Directors: Kyle Balda and Pierre Coffin
Cast: The voices of Pierre Coffin, Sandra Bullock, Jon Hamm, Michael Keaton, Allison Janney, Geoffrey Rush, Jennifer Saunders, Steve Coogan, Steve Carell
MPAA Rating: (for action and rude humor)
Running Time: 1:31
Release Date: 7/10/15
Review by Mark Dujsik | July 13, 2015
I had assumed that the Minions were unnatural creatures, perhaps the result of a genetic experiment by their supervillain master Gru (voice of Steve Carell), who makes a brief appearance as a teenager near the end of this movie in order to justify its existence in the world of the movie's predecessors. As it turns out, the Minions are indeed part of the natural order. Minions explains how they evolved along with other life on Earth, in a prologue that is actually a better idea for a story about these characters than the one the movie ultimately gives us.
The little, yellow guys with squishy bodies, short appendages, and big eyes have been around at least as long as the dinosaurs. They have one purpose: to latch on to a villainous boss and serve his or her every whim. The Minions also have a problem with job security, since their over-enthusiasm for their work leads to the defeat or untimely death of every villain they've ever helped throughout history.
A Tyrannosaurus rex ends up in a lava pit because its helpers are clumsy. An Egyptian pharaoh is crushed by a recently completed pyramid because the Minions have the blueprints upside-down. Napoleon is defeated at Waterloo because the little guys are terrible aims with a cannon.
For me, the Minions have always been a mixed bag. Their chattering of Romance languages mixed with gibberish is occasionally amusing if one catches the meaning of the words, such as one instance here in which one of them flirts with a yellow fire hydrant by insisting it is "as beautiful as a papaya." Their tendency toward pratfalls and other bits of broad, physical humor is also funny every so often. They would seem to be better in small doses, since they primarily existed in Despicable Me and its sequel to serve as easy comic relief. The fact that they started to wear out their welcome in Despicable Me 2 doesn't bode well for this Minion-centric spin-off/prequel at its start.
Then that prologue unfolds, and we feel a bit sorry for the little creatures. They exist to do one thing, and they are cursed with being terrible at it. Not only that, they also appear to be immortal, so their existence is one of repeated trials and failures—never quite learning and certainly never adapting, since they don't seem capable of reproducing (or even interested in it, unless the object of their affection is an inanimate object). At the end of the prologue (unnecessarily narrated by a game Geoffrey Rush), they discover there are no more villains to aid. They weep and go into seclusion in an icy cave, where they become lethargic and depressed.
The Minions haven't gained any depth on account of this back story. They're still as silly and hapless as ever. What the prologue does do is to give their exploits some additional context. There's something almost Sisyphean to their existence—except that the boulder crushes the Minions' reason for living when it rolls back down the hill. As imagined by screenwriter Brian Lynch, the Minions are kind of pathetic in this movie, and as cruel as this might sound, that quality makes them funnier here than they've been in the preceding movies.
The plot, set in 1968 for the purpose of making obvious cultural references, involves a trio of Minions named Stuart, Kevin, and Bob (all of the Minions are voiced by co-director Pierre Coffin) searching for a new boss to get their fellow Minions out of their existential rut. The three find their way to a secret supervillain convention in undeveloped Orlando, where they catch the attention of Scarlett Overkill (voice of Sandra Bullock), whose recent streak of villainy has proven that a woman can be just as dastardly as a man.
Her scheme is to steal the Queen of England's (voice of Jennifer Saunders) crown and become queen herself. Naturally, she sends the three Minions to perform the heist, and naturally, it goes poorly. Meanwhile, the other Minions try to fight their ennui with various activities, including becoming henchmen to a doomed yeti (doomed because it allows the Minions to help it, of course), and eventually start the long trek to London.
Might it be proposed that a fairly routine plot does not match the anarchic spirit of these characters? They thrive in randomness, particularly when causing unintentional havoc—or havoc that is unintentionally more extensive than they had planned (They try to help a family of thieves evade the cops by firing a rocket launcher, although it only fires because two of them are fighting over which one gets to use it). The movie's most successful bits come from tangents to the central plot, including a section in which Bob become the King of England after accidentally performing a mythic ritual. Then there's the scene in which Scarlett's husband Herb (voice of Jon Hamm) tries to torture the Minions, only to discover that they quite enjoy it.
That we can discuss the Minions in terms beyond their role as generic comic relief shows that the movie has established some method to the characters' madness. Even though it gives us a new and surprisingly worthwhile way to look at these characters, Minions doesn't quite follow the terms it has established for them.
Copyright © 2015 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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