A half hour into “Despicable Me 2,” I had no idea what the story was. I didn’t care very much – directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud obviously knew that regular doses of Minion magic would mollify even the most nettlesome demand for a storyline– but the prospect of having to write a plot summary was making me crazy.
You know what? Ultimately, it’s just a love story – which doesn’t separate it all that much from its big-hit predecessor, 2010’s “Despicable Me,” in which the nefarious Gru (short for gruesome? I forget) tried to steal the moon, while three orphan girls stole his heart (sorry, that was weak…).
The problem with “DM2,” if it is in fact a problem, is that the character in need of reformation – and ripe for it -- has already been reformed: Gru has remade his arsenal of fearsome weaponry into amusements for his girls, the sweetly officious Margo (voice of Miranda Cosgrove), the budding special-ops Edith (Dana Gaier) and the diabetes-inducing Agnes (Elsie Fisher). He’s devoting his to time to developing “delicious jams and jellies,” which thus far are vile. He’s constitutionally crabby -- an Ebeneezer Scrooge, après-Christmas Eve. But he’s providing what any social worker would determnine was a safe, wholesome, nurturing environment. Which is fabulous. But less than dramatic.
When he’s called back into action by the Anti-Villian League and its super-spy emissary Lucy Wilde (a brilliant Kristen Wiig) a wobbly narrative latticework arises about a super secret serum that turns people (and Minions) into killing machines. Someone has stolen the serum; they want Gru to find him. Gru is not interested in the crisis. But he does find himself increasingly interested in Lucy.
What we get in “DM2” is what we loved about the first film – chiefly, the gibberish-burbling taxi-yellow Minions, who provide so much of the physical comedy, and whose only passing familiarity with any known language makes what might have been routine shtick into something delirious (the musical rendition of the old All-4-One hit “I Swear,” replete with Minion as Latino lounge lizard, is combustibly funny). And the girls, as they were in the first film, are delightful. Steve Carell completely disappears, vocally, into Gru, and it’s one of the better things he’s ever done. What the movie needs is a villain – a Vector, as in the first film, who’s not only malevolent but annoying. The only ostensible bad guy in “DM2” is El Macho (Benjamin Bratt) and he’s too nice to dislike.
What’s fascinating in an academic sense about “DM2” is how a Hollywood studio regards a successful product, susses out its central charm, and then delivers a sequel blind to the idea that charm requires counterweight. It’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” syndrome: Johnny Depp, a supporting character in the first film, became its raison d’etre and the giddy effect of the original has never been recaptured. But people still go, as they will to “DM2,” and that’s good: It’s an ultimately gentle, uplifting delight.
Just one that happens not to have any narrative tension.