Minions: The Rise of Gru (United States, 2022)

July 01, 2022
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Minions: The Rise of Gru Poster

Director Kyle Balda has been with the Minions since their inception. He began working in the art department for Despicable Me and Despicable Me 2, then moved to the (co-)director’s chair for Minions and Despicable Me 3. If nothing else, that assures a degree of continuity across the series. Of the five movies in the Despicable Me/Minions cycle, The Rise of Gru is the second-best, following the debut installment. The series has long since given up finding new avenues to explore (the way the first one and, to a degree, the second one, did), relying instead of regurgitating ideas and comedic bits. It’s almost surprising, therefore, how effectively it works. Then again, with things like Road Runner, the sameness is part of the appeal.

I have long since given up trying to figure out which Minion is which. There’s the guy with the braces, the guy with one eye, and so forth. They have names like Kevin, Stuart, Bob, and Otto. And all their voices are provided by Pierre Coffin, the French voice-actor/director who, like Balda, has been with the franchise from the beginning. The Rise of Gru functions as a sequel to the disappointing Minions and a prequel to Despicable Me.

All the qualities that have made Gru (Steve Carell) and his pint-sized, pill-shaped, yellow underlings popular are in evidence here and there’s less reliance on an inane plot (something that partially sunk both Minions and Despicable Me 3). The antics of the Minions – the series’ raison d’être – are at the forefront with Gru tending to fill a background supporting role (a reversal of the dynamic in Despicable Me). So, whether it’s learning kung-fu from Master Chow (Michelle Yeoh), rescuing Gru from the claws of Wild Knuckles (Alan Arkin), or navigating the hilly streets of San Francisco, the Minions take center stage with their indecipherable babbling and Three Stooges-inspired physicality.

The Rise of Gru opens approximately eight years after Minions (in either 1975 or 1976), with the future criminal mastermind now a 12-year old juvenile delinquent who lives with his crass mother (Julie Andrews). Gru idolizes the supervillain group The Vicious 6, a confederacy of the world’s most dangerous bad guys: founder Wild Knuckles (Alan Arkin), Belle Bottom (Taraji P. Henson), Jean-Clawed (Jean-Claude Van Damme), Svengeance (Dolph Lundgren), Stronghold (Danny Trejo), and Nun-Chuck (Lucy Lawless). When Wild Knuckles’ untimely death opens up a spot, Gru auditions. He fails but doesn’t leave empty-handed, stealing a cool-looking piece of jewelry that happens to be The Vicious 6’s most prized talisman. Soon, it’s a chaotic cross-country chase with Gru, the Minions, and The Vicious 6 pursuing each other and the jewelry in a madcap adventure that culminates in San Francisco’s Chinatown, where the Not-Really-Dead Wild Knuckles has set up shop.

The Rise of Gru has a lot of fun with setting events in the 1970s, referencing key cultural events (the opening of Jaws, the bicentennial, the burgeoning disco craze). The pallet is colorful and lively, the costumes and hairstyles are exaggerated, and there’s a fun retro vibe to the proceedings. The opening credits are an homage to the Maurice Binder 007 openings of the 1970s – something that will fly over the heads of kids but will strike a chord with adults, especially those in the over-40 range. There are a lot of little touches and flourishes like that throughout. They lack the sophistication associated with Pixar’s oft-noted “working on two levels” philosophy but they help to keep parents as engaged as their offspring.

The presence of Gru, who only made a cameo in the 2015 feature, functions as the glue that holds things together. As was evident in Minions, the hyperkinetic creatures aren’t quite enough without him. Steve Carell, who’s as good (and unrecognizable) a voice actor as Mike Myers, alters his performance to “de-age” the character back to his pre-teen years. The filmmakers populate the cast with hoary 20th century icons in an Expendables fashion. For example, Jean-Claude Van Damme plays “Jean-Clawed.” Dolph Lundgren and Lucy Lawless get equally tongue-in-cheek monikers (Svengeance and Nun-Chuck, respectively).

The Rise of Gru has the distinction of being the last major film to suffer a significant release delay as a result of COVID. Originally planned for a 2020 distribution, the movie has languished awaiting an appealing opening date. With Despicable Me 4 already in production (and due for a 2024 release), this won’t be the last outing for the criminal and his cohorts but there have been indications that audiences may be tiring of the franchise – since the high-water mark of Despicable Me 2, each of the subsequent releases has suffered a drop-off. It will be interesting to see whether the post-pandemic change in viewing habits will help or hurt this franchise. Like Road Runner, we know what the Minions are and they deliver no less (or more) than we expect from them.

Minions: The Rise of Gru (United States, 2022)

Run Time: 1:27
U.S. Home Release Date: 2022-09-06
MPAA Rating: "PG" (Rude Comments, Naked Minion Butts)
Genre: Animated
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1