Despicable Me blew us away with its inventive, heartfelt story of a supervillain who adopts three girls and turns sort of good. In the sequel, we discover that there's one thing harder than juggling supervillainy and fatherhood: being a good guy and a dad. Spoilers ahead...
In Despicable Me 2, Gru is still a reformed villain, and he's trying to launch a business making jams and jellies, with the help of his twinkie-like minions. But after a mysterious supervillain steals a research institution, Gru gets drafted by the Anti-Villain League to save the world, with the help of a tough agent named Lucy (Kristen Wiig). The duo have to go undercover at a shopping mall, where the supervillain is hiding out.
You have to respect this sequel for not having Gru backslide on his reformation. He never once seems to be tempted to return to his former evil ways — and if that makes him a slightly less fascinating character to watch this time around, you still get to see him trying to juggle fatherhood and superspy business.
Gru is constantly having to dress up for his kids' birthday parties and try to chaperone them around, while also investigating the theft of the research lab and the dangerous substance within. He wants to protect his eldest adopted daughter, Margo, from falling in love with a bad boy — who also happens to be the son of the guy that Gru suspects of being the mastermind behind the laboratory theft.
And meanwhile, everybody wants Gru to find a girlfriend, and then hopefully a wife. The nosy neighbor is trying to set Gru up on dates, the girls keep speculating about Gru's romantic prospects and setting him up with a profile on a dating site. And everybody thinks he's going to hook up with Lucy, his new spy partner.
Everything you loved about the first movie is still lovable here — the minions are still supercute, Gru is still a great curmudgeon, the three little girls are still adorable, and the supervillainy is still over-the-top and wacky. There are some great comic bits, usually involving the minions careening around or acting goofy.
At the same time, the film definitely doesn't have as much energy, or quite as much heart, as the first one. It's a fun outing, and a solid sequel, but not as memorable as the original.
If there's anything new and exciting this time around, it's the character of Lucy, and her relationship with Gru. As played by Wiig, she's a tough cookie who provides a bit of a challenge to Gru, before developing some chemistry with him over the course of the film. She gets a lot of the standout moments in the film, and holds her own as a kung-fu-fighting badass — at least until towards the end, when the movie suddenly needs her to be a damsel in distress.
All in all, Despicable Me 2 feels like it lurches all over the place trying to build on the original's legacy, but it's still a really fun ride. It's probably a testament to just how inventive and clever the first movie was that this film is able to generate so many laughs, and so many sparks, without being nearly as fun or clever. The Despicable Me sequel isn't in the same league as the excellent Monsters University — but it has the same feeling of being slightly tacked on but still quite entertaining.
Realistically, most of us will be seeking a distraction to haul the kids to this weekend, in an air-conditioned location, with enough fun and wit to distract us from our own attempts to juggle world-saving and child-rearing. And Despicable Me 2 is more than up to the challenge.