Lo and behold, the most adorable creatures to have ever graced the big screen have arrived in their own solo film: Minions. It was to be expected, I guess. After all, the Minions are likely the most favorite part of the beloved Despicable Me franchise for almost every single viewer, and those films have a lot of awesome stuff. So, it wasn’t much of a stretch for greedy film studios to think that those gibberish-speaking, perpetually-smirking, pale-faced bundles of charm would strike gold on their own.
But as the recent Terminator: Genisys served to reminded us once again, not every popular franchise of the past needs to be resurrected and not every lovable character from a blockbuster film deserves its own spinoff film. Just because there’s a prospect of making money doesn’t mean it necessarily has to be pursued. Sometimes, maintaining goodwill is of more value than making a few million dollars.
Alas, what was cute for a few minutes within the larger framework in both Despicable Me films is tiresome and stretched beyond its breaking point in this week’s Minions. What starts off making you all googly-eyed in love in the first few minutes makes you weary and sighing with boredom after the first half hour.
The film takes place a few years BG (Before Gru), with the Minions looking for their one true evil master who they could serve for eternity and fulfill their lives’ purpose. They experimented with dinosaurs, early men, Dracula, even Napoleon, but some disaster (of their own creation) always struck out their partnership with their “Big Boss”. So, three of them decide to travel to New York to find true evil, who could lead them, and they find it in the greatest supervillain of all time Scarlet Overkill.
The plot might seem promising on reading the synopsis, with relishing prospect of fun to be had once the Minions teamed up with Scarlet Overkill and wrecked havoc. But in reality, there is no plot here. Writer Brian Lunch takes very long, too long for the Minions to even come across Scarlet for the first time. And even after they’ve won her affections and her command over them, there is no villainy and no rollicking fun to be had.
Scarlet Overkill is repeatedly called a supervillain, but there are no evil acts committed by her really. The most sinister thing that she and her mastermind inventor husband Herb Overkill do throughout the film is ASKING the Minions to steal the Queen of England’s crown, which also ends up as a failed attempt.
There is no narrative flow to speak of in the film. Directors Pierre Coffin and Kyle Balda go from one incident after another rather than building momentum and a smooth, well-oiled machine. They go for slapstick humor rather than clever and heartwarming, and they choose to exploit the our love for the Minions rather than build upon their characters and flesh them out. Sure, its hard to write for characters who’re talking in some language of their own making that only that crazy lady from your apartment building could understand. But the writer and the director duo don’t even make an effort.
Sure, there are a few laugh out loud moments in the film, courtesy of Minions just being Minions. There is no rock boulder that doesn’t roll over and kill someone, no sea of lava that someone doesn’t fall into, no body parts that aren’t stretched and no guns that aren’t fired to blow people up. Plus the concept of Villain-Con has to make you laugh, no matter who you are.
But what makes animated movies so great — what made the Despicable Me films so great — is that not only do they transcend the limitations of physicality, but they also have the biggest heart of all genres, which is ironical considering the people we see in the films aren’t really there at all. Minions doesn’t make you feel for a single moment — not for the Minions themselves, not for any supporting characters and not for any of the villains.
What doesn’t help the cause is that the voice acting by the whole cast of good but uninspired. Unlike the histrionics of Steve Carell as Gru from the original series, Sandra Bullock doesn’t manage to endear Scarlet Overkill to the audience. It definitely seems like she’s having fun and she definitely doesn’t leave any stone unturned, but its the writing and character building that lets her down. Same goes for Jon Hamm as Herb Overkill, who gives an unexpected but interesting turn as the supervillain sidekick with crazy gadgets.
Director Pierre Coffin himself voices the Minions once again and he’s funny, but gets repetitive by the end. Michael Keaton and Allison Janney are unremarkable as couple the Minions meet on their way to Villain-Con. So is Geoffrey Rush as the film’s narrator. Steve Carell makes a great cameo appearance as Gru in the finale.
If you can’t write a story for and sustain an idea for the short, short duration of 90 minutes, then it wasn’t really meant to be in the first place. Minions just turns out to be a listless, plotless, cash-grabby spinoff film that unsuccessfully tries to coast on the audience’s affection towards its eponymous protagonists. Hopefully, it hasn’t turned me off towards the Minions and hopefully, I’ll be able to enjoy their shenanigans once again when they appear in supporting roles in Despicable Me 3 in 2017.