As the Despicable Me franchise continues to evolve, 2010’s dastardly Gru is but a distant memory. The former recluse is now a tamed father figure. His ambitions now steer towards righteousness. All the gadgets and gizmos still tinker with zaniness – and yes, your minions are safe – but Despicable Me 3 if a family reunion better avoided. Writers Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio establish these tangential arcs meant to develop each singular character, which means less time for “hero” versus villain looniness. Unicorn obsessions are sweet and motherly duties fight for acceptance, yet 90 minutes just isn’t enough time to dignify each aside. Which is a shame, because Trey Parker’s Balthazar Bratt is one of the greatest supervillains ever introduced, only to be pushed aside for weaker material.
Steve Carell is back once again as the voice of Gru, now a field agent for the Anti-Villain League. Gru rids the world of evildoers with his partner and wife Lucy (Kristen Wiig) – until being fired by new boss Valerie Da Vinci (Jenny Slate). Jobless, Gru and Lucy (who’s fired in solidarity) put their career hunting on hold when a bombshell drops. It turns out that Gru has a Freedonian brother named Dru (a jollier, blonde-haried Gru), who invites the whole family for a reunion. Except it’s less a reunion and more an opportunity to Gru to teach Dru the ways of being a supervillain. Will Gru renounce his allegiance to good and dive back into his old, bad ways? If it means besting Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker) – the criminal who got Gru fired – then what’s one more heist among blood relatives?
Distracting, dull and underdeveloped is what.
Balthazar Bratt is the Marvel villain the MCU never deserved, which is why he appears in Despicable Me 3. The product of child stardom and short-lived fame, Bratt’s entire aesthetic is I Love The 80s with an unavoidable South Park echo. Shoulder pads, dance-fights, keytar riffing to Van Halen’s “Jump” – there’s everything to love about Gru’s mullet-iest enemy. His heists are always scored to another decade-defining hit, none more outstanding than Michael Jackson’s “I’m Bad.” Each step turns into another inch of moonwalking, while “Ja-mon!” spikes accent thrown punches (just when you thought Baby Driver would be the only film this week to match action to musical rhythms). Bratt’s anti-Hollywood plan is diabolically entertaining, and Parker’s vocal handling is tubular perfection. It’s just a shame he’s lost amidst Gru, Dru and the rest.
Despicable Me 3 bites off more than it can chew when it comes to story, and I’m not just talking about Freedonian cheese (the country’s biggest exports appear to be piggies and dairy bites). Gru and Dru would have been better serviced by spending an entire movie alone, unrestricted by offshooting adventures. Lucy’s desperate attempts at being accepted as a full-time mom, Agnes (Nev Scharrel) hunting for a unicorn, Margo (Miranda Cosgrove) being accidentally engaged – unfulfilling distractions, all around.
I understand the gravitation towards a character like Dru. Let Gru puff his chest as top-dog for once. Shift the balance. Dru – a squeakier Carell – disobeys every order, cramps Gru’s style and acts as a novice jester. The problem? It all becomes very tiresome. Their buddy dynamic bumbles with no pizzazz, unlike Bratt’s flashy mischief-maker. The more time we spend with Gru and Dru, the more we miss Bratt’s infinitely more showy egotism. Or his bubble-gum blob technology. Despicable Me 3‘s main message is to show that no one is a loser (among twenty more), but it’s never told emphatically enough to overtake blast-from-the-past comedics. A gimmick themselves, but tremendously funnier nonetheless.
Here’s the million dollar question – “Will my kids be entertained?” Probably. Minions perform a few finger-snapping jailhouse tunes (plus all the head bonking). Gru and Dru drive a gold-painted car that shoot missiles. Bratt pilots a gigantic robot version of himself. It’s all very kid-friendly. But, the other million dollar question – “Will I be entertained while my children cackle along?” That’s a much less confident assessment, given how the few 80s callbacks came and went quicker than Dexys Midnight Runners. All that’s left is nearsighted cuteness and minimal escapist fun.
Despicable Me 3 is a well-intentioned spy caper built on family values, but even Minions boasts more entertainment value. Gru is still the same needle-nosed goon, yet focus is lost with so many characters in play. Remove Dru from the story and Lucy has more room to breathe, for example. She can earn her title as “Mom” over time, not during one speedy escapade with Margo and her “ugly-duckling” suitor. Or enact the reverse, allowing Dru substantial bonding time with Gru. Thematic “ditto” for all minor players who receive the short end of the development stick. In trying to expand Gru’s universe farther, this threequal loses focus of what made the Despicable franchise so lovable.
And no, I don’t just mean minion mayhem.
Despicable Me 3 hits a supervillain high with Balthazar Bratt, but also a franchise low as far as Gru and Dru's brotherly reunion is concerned.