Since we last met Gru (Steve Carell) in 2010’s animated Despicable Me, the now-reformed super villain has wholeheartedly embraced his role as single dad to three orphaned girls: tweenager Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), opinionated Edith (Dana Gaier), and young Agnes (Elsie Fisher). He even goes so far as to dress up as a fairy princess for Agnes’ birthday party when the hired fairy can’t make it.
While the first film’s laughs often came from the odd and comical pairing of an evil mastermind saddled with three girls who inevitably win his heart and change his ways, the jokes now are about Gru fitting in. For instance, he’s developing a line of awful-tasting jellies instead of evil plots, and avoiding an annoying neighbor desperate to fix him up with her even more desperate friends.
Far less mean and creepy but still with that strange Euro accent, Carell’s Gru is warm, funny, and even charming as an outsider who has found his place in our world. But even as he’s settled into suburban life, it’s his former ways that come back to haunt him.
Gru is recruited by the Anti-Villain League to aid in locating an evil megalomaniac in possession of a stolen formula powerful enough to turn bunnies into mutant killers.
He’s paired with a new agent named Lucy (Kristen Wiig), and the two are sent to a neighborhood mall where the criminal mastermind is hiding in plain sight as a storeowner. The question is, of a nearly dozen suspects, which one?
Early into their investigation, Gru is sure the evildoer is a Mexican restaurant owner named Eduardo (Benjamin Bratt), who, he believes, is the once-legendary super villain El Macho returned from the dead.
Lucy doesn’t believe him, and neither does the Anti-Villain League, which has instead set its sights on an Asian wig storeowner named Floyd (Ken Jeong).
But the super-villain plot, as funny as Bratt and Jeong are, is mostly an excuse for big visual effects — the sequel offers striking CG animation and imaginative sequences that play well in 3D — and to introduce love to Gru, as he falls for the quirky, sweet, and quite capable Lucy.
Given his long history of rejection by women — including a funny and heart-crushing flashback to a boyhood attempt to ask out a girl in school — he’s reluctant to act on his feelings for Lucy, even as his three daughters push him to ask her out.
While the first film was about the power of love to reform, part 2 is about the power of love to complete. For Gru, Lucy represents a potential soulmate and a mother for his three girls.
Margo, meanwhile, has developed a crush on Eduardo’s son, Antonio (Moises Arias), which complicates things even more for Gru, as a protective dad.
Most of the original voice cast returns for Despicable Me 2, as does the same creative team: screenwriters Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul, and directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud.
But even with a star like Carell, and a winning comic pairing between he and Wiig, once again it’s the loveable yellow jellybean-shaped minions who steal much of the laughs. Perhaps in anticipation of their spinoff film next year, Minions, they also share a bigger piece of the plot, as one by one they begin to disappear, presumably the victims of the same super villain.
The film’s last half-hour, in fact, is devoted to the minions — not coincidentally, the breakout stars of the first movie. But the gags and their incessant jabbering never wear out their welcome. Not as consistently funny as the original, Despicable Me 2 still proves itself a quite-capable sequel, one that moves the characters and their stories along in humorous and often sweet ways.
Contact Kirk Baird at firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6734.