Maybe I’m just getting too old for this type of movie. There comes a time in one’s life when one has to look in the mirror and realize they’re no longer a Pixar or Dreamworks kind of person, but a reflective and intellectual movie type of person. I wish those qualities could more often exist in kids’ feature films, but it’s a sad truth that American children are much more eager to gobble down zany antics and loud personalities than they are to indulge in more solemn films. To that end, Despicable Me 3 succeeds. It’s wacky enough to engage its young target audience, and in the end, that’s what matters most for Dreamworks. The kids behind me in the theater laughed out loud quite a bit, so the movie is not a total flop.
But that brings me to my first criticism of this sequel’s sequel. The first two movies included enough smart gags and clever dialogue to make audiences of all ages laugh. As an adult (I cringe at the thought.) the humor in this movie was either boring or eyeroll-inducing. It was all mildly crude humor, predictable slapstick, or silliness of galactic proportions. Again, I stress that this all largely works in satisfying a younger audience, but it does not help Despicable Me 3 stand on its own as a strong movie as the humor for its predecessors did.
As is tradition for the franchise, this third movie juggles its story between Gru’s heroic/villainous exploits and a quieter, more relatable family plotline. Gru (Steve Carell) and Lucy (Kristen Wiig) allow infamous super villain Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker) to escape yet again, and thanks to a shakeup in management at the Anti-Villain League, both wind up fired for Gru’s incompetency at capturing Bratt. While dealing with unemployment woes, and shutting down a genuinely heartfelt attempt by Agnes (Nev Scharrel) to support the family, Gru receives word that he is in fact not an only child and has a twin brother named Dru, also voiced by Steve Carell. (Yes, his full name is Dru Gru.) While making up for lost time, the two brothers hatch a plan to recover a stolen artifact from Bratt. Meanwhile, Lucy struggles to settle into her new role as a mother to the girls while Agnes chases a dead-end dream.
These are all good ideas on paper. The problem is it feels like the meat of them largely stayed on the paper. The first two movies reached powerful character-defining catharses with their subplots. This movie never quite reaches, or even aims for, that same level of heartfelt emotion. Agnes’ subplot exists as a vague excuse for Gru to own up to his own mistakes, a scene that comes and goes much too quickly to have any lasting impact. Lucy’s scenes largely involve her learning to handle the various intricacies of motherhood, but instead of being poignant or reflective like Gru’s similar plotlines were in the first two movies, the scenes come off as scattershot attempts to build up Lucy’s relationship with the girls that never really land. The Despicable Me franchise, no matter how absurd it could be at times, always previously managed to ground itself in relatable human experiences. Not only are the family-related scenes in this third movie too rapid-fire and rambunctious for their own good, they’re just plain uninteresting, as the movie never spends enough time with Lucy to get audiences on her side.
That leads into the possibly the most major problem with this movie. The characters themselves exist to serve singular purposes and little else. DaVinci (Jenny Slate) replaces Ramsbottom (Steve Coogan) as head of the Anti-Villain League and fires Gru and Lucy, and then she never reappears throughout the entire movie except in a daydream sequence. For being an agent herself, Lucy does very little throughout the movie beyond her maternal duties. And then there’s Bratt, discarded child actor turned vengeful super villain who enacts his evil plan with all the single-mindedness of Wile E. Coyote, but at least the latter was entertaining. Bratt comes off as a more eccentric version of Vector from the first movie but with less-impressive writing. (Not that Vector should ever be held as any sort of gold standard in character writing by any stretch of the imagination) He actually has a decent backstory, but it’s mostly wasted as Bratt never really has to come to terms with his past or interact with anyone but Gru. He’s just a generic cardboard cutout megalomaniac with a moderately original but underused backstory. (And don’t even get me started on the fact that he for some reason chooses to kidnap the girls and NOT use them as leverage against Gru’s team.)
Honestly, as ironic as it is, the Minions’ subplot is probably the most entertaining aspect of the movie. Is it particularly well-written? No. But their visual gags work much better than most of the humor surrounding the Grus. (I’m curious what happened to the two Minions who went with Gru to meet Dru. They vanished about halfway through the movie unless I just missed something.) In the end, Despicable Me 3 is a disappointing installment to an otherwise hilarious and heartwarming franchise. It’s full of bright visuals and a fitting heist-themed score, but there’s nothing to really write home about. Kids are sure to still enjoy the wacky exploits of Gru and the Minions, but as a cinematic work the movie fails to find its footing.
Despicable Me 3
- Remains enjoyable for target audience
- Looks as nice as can be expected of most modern animated films
- Minions are never overbearing
- Bratt is incredibly two-dimensional
- Fails to capitalize on its emotional subplots
- Action scenes lack excitement
- DaVinci is a waste of a character