The principal lesson in Minions is that Minions are hilarious in tiny doses while something else is going on, but not enough to run their own movie. Just as actual Minions need a huge villain to give their lives meaning, Minions movies need a huge villain to give the movie some kind of centre. Since this is only obvious after the fact and everyone loves Minions, no-one gave Scarlet and Herb Overkill anything like enough to do, and Minions kind of putters along without really living up to the sheer fun we’d all hoped it could have been.
But there are some other things to ponder. Firstly, under my general operating statement that Hollywood movies exist primarily to market safe thinking to the masses, it’s good to see Hollywood get across the essential message that for Evil to prosper, all it needs is an unlimited supply of idiots doing the hard work. I’d gone to the movies to get away from reality, but there it was screaming at me from the screen anyhow.
Secondly, Minions is a much more important feminist movie than Spy (though that’s true of most things, I suppose). No, not because it’s got a female super villain. Not because it passes the Bechdel test - it barely has two named female characters - three if you count “The Queen” as a name and none of them have a conversation about about anything still less about something which isn’t a man. No, it’s because it examines the appeal of the psycho asshat.
It’s a banal trope of popular psychology that Chicks Dig Jerks, but it’s rare that popular culture takes the time to walk us through just how beguiling jerks are. Half-assed theories abound; that psychopaths charm us because they don’t care what lies they tell or unkept promises they make to get what they want, or that bullies prosper because it’s a tough world and when we weigh it up, we’d all like our own personal bastard to fend off the bigger bastards we fear lie beyond the bastards we can see. Whatever makes it work, wherever there’s a rampaging clown spreading misery and mayhem, there’s a cloud of people around him who just can’t get enough of it.
Minions, those little lovable yellow morons, just want to be that cloud of people. And the whole movie is about a) how deluded they are in seeing the appalling as appealing, and b) how much havoc they bring the bad guys while they’re just trying to help. I can’t figure out if the movie is trying to explain how well meaning people are attracted to terrible people who exploit them, or trying to cheer us up by suggesting that only idiots are taken in by charismatic villains, and that those idiots will be their undoing.
In the cause of explaining whichever this is on offer, Minions punt T-rex into a volcano, get cro-magnon man eaten by a bear, flatten the Pharaoh with his own pyramid, vaporise Dracula and explode Napoleon, all while trying to help. Luckily exploding Napoleon pisses off the Imperial Guard enough to chase them into exile in Siberia for a century or so, so we don’t have to handle the industrial levels of awkward that would have attended their auditions to help out struggling Austrian art students and failed Georgian seminarians. They only emerge from hibernation in 1968, when Kevin, Bob and Stuart head off to find a new boss in the land of opportunity. Unaccountably ignoring a Nixon election poster, they follow a trail of breadcrumbs to Orlando and fall under the spell of Scarlet Overkill, and that’s the rest of the movie, more or less.
And it’s fun, don’t get me wrong. It can’t not be fun. But much like the Spongebob movie, it’s the kind of fun which doesn’t work as well in the long haul. The opening montage of bosses is great fun because it’s rapid fire jokes squashed into a tiny space, but once we settle down to the Scarlet Overkill plot, there’s somehow not enough Scarlet and not enough Minions to keep the movie up to expectations. It often feels like there’s a long time between moments of reckless hilarity, no matter how many throwaway gags pop up. An all-Minons movie seemed like a great idea in theory, but so did all-purple packs of Fruit Gums till I tried to eat them all.