Movie Review: Minions
By Matthew Huntley
July 16, 2015

Stuart is not impressed. At least I think that's Stuart.

It’s sort of an unwritten rule that Hollywood spin-offs are, by default, not as good as their original counterparts, and unfortunately Minions is no exception. The movie is a spin-off/prequel to the Despicable Me series, which follows the misadventures of Gru, the world’s greatest super-villain turned ex-super-villain, as he raises his three adopted daughters.

Gru’s “minions,” as they’re called, are his ever-loyal henchmen. They’re yellow, thumb-shaped creatures with either one or two eyes who speak a broken language that’s sort of a mix of English, Spanish and gibberish. Minions sets out to tell their origin story and how these lovable little guys experienced misadventures of their own before they even met Gru.

While the movie is just as bright, zany and jolly as any computer-animated family feature out there, its story is not especially inspired. On the whole, it’s really just okay but doesn’t leave as strong an impact as, say, Despicable Me, or any one of the more standard-setting offerings from the Disney-Pixar canon. These movies tend to tell richer, fuller stories that matter to us on a deeper level, whereas Minions feels more like a feature-length version of an animated short meant to play before Despicable Me. In other words, it feels unnecessary as a standalone picture.

Not that Minions doesn’t have its moments or its own unique charm. It was interesting to learn, for instance, how the minions initially came to be, spontaneously springing to life as single-celled organisms in the ocean at the dawn of time and then making their way to the surface to, as the narrator (Geoffrey Rush) informs us, live life according to one objective: find the world’s greatest villain and serve him unconditionally. After all, they’re minions; it’s in their nature.

Collectively, there seems to be just one group of minions that neither increases nor decreases as far as its members go. They never seem to die and, from what I can tell, they’re all male and have no urges to reproduce, not that I’m certain they even have the ability.

As time passes, the minions shift their allegiance from one to villain to the next because of one small, reoccurring problem: they always accidentally kill their new master. Whether he’s a roaring T-Rex, the world’s first caveman, an Egyptian Pharaoh, or Dracula, the minions always manage to do him in. They just can’t make their loyalty work, and this drives the group into isolation in an arctic cave. At first, they thrive but then quickly grow lonely and depressed, because they don’t have a villain to serve. The leader of the pack, Kevin, decides to take action and recruits Bob and Stewart for a mission to find the world’s greatest villain once and for all and not off him by mistake.

So, in 1968, Kevin, Stewart and Bob make their way to New York City, set up shop in a department store, and happen upon a secret TV network exclusively meant for bad guys. It’s conducting a special report on the forthcoming Villain-Con, a convention in Orlando, Florida where all villains will gather to celebrate being villainous. This year’s special guest is Scarlett Overkill (voice of Sandra Bullock), the world’s first female super-villain. She recruits our yellow friends to steal Queen Elizabeth’s crown from the Tower of London so she and her husband, Herb (Jon Hamm), can become the most respected members of British society. Should Kevin, Stewart and Bob fail, though, she vows to execute them.

With its plot in place, Minions more or less rolls out as a series of slapstick scenes that show the lovable little creatures being silly and getting into mischief, whether it’s dressing up as old ladies, wreaking havoc on the streets of London, accidentally being crowned British Royalty, or turning into a giant not unlike the Stay Puft Marshmallow man from Ghostbusters.

Once can easily appreciate the movie’s cheerful sense of humor and the way it lampoons such pop-culture staples as Richard Nixon, The Full Monty, The Beatles’ Abbey Road, the moon landing conspiracy, and the idea that no matter what British people are doing at any given moment, they always have time for tea. But these and most other moments in Minions merely provide a chuckle instead of a full-fledged laugh, and Brian Lynch’s screenplay serves as more of an outline for all the gimmicks and action than actually telling a story meant to expand the Despicable Me world and its characters beyond what we already know about them.

Did Minions have to be “important” or “progressive” to be recommendable? For younger viewers, probably not. They’ll likely laugh and get a kick out of all the visual hijinks just the same. Adults, on the other hand, will have wished for something better. They’ll find themselves smiling at it but still realizing the movie isn’t as good as its predecessors. I’m also guessing that after seeing Minions, kids will opt to re-watch Despicable Me (and to a lesser degree, Despicable Me 2) before this one. This doesn’t make Minions a bad movie, or even bad choice for a family gathering, but it’s ultimately less fulfilling than others of its kind. It happens to have arrived in theaters at the same time as Disney-Pixar’s Inside Out, and given the two juggernaut choices, the former is the one to see. It’s everything that Minions is in terms of presentation, humor and energy, but its touching and layered story gives it another dimension, and that’s really what we care about.