Minions: The Rise of Gru (2022) poster

Minions: The Rise of Gru (2022)


USA. 2022.


Director – Kyle Balda, Co-Directors – Brad Ableson & Jonathan Del Val, Screenplay – Matthew Fogel, Story – Matthew Fogel & Brian Lynch, Producers – Janet Healy, Chris Meledandri & Chris Renaud, Music – Heitor Pereira, Animation Directors – Christophe Delisle, Gwenole Oulc’hen & Ludovic Roz, CGI Supervisors – Frank Baradat & Milan Voukassovitch, Art Direction – Frank Gosselin & Thierry Fournier. Production Company – Illumination.


Steve Carell (Gru), Pierre Coffin (The Minions), Alan Arkin (Wild Knuckles), Taraji P. Henson (Belle Bottom), Michelle Yeoh (Master Chow), Julie Andrews (Gru’s Mom), Russell Brand (Nefario), Jean-Claude Van Damme (Jean Clawed), Dolph Lundgren (Svengeance), Danny Trejo (Stronghold), Lucy Lawless (Nun-Chuck), John DiMaggio, Kevin Michael Richardson & Jimmy O. Yang, (Henchmen), RZA (Biker)


It is 1976 and the twelve-year old Gru wants to be a super-villain when he grows up. Most of all, he wants to belong the league of super-villains known as the Vicious Six. He is aided by the Minions but sees their foolishness as a distraction. The Vicious Six get their aging founder Wild Knuckles to steal the Chinese Zodiac Stone during a perilous adventure but then take the stone and abandon him for dead. Gru receives an invite to the Vicious Six’s recruitment drive for a replacement member. He eagerly attends, seeing it the fulfilment of as a lifelong dream, only to be laughed at the Vicious Six for being so young and told to come back when he has done some proper evil. Peeved, Gru steals the Chinese Zodiac while they are distracted. This immediately has the Vicious Six pursuing him, along with Wild Knuckles who is determined to reclaim the stone.

Despicable Me (2010) became an unexpected hit. It launched the French animation studio Illumination. It spawned two sequels with Despicable Me 2 (2013) and Despicable Me 3 (2017). In the midst of this, The Minions, the pint-sized yellow creatures that aided the villain Gru while talking in a nonsensical babble and engaged in all manner of slapstick antics, became a pop culture phenomenon and sold toy lines, t-shirts, lunch boxes etc. Indeed, the Minions proceeded to outgrow the vehicles they appeared in – getting a film all to themselves with Minions (2015). Minions: The Rise of Gru is nominally a sequel, although it is more a Gru origin film than a Minions film ie. it could just as easily be sold as Despicable Me 4 as Minions 2. However, it feels that the Minions have so outgrown the Despicable Me franchise by this point that Gru is, at least in terms of the title, now playing a supporting role to the Minions.

The nonsensical babble and manic slapstick antics of The Minions always has a cuteness factor to it. They are a mass-selling item, popular cosplay characters, while the release of The Rise of Gru even saw the #gentleminions hashtag with people dressing up in formal wear to attend screenings and causing a commotion, resulting in some theatres banning such groups. That said, I feel like the Minions have reached peak popularity and their charms are now starting to be spread thin. That started to seem evident by the time of Minions, which tried to spin a whole film out around their cuteness. It was definitely the case by the point of Mortal Engines (2018) where they were crassly inserted into the background as cultural artefacts.

And so by the time The Rise of Gru starts, I am already asking – do we really need to see more Minions? Do we really need to see a Gru origin story? I loved the first Despicable Me – it was so unexpectedly fresh and original. Everything that has come after that has only been generating more from those basics. There feels something tedious to The Rise of Gru when it dutifully winds in appearances from a young version of Russell Brand’s Dr Nefario and Gru’s mother (voiced by Julie Andrews), introduces the gadgets from the first film, where we get to see an underappreciated Gru at school, him first meeting the Minions and so on. This is the curse of modern Animation, which has largely abandoned creating new stories for intellectual property that keeps churning out minute variations on familiar characters.

Young Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) and the Minions in Minions The Rise of Gru (2022)
Young Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) and the Minions

Even then, I don’t think The Rise of Gru does what we expect it to do particularly well. All of the other Despicable Me/Minions films have at least one Minions gag in them that tickles the funny bone. On the other hand, I sat all the way through The Rise of Gru without finding a single one that did. All the gags were either simple slapstick or repetition of what has gone before. There is an energetic sequence with Gru and the Minions being pursued through the streets by the Vicious Six but it feels like the standard high-energy slapstick sequence that appears in most animation these days – the Ice Age films being a particularly guilty offender – and lacks any real cuteness.

The other issue with the film is its aiming for a retro feel. The film is specifically dated with a 1976 setting. This comes with all the requisite elements of the era – Combi Vans, Afros, pet rocks and Jaws (1975) screening in theatres, not to mention assorted disco and Linda Ronstadt tracks on the soundtrack. There is also the character of Belle Bottom who seems to be modelled on Pam Grier and the kick-ass Blaxploitation heroine of the era. With the inclusion of Michelle Yeoh as a martial arts instructor, The Rise of Gru joins a bunch of recent films that have included homages to the 1970s Martial Arts film.

In particular, the scenes where the film sidetracks off into the long and never particularly funny martial arts training montage takes The Rise of Gru more in the direction of Kung Fu Panda (2008) and sequels. The Kung Fu Panda influence is particularly evident when it comes to the climactic showdown where the villains and Minions all transform into various animal forms due to the Magical Artefact of the stone. All of which adds to the disappointment of The Rise of Gru where the cuteness of its characters is supplanted by pastiche of other cinematic genres and what essentially becomes a superheroic showdown in all but name.

Trailer here

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