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Review: “Minions” Needs Less Story, More Stupid


Minions I'm With StupidThe Minions were a favorite element in the Despicable Me movies, so it was only a matter of time before they got their own feature film. The good news about Minions is that the trio of them that anchor the movie are as adorable, idiotic, and hilarious as ever. The kids who will undoubtedly flock to the theaters will have a good time, and the adults accompanying them will laugh along more often than not. The bad news is that the movie that surrounds them has trouble sustaining itself for feature length, to the point where I found myself wishing several times that they’d stop trying so hard to tell me a story and just go back to the crazy, random, stupid stuff that the Minions are best at.

Minions is an origin story (which automatically starts it off on the wrong foot because Origin Stories Suck), though it begins well with a dryly hilarious narration by Geoffrey Rush explaining how they instinctively seek out the biggest, baddest evil person to serve and spent centuries looking for their ultimate master. A mishap at the Battle of Waterloo leads to a self-imposed exile and increasing listlessness until one enterprising Minion named Kevin (the tall two-eyed one) decides he’s going to sally forth and find a new evil boss to serve. Accompanying him are the would-be musician slacker Stuart (the one-eyed one) and the child-like Bob (the short two-eyed one). Eventually, they find what they’re looking for in the new queen of supervillains Scarlet Overkill (Sandra Bullock), who seeks the crown of England, and…

Minions Scarlet OverkillAnd right there is the exact moment when Minions starts running into trouble. The brief vignettes that detail the Minions history are filled with their amusingly idiotic antics, and it’s as fun as ever watching them derail the best laid plans. But fundamentally, the Minions are agents of anarchy, at their best when they’re inadvertently upsetting an established order. They are natural enemies of coherent storytelling, in the same way that Bugs Bunny or Tom and Jerry lose much of their appeal when they’re forced to sustain a real narrative. Luckily, Minions doesn’t really try to make Kevin, Stuart, and Bob carry the movie on their own for long, but then we’re left with the problem of Scarlet Overkill, who is just not as compelling of a character as Despicable Me‘s Gru. Like Gru, she combines limitless resources and trivial goals, but unlike Gru, we’re never quite sure how seriously we should take her as a character or a supervillain. She’s clearly not meant to be taken seriously, but her overall story arc isn’t as satisfying as Gru’s in either of the Despicable Me movies. This might be by partially by design: since Minions is a prequel, it has to get the Minions into Gru’s service eventually, so it serves the movie’s larger purposes to keep us from feeling too sympathetic to Scarlet. On the other hand, the movie also seems to treat her with odd kid gloves, unwilling to put her through the same hilarious humiliations that Gru has had to endure. She ends up being more like Vector in the first movie: a one-note joke who’s mostly there to get shoved off-stage by more interesting characters. Whatever the reasons, it’s a waste of a perfectly good over-the-top performance by Sandra Bullock, who hams it up with glee.

MinionsWithout a character as compelling as Gru, there isn’t quite enough connective tissue to hold the movie together for its length. There are plenty of ludicriously funny moments, such as the entire “crown jewels heist” sequence in the center of the movie. A screamingly funny sequence involves hefty Beefeaters and a hypnosis hat; it doesn’t make a lick of sense and is exactly why it’s such a funny scene. The extended chase through the streets of London is also filled to the brim with hilarious slapstick, from the many obstacles the Minions overcome (or create) to the kickass Queen Elizabeth dropping a flying elbow on poor Stuart. The entire sequence exists because plot sets up a scenario and then lets the Minions run roughshod all over any sense of narrative coherency or logic. The movie is at its best when it does that, but too many of the bigger plot points don’t. It’s not something I say often, but the movie might have done better with less plot, because what plot there is keeps getting in the way of allowing the Minions to do what they do best. They do it quite well and the movie still ends up more amusing than not, but it’s lacking the spark that made the Despicable Me movies so thoroughly enjoyable.

One of my favorite moments in the movie is the extended post-credits sequence (make sure you stay to the very, very end), where Kevin, Stuart, and Bob cover a very well-known song just for a few more minutes of their endearingly idiocy. It’s one of the few pop culture jokes that really sticks the landing, but it’s hilarious and has nothing at all to do with anything that just happened in the movie. I don’t think this is an accident. The Minions are better suited for short films or the new 11-minute episodes that seem to be the standard now for most comedic animation. Like the movie’s title characters, Minions has its heart in the right place and gets lots of laughs as it fumbles its way to the finish line. It’s just that some of those fumbles seem avoidable.

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Last pup of a dying planet, a young German Shepherd is rocketed to Earth, where he is bombarded by cosmic gamma rays emitted by a radioactive spider. Crash-landing in the forgotten land of Hubba Hubba, he is discovered by the Who-You-Callin'-Ancient One and his lovely wife Pookie. Instilled with their traditional American values, he spends his young adulthood roaming the globe, learning all the secrets of Comic-Fu. Donning battle armor fashioned from spilled chemicals splashed by lightning, he becomes the Sensational Shield of Sequential Art ACE THE BATHOUND! Look, it sounds a lot better than the truth. Born in Brooklyn, moved to Queens at 3 and then New Jersey at 10. Throughout high school, college, grad school, and gainful employment, two things have remained constant: 1) I am a colossal nerd, and 2) I have spent far too much time reading comics, and then reading and writing about them. Currently working as a financial programmer in New York City, while continuing to discover all the wonderful little surprises (and expenses) of owning your a home in the suburbs. Shares the above with a beautiful, wonderful, and incredibly understanding wife named Frances (who, thankfully, participates in most of my silly hobbies) and a large furry dog named Brownie (who, sadly, does not).

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