Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
DESPICABLE ME 3, 90 minutes, PG
Directed by: Kyle Balda & Pierre Coffin, Eric Guillon (co-director)
Starring: Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Jenny Slate, Miranda Cosgrove, Trey Parker, Julie Andrews, Dana Gaier, Nev Scharrel, Steve Coogan
Unlike most films in Illumination’s canon, the DESPICABLE ME series is fairly dependable, gifting us entertaining stories with a hearty dose of laughter and sweet sentiments. It’s too bad that the third chapter in Gru’s ever-growing saga, DESPICABLE ME 3 (which should’ve been called DESPICABLE M3) chose not to follow the franchise’s predecessors and instead resorts to the current company model: noisy, colorful animation light on heart. Directors Pierre Coffin, Kyle Balda and co-director Eric Guillon’s second sequel goes through the motions more than anything. That said, its absurdist, irreverent humor makes it far less despicable than it should be.
Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) and Lucy Wilde (voiced by Kristen Wiig) have settled into married life, kicking villain butt together at the Anti-Villain League. But they’ve met their match in a mullet-sporting, purple tracksuit-wearing Balthazar Bratt (voiced by Trey Parker), a bitter former 80’s child star out to destroy the town that spat him out. When they fail to capture him, their AVL bosses Silas Ramsbottom (voiced by Steve Coogan) and Valerie Da Vinci (voiced by Jenny Slate) fire them, sending them into career crisis mode. Kinda. Beyond losing most of his Minions in a mutiny, and their kids Margo (voiced by Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (voiced by Dana Gaier) and Agnes (voiced by Nev Scharrell) worrying for one scene, this doesn’t materialize dramatically. Anyways, it’s around this time Gru discovers he has a twin brother, Dru (voiced also by Carell). He’s rich! He has hair! He dresses in white! And he’s desperate to learn the family trade of villainy – something he stinks at. If Gru can train Dru how to be the world’s best villain, it’s possible that they can team up to stop Bratt from being, well, a super brat.
Screenwriters Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul precisely nail the brotherly dynamic – specifically during the scene at the dinner table where the two switch places, amusing only themselves. Humor works best here when it sticks to the riotously absurd and abstract. There are a few lines that had me laughing – like when Gru describes the goopy soupy concoction his daughters make, when he warns one of the girls about going to her friend Katie’s house and when he confronts his mother (voiced by Julie Andrews) about his dad literally “dying of embarrassment on the day he was born.” A handful of heart shines through, but only a handful – maintaining Illumination’s motto of “We’re not Pixar, okay?! Deal with it.” Lucy’s trajectory as a superb stepmom and Gru’s reticence to rob Agnes of her naiveté are the moments of resonance. It’s just too bad there wasn’t more of that, rather than more loud action.
The filmmakers over-complicate matters by splitting up the story into three almost isolated mini-stories that never blend together. The Minions go off on a tangential quest, chased by the law, competing in a singing competition (to a rousing, boisterous spin on “I Am The Very Model of a Modern Major-General”), landing in jail and having to bust out. Lucy learns to ease into motherhood. Gru’s girls have soft arcs: Margo gets entangled with an awkward kid in a foreign town whilst visiting her uncle. It’s dealt with in one-and-a-half scenes. Perpetually positive Agnes’ quest to find an elusive unicorn doesn’t have much impact at all, plateauing versus reaching a full circle moment. And, just like every middle child in every family feels, Edith doesn’t serve any purpose at all.
Perhaps most problematic is that the filmmakers shift the focus onto the wrong story. This chapter should’ve been what we see in the end credits – a story about brother against brother, spy versus spy. Instead we have a story where these two work together to defeat a rote villain, who drops numerous clunky 80’s references as his weapons of choice. I counted almost twenty before the opening credits began to roll. They only get more obtuse, obtrusive and cumbersome from there on out.
It may not be the best entry of the franchise, but its humor is enough to keep the series afloat – and the brand to keep raking in money, hand over fist.
DESPICABLE ME 3 opens on June 30.