The third one. Well, the fourth one, technically, but it has the number three on the end of the title, so whatever.
Oh, I can see how this is going to go.
Yeah, sorry. It’s just difficult for me to muster any real enthusiasm for such a blatant slab of brainless corporate product. Despite what I or anyone else might say about these movies, they’re guaranteed to make an astronomical amount of box office dollars, thus ensuring that the franchise continues in various forms way beyond the point of artistic tenability. (A point that, if we’re being honest, was located somewhere around the end of the first movie.)
Okay, what’s this one about?
Weirdly enough, it’s mostly about things that the kid-centric target demographic probably won’t give much of a **** about. Gru (Steve Carrell) has given up a life of super-villainy thanks to the adorable influence of his adopted daughters – Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Grier) and Agnes (Nev Scharrel) – and his new wife, Lucy (Kristen Wiig). He’s now working for the Anti-Villainy League, and, at the start of the movie, trying to thwart the dastardly schemes of a new villain, Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker), who’s out for revenge on the world after his childhood TV show was cancelled back in the 80’s. He’s after a giant diamond because, at the end of the day, he has to be after something. Although he saves the diamond, Gru lets Bratt escape, and because of that the new head of the AVL (Jenny Slate) fires Gru and Lucy. I’m sure at some point in the film’s development there was a reason that this character hates the heroes so much that she’s willing to sack them for what was a half-successful mission, but it didn’t make it into the final product.
Anyway, no sooner has Gru suffered this professional and personal setback, than his heretofore-unmentioned long-lost twin brother, Dru (also Steve Carrell), contacts him outta nowhere and invites him to his sprawling mansion. See, Gru and Dru are the sires of a classic super-villain, and Dru wants Gru to teach him the tricks of the trade; a request that Dru initially balks at. But Bratt manages to nab that giant diamond in the interim, and Dru figures that if he’s able to lift it back from Bratt’s lair, he can get himself and Lucy reinstated by the AVL. And with that, we have a movie. Kind of.
So, why won’t kids be into that?
What, why won’t kids be into an adult man’s anxiety over the loss of his job, his familial responsibilities, his relationship with his non-biological children, and his reconnection with a brother who’s richer, better-looking and has a full head of hair? Gee, I dunno.
That isn’t all, either. Meanwhile, Lucy is struggling to find her way into a new role as Gru’s wife and the mother of his children, 12-year-old Margo gets accidentally engaged, and Bratt is a joke built entirely around pop-culture trends (and songs – he has a keytar that plays all his favourite era’s most iconic musical riffs) that’s a couple of generations removed from the one that Despicable Me 3 is aimed at. Even the minions **** off for pretty much the entire movie, as they’re so sick of Gru not doing villain stuff anymore that they get into antics on their own. None of it is funny, but at least it doesn’t hog too much screen-time.
Is the rest of it funny, at least?
Nope. I laughed once or twice, but that was partly because if I didn’t I’d have broken down in tears. The overwhelming sense here is of a checklist being filled; boxes being ticked, responsibilities being met. It’s still colourful and noisy and full of slapstick action, so the kids will probably think it’s alright. But they won’t connect with it and obsess over it like they did the original.
I know what you’re thinking – what was I expecting from what is basically the epitome of shameless animated franchise filmmaking? I don’t really know, to be honest, which gets at one of the fundamental problems with this series. They’re made by creative, intelligent people. They have ideas and potential, and yet to everyone involved, they’re just a payday. Lots of stuff here – from Gru and Lucy’s parental anxieties, to the rift between them that the trailers hinted at but which ultimately isn’t there – had the potential to challenge and move what is basically a guaranteed audience. It isn’t giving those kids enough credit. Despicable Me 3 could have at least made them think and feel, even if it was just a little bit.
Hang on, though. Didn’t you praise –
I’ll stop you there. Yes, I praised Captain Underpants for not trying to graft meaning and life-lessons and sentiment onto a childish movie aimed at children. But the difference here is that Despicable Me 3 seems to have gone out of its way to concoct a story out of elements that are immediately more grown-up, and to have them and not mine them for any depth feels wasteful, yes, but also faintly cowardly. The punches being pulled creatively are not entirely dissimilar from the lack of effort in the voice work, the rote predictability of the supporting turns, and the absence of anything new or interesting in the characterisation – despite having the potential of Carrell’s double-acting with himself (a decision that ultimately goes nowhere and amounts to very little.)
I take it this isn’t a recommendation?
Cars 3 and Captain Underpants both came out this month, and they’re both better movies in almost every aspect. Despicable Me 3 lacks the former’s straightforward, tried-and-true narrative structure and surprising third-act turn, and it doesn’t have anywhere close to the latter’s perfectly-puerile gags or visual imagination. Go and see either of those. The only time this movie lets loose is during the two fart gags in the opening title card.
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Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.