The whole Despicable Meatgrinder is a lesson in diminishing returns. The first movie was great fun, the second was kind of meh with moments of whimsy, and Minions was an almost inevitable letdown. And now we swing into a third Gru movie, and it’s plain that the tank is dry. It’s a short movie, and somehow still doesn’t feel packed. In a way, that’s all to the good, since it doesn’t get enough time to wear out its welcome.
The whole enterprise is built on three key building blocks; Gru, the girls, and the Minions. Gru is fun when he’s being mean, and even more fun when he’s trying to be mean and being tripped up by occasional kindly impulses. Despicable Me 2 had Gru being a good guy all the time, and that turned out not to be fun. For the third movie, they fire him from the Anti-Villain League, but disappointingly he doesn’t return to evil. When Gru isn’t being wicked, the girls don’t have enough to do, and neither do the Minions. Now, giving the Minions too much to do never ends well; they wreck movies with the same predictability that they wreck evil plans. But giving them nothing much to do is just as bad.
With Gru staying out of the villainy business, he fires the Minions, and they spend the rest of the movie blundering in and out of setpieces which have no real consequences for anyone else, as if they’re in their own tiny pointless movie which just happens to be camping in the middle of the minor diversion which is the main attraction. So they win a talent competition in a way that gets them all thrown in jail, and then they orchestrate a jailbreak after taking over the whole prison. That left me scratching my head a bit; on the one hand, it’s weird behaviour for Minions to go into business for themselves instead of finding a big villain to cosy up to, especially when they’ve got a whole jail to choose from, and on the other hand, if you’ve got the whole prison running just the way you want it, why would you even bother breaking out?
Back when they made Despicable Me 2, I was saying that the third movie ought to be Gru turning back to the dark side; they couldn’t quite being themselves to do that, so instead they’ve magicked up a long lost twin brother to turn villainous on his behalf. This is not the right way to go, but it’s a more interesting villain than they one they hung the movie off. Balthazar Bratt would have made a great pre-credits scene, but he’s just not funny enough to carry even the medium sized chunk of movie he’s given. I’m not sure that Dru would have been any great improvement, but Gru is at his best failing to cope with family, so it would have had that going for it.
The movie ends on a sequel hook, which is pretty much the movie they should have made instead of this one; Gru’s long lost brother Dru, abetted by the minions, snaffles all of Gru’s old villain kit and goes into business as a super villain. I’m not optimistic. I think they ought to switch the whole game around, and have Margo finally wake up to her adopted dad’s line of work. I reckon Margo, Edith and Agnes would make a perfect gang. Not that that’s open to negotiation. Some things in the Despicable universe are immutable. As Gru says when Dru starts telling Margo just how grown up she’s looking “Margo is twelve, and she will always be twelve.”