynamic, with the young mastermind cracking the hardened exterior of the grizzled bad guy.
It almost mirrors the way the girls are able to do the same to adult Gru in the first film. This little touch adds to Gru’s overall story arc, making him more of an antihero than a full-fledged villain.
2022 has been a great year for movies. Minions: The Rise of Gru is the family friendly film that the year has been lacking. The movie has a story that is easy to follow. It has characters that are lovable, relatable, and fun. And it has a soundtrack that strikes a chord. The words “Live, Love, Laugh” describe Minions: The Rise of Gru beautifully. Universal has yet another hit film on its hands. I give it five out of five stars.