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Despicable Me 4 Review: The Minions Continue To Do The Heavy Lifting

  • The Minions are still unspeakably adorable and entertaining
  • The gags and action scenes are largely well-executed
  • The star-studded voice cast is having a lot of fun
  • Feels entirely too slight and forgettable
  • Script feels a few revisions away from real thematic cohesion

Of all the pop cultural icons to be born in the last 20 years, it's shocking how enduring Illumination's Minions have become. They're just Twinkies with arms, legs, and comically large eyeballs, but somehow their versatility and charm transcend their standing as little more than merchandising bait. Their presence in "Despicable Me 4," the sixth film in the franchise if you include the two "Minions" prequels, proves to be the not-so-secret ingredient that patches over an otherwise serviceable sequel.

Your mileage may vary when it comes to the ongoing arc of Felonious Gru (Steve Carrell), a reformed supervillain who, by this film, has settled into raising a family and using his evil past to catch other bad guys for the Anti-Villain League. That range of interest largely depends on how grating you find Carrell's Eastern European accent and whether or not you think his story really needs to have this many films dedicated to it, regardless of how profitable the series has remained. But when Gru's exploits feel like the only logical delivery system for more lovable Minion shenanigans, he suffices as a necessary evil. As a fun way to kill 95 minutes with your family, "Despicable Me 4" is an unassailable success, even if anyone hoping for more than clearing that low bar may be left wanting.

Is raising a baby harder than stealing the moon?

When we catch back up with Gru and his clan, they've grown by one, as baby Gru Jr. has been born between films. He and his wife, Lucy (Kristen Wiig), still work for the AVL, and Gru's mission in the opening set piece is to capture Maxime Le Mal (Will Ferrell), an ostentatious rival from his youth. The two square off at what amounts to their high school reunion, as they both attended the supervillain institute Lycée Pas Bon. Maxime is beloved and accomplished in a way Gru never has been, but in thwarting Maxime's latest plan involving turning people into cockroaches, Gru escalates their decades-long feud to dangerous new heights. When Maxime breaks out of maximum security prison to enact his revenge, the AVL forces the family into a kind of witness protection, transplanting them into new cover identities in a milquetoast town.

While three Minions stick with the family, the rest are conscripted into service by the AVL, shunting them off into their own B-plot that stays far away from the main action until the film's climax. Staying safe and catching Maxime feels secondary to Gru's main goal in the film: to endear himself to Gru Jr., who seemingly adores everyone in the world except his father. There's a secondary subplot about Poppy Prescott (Joey King), a teenage neighbor with aspirations of villainy who blackmails Gru into performing a heist with her, but overall, the narrative feels quite disjointed.

"The White Lotus" showrunner Mike White helped hatch this story and pen the screenplay, but this doesn't much feel like the work of the man who helped give us the family friendly classic "School of Rock." The film as a whole feels like an episode of a "Despicable Me" spin-off series stretched out to feature length rather than its own satisfying movie experience. It's not that the characters aren't lovable or that their obstacles aren't believable, but rather that none of the film's disparate arcs dovetail the way they ought to.

Illumination has never really been on the level of storytelling of Pixar, but this film in particular feels pretty damning in the ongoing case that they make movies that make money but whose stories lack the lasting emotional and cultural impact of their Disney competitors. Beyond the memetic power of the Minions themselves, what else is there to this series?

The Minions steal the show

When the Minions are this cute and this funny and this enjoyable to behold, why not rest on those cylindrical, bright yellow laurels? Look, it's not like everything not-Minion-related in the film is trash. Will Ferrell makes a real meal out of Maxime, stretching out what ought to be a one-note French stereotype into something really interesting. Some of the film's sideshow excursions with Lucy and the kids adjusting to their new, fake lives are pretty charming. One grocery store battle between Lucy and a woman she wronged in her cover story day job as a hairdresser mimics the T-1000 foot chase from "T2: Judgement Day."

However, if you were sat at a desk with a pencil and a pad, gun to your head, forced to rank the film's finest moments, every single one of them involves the Minions themselves. The three Minions who stay with the family have an ongoing gag where they change Gru Jr.'s diaper like a Nascar pit crew. They also execute a number of amusing Three Stooges-esque physical comedy gags at one another's expense. But the film also finds a fascinating way to answer the question as to why a franchise so built around supervillainy doesn't appear to have any superheroes.

Five of the Minions the AVL hires are experimented on and given superpowers, a plot point that exists solely to stuff the film with as many Minion vignettes as feasibly possible. In perhaps the finest moment in the whole picture, Minions replicating the powers of Cyclops, The Hulk, Mr. Fantastic, and Superman fail, with increasingly absurd beauty, to save regular citizens, mucking things up to the point that an angry mob chases them away, shouting about how sick they are of superheroes.

Casual MCU fatigue commentary aside, it proves that these movies are the most fun when we're just watching these weird little creatures get into hijinks. "Despicable Me 4" keeps Gru's story alive one film longer, but feels like maybe this should be the present-day finale for his adventures, and any future Minion releases should just follow the prequel's lineage where the Minions themselves are the stars of the show.

"Minions" arrives in theaters on July 3.