Film Review: Minions: The Rise of Gru delivers the safe, nonsensical shenanigans we’ve come to expect from such characters

Even though 2010’s Despicable Me was centred around Steve Carell‘s Eastern European reformed super-villain Gru, it was his hoard of indecipherable henchmen – his Minions – that stole the film from under his considerably rendered nose.

They were funny without really trying to be, so it made perfect sense that subsequent films (Despicable Me birthed two sequels in 2013 and 2017) would favour their presence.  Personally, I think you can have too much of a “good thing” so when it was announced that they would be fronting their own film – 2015’s Minions – I was unsurprised but entirely unmoved by such a notion.

Their gibberish was amusing, but could it be tolerated for an entire feature?  Apparently so.  When Minions broke $1 billion at the global box office, the big wigs at Illumination Entertainment – Universal Studios’ very own computer animated subsect – took this as gospel, so here we are with both a Minions sequel and a Despicable Me prequel in Minions: The Rise of Gru, a temporarily entertaining, entirely disposable outing that kids will lap up in spades before, most likely, forgetting much of its existence.

The animation style and visual gags don’t really need to be altered by this point, so, for better or worse, you know what you’re getting yourself into by agreeing to take your little ones along.  It’s easy to be negative about such a film as The Rise of Gru because it doesn’t make a lick of sense and never aims for comedy above its demographic, but, at the same time, why should it? These little creatures practically print money for the studio, so why fix what ain’t broke?

To the credit of Kyle Balda‘s film, it incorporates a Blaxploitation mentality that’s entirely unexpected and, next to the returning Carell, it manages one of the more impressive and, fittingly, wildly assembled voice casts we’ve had the pleasure of hearing this year; you want Taraji P. Henson, Michelle Yeoh, Julie Andrews, Danny Trejo, Lucy Lawless, and the Universal Soldiers, Jean Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren? You got ’em!

Set in the 1970’s, where an 11-year-old Gru (still voiced by the not 11-years-old Carell) has already formed a relationship with the Minions – Bryan Lynch and Matthew Fogel‘s script doesn’t waste too much time on their particular backstory here – The Rise of Gru leans lightly into his villainous temperament, with the little tyke wanting nothing more than to front an infamous band of supervillains – The Vicious 6.  Lucky for Gru they’re down a member, having ousted former leader Wild Knuckles (Alan Arkin) at the hands of self-appointed new dictator, Belle Bottom (Henson).

Because there isn’t much of a screening process in the ways of super villain interviews, Gru manages to get face time with the remaining Vicious 5, but, understandably, they don’t take his villainous manners seriously and laugh him out of their office.  Of course, Gru being of villainous frame of mind means he steals the very sacred stone Belle and the crew were after, and in doing so, forms enemies of sorts in herself, Nunchuk (Lawless), a killer nun, the awesomely named Jean Clawed (Van Damme, of course), metal-handed Stronghold (Trejo), and roller skating bad buy Svengeance (Lundgren).

Whilst there’s plenty of fun to be had in the absolute ridiculousness of it all – I haven’t even mentioned Yeoh voicing an acupuncturist-cum-Kung-Fu-master who teaches the Minions her masterful ways – the film is so set in its ways that it brings nothing new to the table.  Additionally, for a film that’s bi-lined “The Rise of Gru”, it does very little with Carell’s character, reminding us that as much as this was his franchise to begin with, his little yellow companions are clearly the focus on any related projects going forward.

If you have found entertainment in any of the Despicable Me or Minions films thus far, chances are that Minions: The Rise of Gru will tickle some of your funny bones across its barely-there 88 minutes.  It doesn’t excite with any new animation techniques and, as humorous as some sequences are, it’s unlikely to register after you have exited the theatre beyond remembering vague giggles at something the Minions did or, for lack of a better word, said.  Kids will undoubtedly love it, and, ultimately, they’re the only audience that really matters with these films, but the incorporation of Blaxploitation dynamics, literal killer nuns, and a soul-infused soundtrack suggest there was the potential to incorporate older-aimed humour throughout.  And that may be the most despicable thing of all that a larger audience range misses out on enjoying these shenanigans as much as their kids will.


Minions: The Rise of Gru is now screening in Australian theatres.

Peter Gray

Film critic with a penchant for Dwayne Johnson, Jason Momoa, Michelle Pfeiffer and horror movies, harbouring the desire to be a face of entertainment news.