Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Despicable Me 2

It seems that every year now I see trailers and ads for movies that are either sequels or reboots for existing franchises, usually to be released in the summer; if it's not in these categories, these same trailers and ads often give me something to groan about regardless. In 2013's sea of reboots and sequels, there are some movies that I know I am going to see, but there are only a few that I'm legitimately excited for, one of them being Despicable Me 2. I liked the original Despicable Me when I first saw it in theaters as well as later on DVD and when I saw advertising for the sequel, I became more optimistic about how it would turn out. Seeing it on its release day felt like something which had to be done, and walking away from it I feel glad that I did, though it was a little different than what I expected (in a mostly positive sense).

Following the events of Despicable Me, a secret research base in the Arctic Circle is stolen out of the blue by a mysterious villain with a giant magnet. In response, the Anti-Villain League, an organization that does what you probably think they do, sends agent Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig) to bring Gru (Steve Carell) to their base for briefing. After he is forcibly abducted, Gru at first rejects, and later accepts, a mission to act as an undercover spy to locate the one responsible for the theft of the Arctic base, as it contained a valuable experimental fluid which mutates those injected with it. As Gru goes undercover in a shopping mall, since the culprit works there, he also finds out that he's beginning to fall for Lucy, his partner on the job.

The hot-blooded Lucy Wilde, voiced by Kristen Wiig.

In terms of execution, Despicable Me 2 is pretty good and manages to tell a solid story from beginning to end. While the ending does a nice job of wrapping everything up, I found that the movie was more ambitious than the original, as it introduced quite a few plot threads, not all of which lead somewhere. For instance, Edith (Dana Gaier) seems to have some ninja thing going on, as she carries a sword at least twice in the movie, but we never learn anything more than what is implied. Margo (Miranda Cosgrove) also has a relationship with a boy named Antonio Perez (Moisés Arias), though their time together is pretty much there merely to establish the kind of father that Gru has become, possibly as a result of his rather tragic childhood. There are probably some others that I'm not thinking of at the moment, though my point remains. A couple of twists from the movie could also be predicted thanks to the context of some of the plot threads, which I won't go into due to spoilers. I also thought it was interesting that literally everyone who worked on the previous movie came back, though I'm not sure why they felt they needed Kristen Wiig again; Lucy seems to be included just so they could have a reason to bring her back for another go.

The humor in Despicable Me 2 is also very good, with plenty of moments that had me laughing out loud in the theater. However, it still has its fair share of crude humor, which is something I think more and more "children's" films need to get away from. The first five minutes have a joke involving a guy in a port-a-potty and the fart gun from the first movie has a more prominent role, which means the one fart joke that was actually funny gets old after it's used in, of all things, a 21 gun salute. Despite this, I think they still managed to nail the humor that works and any future movies Illumination makes should focus on that smart humor and stray further away from appealing to what kids stereotypically find funny. The antics from the Minions that occur during the end credits were also very amusing.

Gru's Minions continue to impress.

As for the animation, the quality is mostly the same, though there are some scenes that are done rather impressively and show some sense of improvement. For example, there is a scene, which is longer than what is seen in the trailers, where Lucy is driving her car underwater after is has converted to another mode. Other effects that impressed were realistic glare off shiny objects, thankfully not overused, and reflections off certain surfaces. This attention to detail, which includes paying attention to continuity on a particular object near the end, is what I always appreciate from studios that put the effort into it. I also don't really have complaints about the character designs, but I didn't really need to see their advanced chest hair rendering for one overly long scene.

Voice acting is as good as the previous movie, since the actors manage to fit the roles of their characters pretty well. Steve Carell still impresses as Gru and even though I didn't think they really needed to bring back Kristen Wiig, I admit that she still managed a solid performance. The music by Pharrell Williams and Heitor Pereira is also still pretty good and fits well at the right moments, though some of it is recycled from before, most noticeably the "Fun, Fun, Fun" song.

While Despicable Me 2 is a good film, even as a sequel, I honestly am not sure how to feel about it when comparing it to the first one. It's more ambitious with its more adult themes (relationships), but this ambition leads to a few plot threads not really leading anywhere and some crude humor that doesn't really belong. The individual elements continue to impress, but it is perhaps a little more mishandled than the original, but I don't mean to knock the quality by saying this. The film is great for fans of Despicable Me, as well as families looking for a good time. I liked going back to this world and its characters, but now I'm a little more worried as to how they'll be able to do a movie centered entirely around the Minions. I suppose only time will really tell on that one.

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