When the pandemic started back in the early months of 2020, a lot of major films had to be pushed back. There were a lot of films and major blockbusters that were coming out that year including animated ones and while some still managed to get out during that dreadful year, others were delayed back in the hopes that they could be seen by a wider audience. The animated film that has taken the longest to get out was "Minions: The Rise of Gru", the sequel to Illumination's "Despicable Me" massive spinoff film from 2015. While the titular Minions got some big laughs in the first two films of the franchise as the comic relief characters, they unfortunately didn't work as protagonists which resulted in a mostly annoying spectacle. The good news is that this new film is a big improvement on its predecessor (and even "Despicable Me 3") and has some interesting energy and personality though the bad news is that it's still a far cry from the first two "Despicable Me" films that wasn't nearly as funny as it wanted to be. It's just ended up resulting in an overall okay film.
In the 1970s, a young Gru (Steve Carell) with the help of his trusted Minions (Pierre Coffin) who came to work for him after the events of the first film, has aspirations to become a major supervillain and join a villain league known as the Vicious 6 who have just dumped their leader Wild Knuckles (Alan Arkin). The group, particularly their new leader Belle Bottom (Taraji P. Henson), laughs at the young villain, and in retaliation, Gru steals a precious medallion from them in hopes to bribe them into joining their group. However, things get complicated when one of the Minions named Otto loses the medallion at a birthday party and Gru ends up getting kidnapped by Wild Knuckles believing he has the medallion. Hoping to get back their leader, the three Minion heroes from the first film Kevin, Stuart, and Bob go to San Francisco and train with a kung fu master named Chow (Michelle Yeoh) to help rescue Gru before Knuckles or the furious Vicious 6 get to him first.
This film ended up being way better than I was initially anticipating. I still wouldn't say this film is good per se as it doesn't have the same magic that the first two films of the "Despicable Me" franchise had, but it was a big improvement compared to the other films mainly in that this film didn't annoy me. There's a lot in this film that does work and I think it mostly comes down to the story and characters being way better in this film than they were in the first film. The film does have a very fun first act where we see the Vicious 6 steal the medallion from an Asian temple as well as them leaving Wild Knuckles for dead and also a very young Gru trying to make his first steps as a supervillain which includes stealing the medallion from the group and making an escape in the streets. It was pretty fun stuff and easily some of the best I've seen from the "Despicable Me" franchise in a while. I also found the scenes with Gru and Wild Knuckles pretty good as well as there's some heart in their relationship which included a very fun scene that I won't spoil that had a pretty good callback to the first film. The stuff with Gru was pretty fun and I enjoyed them a lot though the scenes with the Minions still didn't work for me. The scenes between them and undergoing the kung fu training felt a bit formulaic to me and had a lot of moments I've seen play out in better films like "Kung Fu Panda" and just felt exceptionally convenient as well. It just seemed to go way too smoothly than I think it should've been. Though the biggest problem with the film is sadly the comedy not being as funny as it could have.
There are a couple of jokes that got some chuckles from me including one where a teacher asks a student what he wants to be when he grows up and when they respond with a teacher, she replies with "No, you don't." However, most of the jokes just didn't make me laugh. It's not that the jokes were annoying but rather they were just not funny and don't take my word for it. I saw this film with a decent-sized crowd of people and the audience's laughter including the young children was relatively quiet. There were a handful of chuckles, but not many loud laughs compared to other installments in the series and even other Illumination films. It was a bit disappointing. As far as the animation goes, it's very dynamic and fun. There's a lot of energy in this film compared to Illumination's other films and it does stand out a lot in this film. It's really apparent in the first act of the film with the fun chase scenes and exciting action. I also loved the attention to detail with the retro 70s vibe that was in this film as it helped give this film a lot more style compared to the unimpressive 60s vibe of the first film. There's a lot of disco, groovy colors, and dynamic kung fu tributes in this film's animation and it really looked dynamic and slick. I hope to see Illumination continue to experiment with this energy in their films. As far as the characters go, I'm a little mixed on some of them. Let's start off with the ones that worked. The younger Gru is fun to watch as we see him rise to become the despicable character he would become to be. He has a lot of starry-eyed aspirations despite his disinterested mother and the other supervillains but it's nice to see him not wanting to give up his dreams and he shares some good chemistry with the aging Wild Knuckles and his eventual future partner, a young Dr. Nefario. The Vicious 6 were pretty fun as well as they all had hilarious performances and seemed interesting, even if they weren't in the film as much as I'd wanted. Some of the other characters in the film didn't work for me. The Minions aren't as funny as they used to be and still don't as main character up and front since they can be a bit much and while I normally love Michelle Yeoh, the character of Master Chow was just another use of tiresome character trope of the retired teacher coming out of retirement to train the new pupil without anything new added and mostly just felt one dimensional.
If anything, it just results in "Minions: The Rise of Gru" being mostly just an average film. While it has its moments with its animation, a great first act in the story, and some fun characters, it does suffer from some unfunny humor, clunky scenes, and uninteresting characters. It's definitely the best "Despicable Me" film since the second film and it's one of Illumination's better films in a while, but I don't know if I can fully recommend it. It's not a film that rises to be as great or as funny as it promises to be.