In a summer season filled with big, dark action films, Despicable Me 2 is a refreshing change of pace.
The story takes place sometime after the events of the first film. Reformed evil genius Gru (Steven Carrell) has settled into his role as father to his adoptive daughters Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier, who's given very little to do) and Agnes (the precocious-sounding Elise Fisher, as adorable and "awwww" inducing as she was in the last film). However, when a top secret laboratory in the artic has been stolen by a giant magnet and secreted to parts unknown, Gru is recruited by a top secret spy agency ("AVL", the "Anti-Villain League") to help recover a chemical agent that was being developed there. Meanwhile, Gru has to deal with the not-so-avuncular Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand, an a too-short appearance reminiscent of Michael Caine in The Dark Knight Rises) defection from the family to pursue more world-dominating pursuits, his daughter Margo's experience of first love/crush, and the barely-tolerated wackiness of his assigned investigative partner, Lucy (Kristin Wiig, whose character is in great need of a Valium/Xanax cocktail). And, if that weren't enough, Gru's faithful minions (voiced by directors Peter Coffin and Chris Renaud) are being abducted for some nefarious purpose.
If it sounds like a lot is going on, it's because there is. However, this movie seems more like "The Minions Take Manhattan" rather than Despicable Me. Coffin and Renaud understood that a major part of the first film's success stemmed from the amusingly adorable minions so they are given much more screen time with vignettes peppered between the main story. Unfortunately, it works to the plots' disadvantage as the resolution of each storyline seems underdeveloped and rushed. Not that there is any action, mind you (especially in a sequence that parodies the recent resurgence of over the top action blockbusters), but there's never really any sense of danger with any of these situations.
But in this movie, there really shouldn't be. While some of the comedic bits don't work as well as they should, this film does have a charm that engenders an ingratiating smile whether you want to or not (even with the slew of bald jokes that pepper the film...). It also manages the rare feat of bringing something new to the table but still feel comfortingly familiar. The new improved Gru may not have the same bite as the villainous one did, but under Carrell's vocal ministrations, he proves to be just as compelling. As his off-kilter yet capable companion, fellow DM veteran Wiig (who voiced Miss Hattie in the original film) endearingly holds her own. Yes, the resolution of their own plot line is predictable but the journey to the endpoint is entertaining to watch and, frankly, a lot more honest than most live action efforts. The film skirts the line of racist stereotype with Mexican restaurateur Eduardo (an almost vocally unrecognizable but commendable Benjamin Bratt, who was brought in literally at the last minute after Al Pacino left the part over "creative differences"), but does so with aplomb; skewering without being offensive. The stars of this film, however, are the minions, who practically steal any scene they are in.
The films flaws are minor and, ultimately, inconsequential. When it works, it works. When it doesn't, it still manages to engender a smile. There's enough to keep the kids happy while bringing enough slapstick and subtext to entertain the adults (or the adults with the kid still alive inside). Isn't that ultimately what we should get from films like Despicable Me 2? If so, then this one delivers.