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Despicable Me 4 Review

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Photo of Steve Carrell

Steve Carrell


Rated: PG

95 Minutes

Directed by: Chris Renaud

Starring: Steve Carrell; Kristen Wiig; Will Ferrell


Despicable Me 4 Poster

If any movie franchise sequels exemplify the Law of Diminishing Returns, they would be the ever-growing list of Despicable Me movies. The original Illumination animated film hit theaters in 2010 and was a colossal hit largely because of the Minions, the title character’s loyal but bumbling yellow hench critters. Since then, theatergoers have been subjected to two Despicable Me sequels and two films dedicated to the misadventures of the Minions. This summer marks the latest installment in the franchise, Despicable Me 4. The series has exhausted nearly all its creativity and much of its humor. However, a few fresh additions to the cast of characters make the movie passable summer entertainment, especially for the out-of-school crowd.

Since it began, the Despicable Me franchise featured lengthy side stories, usually featuring the Minions. These diversions had little to do with the main plot but were often the funniest part of the film. Despicable Me 4   

that trend, so much so that it resembles a series of cartoons strung together to produce a 90-minute feature. The central storyline, such as it is, involves another arch-villain rival of the central character, Gru (voiced by Steve Carrell). Maxime Le Mal (Will Ferrell) has nursed a grudge against Gru since the two attended the Lycee Pas Bon Academy for budding supervillains. Maxime’s ill will increases when Gru (now a member of the Anti-Villain League) captures him at an academy reunion. Of course, prisons can’t hold animated supervillains for long, so Maxime escapes with the aid of his girlfriend, Valentina (Sofia Vergara), and vows to take revenge on Gru. He’s got a new weapon, a gun that turns people into cockroach hybrids (Maxime himself is the first such hybrid).

All this scurrying around occurs in the first 10 minutes of Despicable Me 4. From there, Maxime crawls under the floorboards for the next hour. Instead, audiences see Gru and his family assume new identities as “ordinary” suburbanites in a new town. Gru and his wife Lucy’s (Kristen Wiig) efforts to blend in don’t go well, as you might expect. His efforts to bond with his infant son go even worse, as the toddler adores Lucy while giving Gru the cold shoulder. Gru still has his three most loyal Minions to keep him company (reduced to two for most of the film when one gets stuck in a vending machine). One Minion figures prominently in the funniest “blending in” scene, when Gru takes on his snooty next-door neighbor (Stephen Colbert) in tennis, and the Minion finagles the position of match umpire.

To fill in the gaps between episodes of Gru’s “Adventures in Parenting,” Despicable Me 4 introduces two new characters, or, more precisely, one new character and one new team of older characters. Silas Ramsbottom (Steve Coogan), head of the Anti-Villain League, experiments on five unwitting Minion volunteers, transforming them into the Mega Minions. The team members have various superpowers. One can fly; one has laser vision; and one resembles a giant yellow, one-eyed rock similar to the Thing from the Fantastic Four. Despite their superpowers, the Mega Minions are still Minions and screw up every assignment. Unfortunately, none of their superpowers included the ability to do anything funny. The Mega Minions convinced me that the Minions should never be allowed anywhere near Marvel Studios.

Fortunately, the other addition to Despicable Me 4 is a delight. She’s Poppy Prescott (Joey King), the tween daughter of Gru’s snooty neighbor. Her fondest dream is to become a supervillain, but the Lycee Pas Bon won’t admit her. So, she blackmails Gru into helping her steal the academy’s mascot, a vicious honey badger. The audience can probably guess what will happen when Gru meets the honey badger, an encounter that works because of the clever animation that brings the badger to nefarious life. But Gru and the badger are no match for Poppy, whose energy and charisma make her one of the franchise’s all-time best characters.

Unfortunately for the audience, Maxime returns in the last half hour of Despicable Me 4. His eventual showdown with Gru plays out like every other similar showdown in the previous movies in this franchise. In fact, eagle-eyed audience members can spot just about every previous villain on camera for a few seconds (sorry, Dru fans, but Gru’s twin brother is MIA this time around). The only suspense involves when and how the trapped Minion will emerge from the vending machine. I chuckled once or twice during the movie’s last half hour and, instead, spent my time checking my watch frequently and hoping the closing credits would have a surprise. (They did, but in keeping with the movie’s overall vibe, it wasn’t much.)  

From a technical standpoint, the animation in Despicable Me 4 is still excellent. Audiences have grown familiar with the appearance of the Minions, but the Mega Minions provide a nice twist on the familiar theme. (Sadly, their storyline resembled something out of a Three Stooges short, with superpowers.) Poppy Prescott is a keeper, and the honey badger joins the series’ growing list of adorable four-legged cast members.

Kids will get a kick out of the Mega Minions and the other fresh additions, and the repetitive slapstick can still generate laughs from the younger generation. Adults will find the film’s efforts at genuine emotion predictable and cloying, and the laughs will be fewer and farther between. Only two scenes were funny throughout, with a handful of humorous moments in the movie’s other 75 minutes. I doubt many adults will seek Despicable Me 4 out independently, but it’s not the worst animated experience they’ll encounter. It may be despicable of me to say this, but I think the time has come for Illumination to retire Gru and the Minions and seek its next hit franchise.  

In this clip, Gru wins a tennis match at the country club with the help of a Minion umpire:

Watch Despicable Me on Amazon Prime Video:

Despicable Me Streaming
Despicable Me 2 Streaming
Despicable Me 3 Streaming

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