Nonsense is underrated, particularly as we struggle to make sense of the soul-grinding wheel of torture known as the news cycle. Minions can help—a little. Nonsense is their brand of logic, and to key into their little yellow brains for a few hours can help recharge our own gray matter, for a short time at least. Minions: The Rise of Gru is hardly the best of the Despicable Me movies or spinoffs. (That dual honor goes to the first film in the franchise, from 2010, and its equally silly-delightful sequel, from 2013, Despicable Me 2.) But the ridiculousness quotient of The Rise of Gru—directed by Kyle Balda, Brad Ableson and Jonathan del Val—is still high enough to spark at least mild rejuvenation. And whether you have one eye or two, six hairs sprouting from your pate or none at all, you could probably use a little of that right now.
The Rise of Gru is, as you might guess from the title, an origin story, though unlike most recent origin stories it comes with a minimum of expository throat-clearing. It’s 1976 and 12-year-old Gru (voiced, as usual, by Steve Carell) already has his sights on becoming a supervillain. He’s sent off an application to join the Vicious 6, a crew of evildoers with a top-secret lair in the basement of a local record store. He’s delighted when he’s asked to come in for an interview, only to be rebuffed when they realize he’s just a kid. Disgruntled, he vows to show them he has what it takes to be truly evil by stealing one of their recent, and highly prized, acquisitions, an extremely powerful jade-studded pendant known as the Zodiac Stone. They’ll be so impressed by his wiles, he believes, that they’ll surely welcome him into their gang.
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It doesn’t work out that way. Belle Bottom (Taraji P. Henson), a comely baddie in a fuchsia satin jumpsuit, has recently become the leader of the Vicious 6 after overthrowing its founder, the aging hipster Wild Knuckles (Alan Arkin, with his marvelous Brooklyn lilt), ironically just after he’s risked his life to procure the Zodiac Stone for the group. That’s why she and her fellow gang members—Jean Clawed (Jean-Claude Van Damme), who comes equipped with a lobster-pincer arm, musclebound wrestler Stronghold (Danny Trejo), Nordic hothead Svengeance (Dolph Lundgren) and my personal favorite, Nun-Chuck (Lucy Lawless), who brandishes a crucifix that unfolds into a you-know-what—find themselves with an opening for a sixth villain. But even though Gru successfully boosts the Zodiac Stone, his loyal and eager-to-help servants, the Minions (all voiced, in trademark gibberish-speak, by one of the franchise’s masterminds, Pierre Coffin), aren’t as meticulous. In a moment of weakness, Minion Otto, who has been entrusted with the precious thingie, trades it for a pet rock. The rest of The Rise of Gru shows how Gru and his little yellow helpers scramble to reclaim the Zodiac Stone, with Belle Bottom and her gang in pursuit.
The Minions, delightful as they are, can’t carry a movie by themselves, as they proved with their dismal 2015 self-titled standalone. They’re much more appealing when they can bounce their madness off Gru: his affection and exasperation are the dual motors that keep the plot mechanics whirring at optimal levels. This time around our chattering, peripatetic heroes swing through San Francisco’s Chinatown, where they’re schooled in the ancient art of Kung Fu by Master Chow (Michelle Yeoh). They host a Tupperware party, taking great pleasure in the highly realistic farting sound of the famous Tupperware seal. Rather than whistling while they work, their squeaky voices rise in unison to bring a wordless version of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Cecilia” to life. (The movie’s soundtrack, curated by Jack Antonoff, features a number of 1970s covers by the likes of Phoebe Bridgers and Gary Clark Jr.) In Minions: The Rise of Gru, they have their work cut out for them, and mess it up at every turn. But the chaos they bring to bear is nothing compared with the madness of the real world. Their entropy is its own kind of order, one sure thing in a universe spinning out of control. Now, as always, let’s thank them for their service.
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