After the adorably innocent henchmen spend the early spinoffs as nomads searching for a suitable supervillain to serve, we catch up with the Minions (all voiced by Pierre Coffin) in 1976, bidding on a 11 year old Gru. At this point, Gru (a fun, nasal Steve Carell) is limited to petty shenanigans: using magnets to cheat at the arcade, a cheese gun to queue at the ice cream shop, and a fart bomb to clean up. a jam-packed projection. of “Jaws”. But when a villainous team called the Vicious 6 stabs its leader, the aging Wild Knuckles (Alan Arkin, teaming up with Carell for a stealthy “Little Miss Sunshine” reunion), Gru lands an interview with the group to replace his idol.
Written by Brian Lynch and Matthew Fogel, “The Rise of Gru” follows the 1960s aesthetic, fueled by the British invasion, of the first “Minions” film with a pastiche of 1970s pop culture. ‘Despicable Me’ was always a riff on the most campiest of Bond villains, this film builds on that influence with a 007-inspired opening credits sequence, set to a cover of ‘Bang Bang’ written by Sonny Bono.
This song also played over the credits of a more unlikely inspiration: Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill movies, a 1970s gonzo kung fu show. (The Minions, like the heroine of Uma Thurman’s Kill Bill, wear even yellow jumpsuits inspired by Bruce Lee). fueled the action’s renaissance as a martial arts master who teaches the three main Minions – Kevin, Stuart and Bob – a thing or two about fighting back.
The most inspired newcomers are the Vicious 6, including Taraji P. Henson as Belle Bottom, a usurper who wields her chain belt as a weapon, and the hilarious Lucy Lawless as Nun-Chuck, a woman of the fabric thirsty for violence. Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Jean Clawed, Dolph Lundgren’s Svengeance and Danny Trejo’s Stronghold complete the pun band, whose lair is hidden under a record store cleverly called Criminal Records. Joining Carell and Coffin among returning cast members are Russell Brand as impulsive inventor Dr. Nefario and Julie Andrews as Gru’s hands-off mother.
It all makes for a lighthearted but satisfying Gru origin story, as the budding villain tries to impress the Vicious 6 and antagonizes Arkin’s vengeful Wild Knuckles along the way. But it’s also a “Minions” movie, which means plenty of silly gags and traps for the titular tykes, who adorably call Gru their “mini-boss.” While the humor doesn’t wear down its welcome, the whiz-bang action sequences do, especially when San Francisco’s unnecessarily explosive finale arrives. Visually, kinetic film is sometimes inventive but unfortunately just paints by numbers.
If you come for the compilation of ’70s (or ’70s-inspired) songs produced by Jack Antonoff, “The Rise of Gru” doesn’t hold you back. Featured on the tracklist: “Turn Up the Sunshine”, a new song performed by Diana Ross featuring Tame Impala, as well as covers such as St. Vincent’s version of Lipps Inc.’s “Funkytown” and the version of Phoebe Bridgers on the Carpenters “Farewell to Love.” Whether it’s Gru’s gadgets, Minions’ antics or those eye-catching needle drops, “The Rise of Gru” knows how to play the hits.
PG. In neighborhood theatres. Contains action, violence and crude humor. 87 mins.