Editor’s Note: Despicable Me 3 opens in wide theatrical release today, June 30, 2017.
It’s usually a sign of desperation, creative bankruptcy, or likely both to introduce a long-lost, hitherto unknown sibling or relative into an ongoing series or franchise. It’s an old soap-opera gimmick, but it made the jump to the big screen more than twenty-five years ago when Star Trek: The Final Frontier, easily the worst of the series derived from the original cast, introduced Spock’s half-brother (he was never mentioned again). After four films, including an incredibly popular, not to mention profitable, Minions spin-off, the Despicable Me series isn’t there yet, but it’s getting dangerously close. Not, of course, that the series core preteen audience will or even should care. Their parents, on the other hand, definitely should. Filled with cheap, lazy gags, even worse jokes, and borderline offensive depictions of “foreigners,” Despicable Me 3 almost succeeds despite itself, thanks in no small measure to Steve Carell’s dual turn as Gru, follicle-challenged, scarf-loving super-villain-turned-super-agent, and Dru, his golden-haired, separated-at-birth twin brother.
If it all sounds a bit scattershot and disconnected, that’s because Despicable Me 3 is, jumping from one subplot to another with little reason or rationale except to give Gru and his family screentime.
When we last saw Gru, he had everything a one-time super-villain could want: The love, respect, and admiration of the three girls, Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier), and Agnes (Nev Scharrel) he adopted two entries ago, and the long-term monogamous bliss promised by his marriage to Lucy (Kristen Wiig), one of the Anti-Villain League’s top agents. For all of his efforts as a member of the Anti-Villain League, Gru’s greatest foe, Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker, South Park), a bitter ex-child-star-turned-criminal-mastermind, keeps slipping away. After an embarrassing imbroglio leaves Gru’s dignity in tatters and Bratt still free, the Anti-Villain League’s newly appointed chief, Valerie Da Vinci (Jenny Slate), fires Gru and Lucy, Gru for his all-around ineptitude, Lucy for her career-ending loyalty to Gru. Even worse, Gru’s diminished status gives Minion Mel (actual name, no relation), the opening he needs to stage a walkout/mutiny, leaving Gru and his family all but Minion-less (two Minions remain behind).
It’s almost enough to convince Gru that returning to a life of super-villainy isn’t a bad idea after all, but he clings to the image of himself a reformed man. He also wants to live up to the good dad, good husband thing, but before he can put his talents to any kind of use, good, bad, or indifferent, Dru’s manservant appears at Gru’s door, eager to invite Gru and his family to Dru’s palatial estate in Freedonia (a Marx Brothers reference for the 80-year-olds in the audience). In Freedonia, a bizarrely imagined, Bavarian-influenced kingdom filled with pig farms, underage marriage, and grotesque-looking locals (insert commentary here about Despicable Me 3’s regressive, retrograde treatment of “others” and how it runs counter to the generally progressive attitudes found in the vast majority of animated films), Gru and Dru brother-bond. Gru learns that the father he thought long dead was actually a supervillain who amassed a vast fortune as a result of his supervillainy. Gru also learns that Dru, a fun-loving goofball at heart, wants to go into the family business and wants Gru to be his guide and mentor.
Filled with cheap, lazy gags, even worse jokes, and borderline offensive depictions of “foreigners,” Despicable Me 3 almost succeeds despite itself, thanks in no small measure to Steve Carell’s dual turn as Gru, follicle-challenged, scarf-loving super-villain-turned-super-agent, and Dru, his golden-haired, separated-at-birth twin brother.
While the central plot turns on Gru and Dru’s relationship and Gru’s attempt to thwart Bratt’s scheme to get his revenge on Hollywood for canceling his TV show several decades earlier, Lucy goes through the usual, if underdeveloped, permutations of newfound motherhood. She has to learn to say “No,” except when she shouldn’t. She has to learn to be strict and firm, except when she shouldn’t. It’s a tricky balancing act. And when Margo inadvertently becomes engaged to a local boy, she has to put her big American foot down and reject outdated cultural practices and traditions. For her part, Agnes becomes obsessed with finding a real-life unicorn in the forests of Freedonia while Gru tries to prepare her for the ultimate disappointment: For all of the fanciful gadgets, sentient, child-like life without discernible origin (Minions), and mad scientists running around, unicorns apparently don’t exist in Gru’s world. The Mel-led Minions end up in prison after breaking into a studio and participating in a singing competition (hardly felonious behavior, but just go with the Minion flow). Naturally, they take over the prison with their nonsense gibberish and West Side Story-influenced dance moves.
If it all sounds a bit scattershot and disconnected, that’s because Despicable Me 3 is, jumping from one subplot to another with little reason or rationale except to give Gru and his family screentime. Borrowing more than a few visual ideas and concepts from Pixar and DreamWorks Animation, Despicable Me 3 will leave older moviegoers (i.e., post-pre-school) in a constant state of déjà vu. The climactic battle between the forces of somewhat, maybe sorta good and most definitely, petty evil even borrows a key idea from Avengers: Age of Ultron’s literally earth-shattering finale, in turn signaling the need to bring in a new writing team, maybe even a new directing team when Despicable Me 4 receives the inevitable greenlight to move forward with production. An ending that leaves several loose subplots unresolved isn’t an ending at all, just an inducement or enticement for Despicable Me 4.
Despicable Me 3 is scattershot and disorganized, jumping from one subplot to another with little reason or rationale except to give Gru and his family screentime, but almost succeeds thanks to Steve Carell’s dual turn as Gru and long-lost brother Dru.