Nerd Caliber
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TV/Movies & Music

June 30, 2017

Despicable Me 3 Delivers Too Familiar Fun

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Written by: Gregg "Wonderllama" Snider
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Despicable Me 3 is one of those movies that is both really easy and really challenging to review. Easy, because it doesn’t require any deep, insightful analysis or tiptoeing around spoilers; challenging, because how much new is there to say about the third installment (fourth, if you include 2015’s Minions) in a franchise that relies on many of the same well-established beats, characters, and endless supply of anarchic yellow comic relief?

As a sequel, it doesn’t rise to the level of Empire Strikes Back or The Dark Knight. It doesn’t aspire to anything so grand. Instead, DM3 relies on a combination of the goodwill audiences have for Gru and company, a fun if predictable story, a zany new villain, and most of all a relentless barrage of fart jokes, pop-culture references, and Minion antics. And while DM3 is considerably better than the overstuffed-but-dull Despicable Me 2, it’s still a retread of its predecessors, full of lazy humor and overused ’80s parody. It does just enough to be amusing, frenetic fluff.

A vintage “where are they now”-style ’80s TV show montage introduces the latest baddie, the delightfully named Balthazar Bratt. Voiced with his typical over-the-top, breathless insanity by South Park bad boy Trey Parker, Bratt played the star of “Evil Bratt.” The montage is a sly parody of ’80s kids’ shows, full of giant robots, Big Wheels, and cheap, low-tech production values. Bratt tailspins after his starring vehicle is canceled by a zit-filled outbreak of puberty. Now an overgrown man-child obsessed with recapturing his stardom, he plans to steal the world’s biggest diamond.

Meanwhile, a recently married Gru is settling into a villainy-free lifestyle when he loses his job at the Anti-Villain League and needs to find ways to occupy his time. It’s a flimsy pretext to create an existential crisis, making it the perfect time for one of the most cliched sitcom tropes: the discovery of a long-lost twin brother. Gru, Lucy (Kristin Wiig, a bit less frenzied than in DM2), and the girls travel to Freedonia — a shout-out to all the pre-teen Marx Brothers fans out there — to meet Dru (also Steve Carrell), a goofy, blond, white-suited yin to Gru’s yang. After explaining that their father was a master villain, Dru enlists Gru to help him achieve his villainous potential and make daddy proud. What follows is a gadget-laden jewel heist, an action-packed showdown, and a brotherly meeting-of-the-minds.

Been down this road
If that sounds familiar, it’s because you’ve seen it before. The conflicts, the low-grade good-vs-evil internal struggle, the emotional reconciliations are all stock-in-trade of the franchise.
Despicable Me telegraphed its gooey center, but earned its emotional happy ending through character growth (and adorable kids). DM3 tries for the same, but it feels forced, with sitcom-esque “everything resets to normal” resolutions and contrived emotional “lightbulb” moments.

Mini Mal Cosplay and our reviewer Wonderllama Cosplay as a Minion and Gru.

Mini Mal Cosplay and our reviewer Wonderllama Cosplay as a Minion and Gru.

I was constantly reminded of The Incredibles; the villains share a similar back-story, the parents deal with similar emotional perils, and the hero suffers through similar ennui after losing his job catching bad guys. But while The Incredibles was brilliant at making those themes resonate, DM3 feels like it’s simply borrowing the ideas rather than earning them.

The Minions are as fun as ever, back in their role as sidekicks rather than primary characters. Where DM2 overloaded on Minions, making them central to the plot, DM3 seems to understand they work better in smaller doses (though ‘small’ is a relative concept here). The requisite studio crossover scene — into the middle of a singing competition on the stage of Illumination Entertainment’s Sing — is groan-worthy. It’s redeemed by the goofy, entirely unexpected rendition — in perfect, rapid-fire Minion-speak –of the Gilbert & Sullivan classic, “Modern Major-General’s Song.” It manages to be absurd, contrived, funny, and charming all at once.

Hey, remember how wacky and colorful the ’80s were? Writers Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio sure do. They’re banking on crowds finding something appealing in neon purple, Madonna, and Reebok Pumps.

It’s an easy target, equal parts nostalgic, absurd, and larger-than-life. Unfortunately, DM3 flogs the ’80s jokes to death by the end of the second scene, featuring a dance fight set to several well-known pop songs and Van Halen’s “Jump” played on a weaponized KeyTar (yes, you read that right).

Ultimately, none of that really matters. Despicable Me 3 is funny, the story is is brisk and (mostly) coherent, there are crazy cars and goofy gadgets, and the adorableness goes to 11. It’s a big improvement over DM2. Its flaws are more obvious the next day while writing about it than they are in a theater full of kids shrieking in delight. It does just enough to be an animated summer blockbuster that kids will love and parents will find amusing enough to sit through three or five times.

Despicable Me 3 (Illumination Entertainment / Universal Pictures; PG): B-

About the Author

Gregg "Wonderllama" Snider



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