“Despicable Me 3” barely contains any of the franchise’s trademark Minions, and the little we do get isn’t really related to the rest of the movie. It’s as if the people at Illumination Animation almost let a “Despicable Me” movie into theaters without any Minions – the horror! I personally can’t stand the Minions, mainly because of the way they talk, and was glad to see them kept to a minimum this time around.
Just my luck, the movie in this series that uses them the least is the one that is most lifeless otherwise, which implies that they should have been used more to punch things up.
The story is that former supervillain turned superspy Gru (Steve Carell) botches a mission to defeat former ’80s child star turned supervillain Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker of “South Park,” in a rare family-friendly role). Gru and his wife Lucy (Kristen Wiig) are fired from their spy agency and need to find a way to provide for their family, including adopted daughters Margot (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier), and Agnes (Nev Scharrel), plus I assume all those Minions to support. That last problem takes care of itself when the Minions quit because Gru has gone too long without being despicable.
The family is in need of a diversion, and one comes along when they’re invited to visit Gru’s long-lost twin Dru (also Carell). The brothers are instantly jealous of each other: Gru because Dru is rich and has hair, and Dru because Gru was a moderately-successful supervillain who made their supervillain father proud. Dru wants to team up, his resources with Gru’s know-how, to become an unstoppable team of rogues.
Gru is resistant because he left villainy behind when he started his family, but it’s just too tempting to try and go after Bratt so he can get him and Lucy back in the spy agency’s good graces. He and Dru set off to steal a huge diamond from Bratt without his nitwitted brother knowing that what they’re doing isn’t actually that villainous.
That’s the main plotline, and it’s a slog because it means having to listen to Carell’s grating accent not once, but twice. But I did like some of the other story lines, like Lucy struggling in her new role as a mother. Sometimes she’s too generous, sometimes she’s too violent, oddly she gets “threatening” just right. Wiig fills every corner of the character with loving charm, as she did in the second movie to make it so much better than the first.
Then there’s my favorite character, Agnes. She gets a subplot about looking for a unicorn. As always, everything she says is crushingly adorable and anyone who doesn’t like her doesn’t like anything that is good in the world (that’s probably how Minions fans feel about me).
What’s weird about the storyline is that everyone worries about how she’ll deal with the eventual disappointment of unicorns not being real. But this is a world with Minions, weaponized bubblegum, and the laws of physics being treated as well-intended suggestions. Drawing the line between fantasy and reality at unicorns seems arbitrary.
There are enough sweet moments to keep “Despicable Me 3” amusing and tolerable, but the movie is a bit of a mess overall. Story lines compete for time in a way that makes them all seem rushed and incomplete, new characters besides Dru aren’t given time to develop (what is the point of having Steve Coogan’s spy agency director retire and be replaced by a hotheaded Jenny Slate if both characters are going to be essentially dropped after one scene?), and lest we forget, Minions are present.
They get arrested, so you can look forward to toys of them in striped prison uniforms being shoved down your throat. This is a middling installment of a franchise that is happy to be middling as long as it sells toys.
Two Stars out of Five.
“Despicable Me 3” is rated PG for action and rude humor. Its running time is 90 minutes.
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