Tuesday, January 21, 2014

3 Stinkers – Youuuuu're Despicable

I'm with these guys and Emerson Cod.  Oooooh, heyell no!

What a strange irony of Hollywood it is that the movies which least warrant sequels always end up with the most sequels.  Animated movies by nature are never written to be serialized, as most children have neither the patience nor the intellect to sit through a story with more than one conflict or apparent climax; so it is that every kiddie flick ever produced is planned with a clear beginning, middle, and end, and so it is that every kiddie flick follow-up unavoidably feels like a gratuitous and lazy money-grab.  To this date, I haven’t seen a single exception to this precedent of crappiness, and the first 15 minutes of Despicable Me 2 have already reinforced my biases against movies with numerals in the title.

I wasn’t quite as enamored of the first movie as some other people were, thinking it a quirky and sometimes amusing but rather unoriginal rehash of Shrek and some other unexpected hero stories (that Megamind came out only a couple months later wasn’t a huge blessing for either film).  To its credit, Despicable Me actually had a plot with genuine struggle, escalating action, a climax, a meaningful resolution, and characters who had to choose between good and evil – all components that Despicable Me 2 forgoes entirely in exchange for uninspired slapstick, physical humor, and cartoon cliches.  DM2’s narrative has all the complexity of typical fan-fiction, imagining scenarios that a character might deal with without giving any probable explanation as to why he should be dealing with them in the first place.  “What would happen if professional villain-turned single father Gru was pressured by his adopted daughters and neighbors into getting a girlfriend?  What would happen if that girlfriend just so happened to be a redheaded member of a formerly unknown Anti-Villain-League who brandishes a lipstick taser and knows some kind of jujitsu?  What would happen if a new supervillain from Gru’s past called El Macho resurfaced as an Italian restaurant owner with a chemical formula that can turn living organisms into crazy, purple monster-forms of themselves?  Wouldn’t it be interesting to see?”

The short answer, of course, is, “No.”  It wouldn’t be interesting to see Gru get himself a girlfriend because he was perfectly delightful without one, it wouldn’t be interesting to see his eldest daughter go through the same process with some exotic rich boy, and it most certainly wouldn’t be interesting to see Gru face off against another randomly conjured nemesis without undergoing any changes in his own character, no more than it would be to watch Batman go up against Superman for no other reason than to see “what would happen”.

“What if so-and-so got himself into such-and-such a predicament that has nothing to do with the issues he faced prior?” is almost never a compelling basis for a story, as demonstrated by the Madagascar sequels (“What if the animals we love from the first movie went to Africa/Europe?”), Shrek sequels (“What if our fairy tale heroes had to contend with Fairy Godmother and/or Prince Charming, got body-swapped, or were warped by Rumpelstiltskin into an alternate universe?”), Toy Story sequels (“What if the toys somehow wound up in a fat, chicken guy’s apartment or a morbid daycare center?”), Kung Fu Panda 2 (“What if there just so happened to be an evil peacock menace voiced by Gary Oldman somewhere in China and what if Po had to stop him to attain inner peace?”), and now by this pile of minion dung.

Speaking of minions, there are way too many of them in this picture, having evolved from a sparsely utilized source of comedy into a perpetual distraction and cheap substitute for plot progression that only the most weak-minded of kiddies will appreciate.  Most people regard the minions as the very best thing that the Despicable series has going for it, but I would contend the opposite: the minions seem like characters that the writers plucked right out of a Looney Tunes episode, got a little carried away with, and in so doing forgot that they were making a full-length feature film.  The one cause for their existence in DM2 is to fall down, babble in a nonsensical dialect, and beat each other up for comic effect.  In fact, that’s virtually the only thing that happens in the first half hour of this bloated, utterly shallow cartoon, and when conflict finally does arise, it’s all of an artificial and forced variety, stemming not from the protagonist’s dueling wills to uphold both his paternal duties and (decidedly less noble) occupational ones but from uninteresting villains and trials which are summoned as a kind of deux ex machina.

There are two exceptionally animated sequences late in the movie, the first being wherein swarms of mutated purple minions charge over themselves to scale a Mexican castle, World War Z-style, and then dissolve into a yellow throng when Gru’s gunship turrets rain antidote darts on them, and the second being wherein Gru does a slow-motion back-flip and diver spin while firing dual blasters at advancing minions, Matrix-style.  By the time viewers finally reach these moments, however, they’ll already have suffered through such an excruciating onslaught of stupidity and juvenile humor that nothing can truly impress them, and they’ll be too preoccupied playing spot-the-pop-culture-reference, as I was*, to form a clear judgment of DM2’s own merits.  So low are the depths of this movie’s unoriginality that even most of its soundtrack is plucked unabridged from its predecessor.

Kids have had a really cruddy moviegoing year between this, A Bug’s Life 2 (review forthcoming on Thursday), The Smurfs 2, Ice Age 5: The Cavemen Drift, Monsters Inc. 2, Cars 3: In the Sky, Cars 4: This Time With Snails, and Raining Meatballs 2, but we can’t expect conditions to improve until parents grow a spine and take a firm stand against Hollywood recycling.  A message to the universe: don’t do drugs, say no to peer pressure, and never, ever recycle.  You may feel that the whole world hates you for it, but there can be no greater reward than the knowledge that one has stuck to the path of virtue and done the right thing in spite of sheer opposition.

Grade rating: C-.  In other words:

* Those are just a couple of the cheesy allusions counted while watching; also detected were traces of the Hulk, the Love Boat, Kung Fu Panda, Joe Vs. The Volcano, and the Backstreet Boys.  It was a really lame movie.

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