Starring (Voices): Steve Carell, Kirsten Wiig, Trey Parker
Directors: Pierre Coffin, Kyle Balda
Running Time: 90 mins
Synopsis: Still working alongside his wife (Wiig) as an agent for the Anti-Villain League, Gru (Carell) is unexpectedly fired when he fails to capture 80s inspired super-villain Balthazar Bratt (Parker). His loyal companions The Minions attempt to woo him back into a life of crime, which is further exacerbated when his unknown twin brother, also a villain, Dru (also Carell) appears.
Illumination, the French animation outfit, has always been the runt of the litter when compared to its cinematic competition. Eschewing the deeper themes of Pixar, or the rich character work of Dreamworks Animation, in favour of brightly coloured, pop culture flavoured escapades. It certainly hasn’t hindered their box office success, last years The Secret Life of Pets taking nearly $900 million, but they’ve never stretched themselves beyond solidly charming three star pictures. Despicable Me and its sequel are undoubtedly the cream of the crop, fun, heartfelt and filled with characterful voice performances. Alas this third outing represents a creative stagnation that signals what should be the end for this particular franchise.
Things start off well enough as we are thrown into a dynamic outlandish heist performed by former child star (as the clunky exposition tells us at the films outset) Balthazar Bratt. Perpetually stuck in the 80s, right down to the clothes he wears (shoulder pads and all) and the clever utilisation of 80s pop culture items as weapons. Trey Parker (he of South Park infamy) seems to be having joyous fun voicing the inherently ridiculous Bratt, especially when backtracked by his favourite 1980s music tracks. The use of Michael Jackson’s Bad, A-Ha’s Take on Me etc give the film a desperate burst of energy, something this franchise usually never struggles with, albeit it becomes an overused tool as the 10th retro song kicks in. The heist is halted in its tracks by husband and wife team Gru and Lucy, once more working for the Anti-Villain League to stop would be bad guys in their plans for world domination. Inventive, funny and exciting, it is a solid promising opening.
Sadly from here on out the dangerously thin story keeps the film from ever really taking off. Writers Cinco Paul & Ken Daurio desperately trying to fill their plot with numerous digressions in order to flesh out the scant running time. The main thrust concerns the hunt for Bratt, but we also get a detour with Gru’s previously unheard of twin brother Dru. Also voiced by Carell, adopting an effeminate high pitched cadence, Dru is rich, playful and blessed with a beautiful wad of blonde hair. All things designed to rile Gru up the wrong way. It also does not help that Dru happens to be a practising supervillain, a life Gru is struggling to get away from. In this dynamic lies a real potential to dive into brotherly struggles, as well as the internal battle to stick to ones good natured ideology, and yet the film does nothing at all with this relationship. Tensions are fleeting, and the cosy familiarity they quickly adopt is emotionally primitive.
If that wasn’t enough, and believe me it really isn’t, the Minions (those yellow chaos monkeys) get their own subplot concerning a trip to prison and a daring escape. As to be expected they provide the funniest moments, particularly a delightful prison montage, but even their material feels neutered. It is almost like the creative team were completely and utterly bored, driven to make this for purely financial reasons rather than having any real things to say. Nowhere is this more evident than in the fourth (yes fourth) *I know, enough with the brackets already* subplot in which the cute as a button Agnes hunts for an elusive unicorn. Although I never tire at the sheer cuteness in everything she says and does, this plot beat is literally dealt with in 2/3 scenes. The punchline of which is painfully unfunny.
Once the beating heart of these films, the three girls get an immensely short shrift this time out. They do factor into a brief subplot (oh god another bracket and another subplot) surrounding Lucy’s concerns over becoming an adoptive mother. At least this extra plot point graces the film with the only shred of heartfelt payoff, in a quietly touching little moment towards the back end of the movie. By this point though you’d have largely drifted off. Despicable Me 3’s whiplashing movements conjuring an air of hopeless boredom. We need a single tangible character or plot motivation to latch onto, but the film comes up empty, content to use flat pop culture gags or music cues to fill the void.
You certainly cannot falter the visual element, the candy coloured distinctly European palate present and correct. The voice work is also pretty solid, Carell delivering a few laughs with his highly accentuated oddly pitched enunciation. Supporting work from the likes of Jenny Slate and Steve Coogan is also perfectly decent. Pharell Williams once more provides an upbeat modern tempo with his musical contributions, to at least facilitate some form of energy. Good natured enthusiastic music can only do so much though, and there is just little real invention or fun to be had this time out. Despicable Me 3 unfortunately joins the likes of Pirates of the Caribbean and Transformers in the year of films that exhaustively crush anything that was remotely enjoyable about them in the first place.
Verdict: The visuals pop, the music delights and the occasional wit presents itself, but little of the charm or heart remains in a threequel that offers not one but several lacklustre stories. Despicable Meh more like!