It’d be one thing if the Despicable Me series had a story which needed to be told in its third film. What we have with Despicable Me 3 (or is it Despicable M3, as the film’s opening credits and promotional materials claim?) is a piece of relatively harmless, potty humor-filled fluff which feels more like a bunch of storylines slapped together quickly and dismissed in the same fashion.
There’s no necessity or urgency to propel this outing. Instead, we’re merely observers to a cutesy re-acquaintance with our main characters while they run around like chickens with their heads cut off, finagling the scant chuckle from us every now and again. Well, at least it does its job by entertaining its target audience with the occasional pee joke.
The charm of Felonious Gru (Steve Carell), the aspiring supervillain-turned-government agent, has fled the scene, only to be replaced by a character who at least sounds like Gru. He’s lost the odd milquetoast vibe; he’s no longer a nincompoop feeling and pratfalling his way around whatever situation has his attention at the time. Sure, he’s faced with a few new wrinkles – losing his job at the Anti-Villain League (AVL) and discovering he has a twin brother, Dru (also voiced by Carell, natch), separated as babies due to their parents’ divorce – but we’re given the slightest of script and story to help things along while the disparate plots are haphazardly bound together.
Gru’s newfound confidence could be attributed to how his life has improved since we first saw him seven years ago. He’s happily married to his AVL partner Lucy (Kristen Wiig), and his children Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier), and Agnes (Nev Scharrel, replacing Elsie Fisher) are everything he’d hoped they’d be – smart, caring, and funny. Of course, we don’t get to see too much of them, as they are dropped in and yanked out of the film just to give us something else to laugh at; they’re not germane to the story or the action at all.
Except, of course, there’s a so-shoehorned-in-it-hurts theme of new parenthood on Lucy’s part regarding knowing when to put her foot down and when to let things go. This forced side track makes it look like screenwriters Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio had absolutely no clue how to fit Lucy and the kids into the film. At first, she’s the awkwardly precious Lucy from the second film, but they have her doing an abrupt, hackneyed heel turn in the film’s latter half which miraculously solves her parenting issues. It’s as false and annoying as you’d expect; it’s as if the writers set up this gaping hole which needed to be filled, but the result feels like they slapped a Band-Aid over it and called it a day.
The same thing goes for the villain of the piece, Balthazar Bratt, voiced by a woefully underused Trey Parker. Bratt is a ’80s child star who lost everything once he hit puberty; now, he’s taking his television role as a child criminal into the real world and attempting to make Hollywood pay for what they did to him. The overreliance on ’80s nostalgia isn’t clever or witty, feeling just as compulsory as everything else, obviously dropped in for parents taking their children to see this movie. Bratt’s more of a caricature-like sight gag with a jumped-up axe to grind; he’s a man who actually became who he played on television, dressing in his character’s outfits and spouting catchphrases at every turn.
Speaking of sight gags, what about the Minions? They’re gone, pulling a mass exodus out of Gru’s house after he refuses to return to a criminal lifestyle. In another throw-it-in-the-pot sidebar, they’re arrested for crashing an “American Idol”-like talent show and thrown in jail (of course, there’s a butt-tattooing scene for good measure, and why not?). As must happen in these films, they realize how good they had it with Gru and escape just in time to be involved with the film’s climax.
Where does this all leave Gru? For starters, he not only discovers the brother he never had, but his absent father’s history as well. In an all-too-convenient parody of Gru’s own life and his relationship with his mother, Dru had one of the world’s greatest supervillains for a father and was likewise belittled for not following in his footsteps. It’s almost as if Gru has to deal with a version of himself in the form of his newfound twin, so we’re back to square one again, this time with Gru holding Dru’s hand through the growing pains of becoming his own man.
(Side note: If Gru is Felonious’ surname, is Dru a first or last name? It’s this kind of wishy-washy indolence with which this film is packed.)
It’s a totally lazy sequel with not much going for it. Pharrell Williams comes back to augment Heitor Peirera’s score with new songs written for the film, but Williams’ attempts to follow up the instant hit “Happy” from Despicable Me 2 fall flat. The voice acting doesn’t help this movie slog along its unmemorable path; the fact that the script is rather uninspired doesn’t help much, either. But, like Minions before it, Despicable M3 has some absolutely killer animation, featuring lifelike textures and backgrounds, blurring the lines between computer animation and photorealism.
The film isn’t a total loss, but as soon as the ’80s music starts pumping through the auditorium speakers and dance fights break out, you’ll know you’re watching a film which wants so desperately to cash in on nostalgia. Despicable M3 tries to do too much with too little backing it up, and it tries way too hard.