What made 'Despicable Me' such an entertaining surprise in 2010 was its unpredictability. The story of a Bond-like super villain adopting three orphan girls as part of a larger scheme to steal the moon offers just enough twist and turns to make the heart-warming conclusion somewhat unexpected. Granted, once the girls show a shared excitement for Gru's appetite for destruction after winning a fluffy stuffed unicorn at a carnival, the ending is admittedly easy to guess. However, the direction and precisely how it arrives at that well-earned finish is what keeps audiences on their toes, serving up a wonderfully hilarious ride. Ultimately, the film's success relies on our being uncertain of how it would all come together.
In this follow-up, much of that unpredictability seems to have vanished, along with some of its charm. It's not a complete loss, but it doesn't quite have the same enthusiasm, or capture the same appeal of its predecessor. Directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud still manage to deliver plenty of expected laughter and silliness in Gru's adventure of balancing parenthood and a new career as a spy working for the good guys. As in the previous film, those little, yellow, pill-shaped Minions are a major source of merriment, pulling triple duty as house cleaners, babysitters, and makers of experimental fruit jelly. Various cultural jabs and visual gags -- very obscure references to Isaac of 'The Love Boat' and 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers' are particularly hilarious -- are also in big supply throughout.
In spite of that, the storyline offers fewer surprises than before, and it's all mostly due to a conclusion that's much-too easily foreseeable. In fact, the animated sequel essentially announces its intentions right from the start and remains very focused on that theme. Picking up soon after the events of the first movie, the topic of Gru (Steve Carell) finding love — and potentially a good mother for his adopted girls (*wink, wink*) — is almost immediately brought up during a birthday party for Agnes (Elsie Fisher) when a nosy neighbor tries to set him up with other women. Predictable as the ending may be, I will admit this does build up to some amusingly memorable bits of situational comedy. Seeing Gru on a date with a woman who really hates fakes had me laughing pretty hard.
But again, these inspired and expected moments are then balanced with reminders of the story's direction and a less inspiring subplot. While tomboy Edith (Dana Gaier) finds her inner ninja and Agnes talks about wanting a mom in her life, Miranda Cosgrove's nerdy Margo discovers love and heartbreak in Moisés Arias's underused Antonio Perez. This aspect of Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio's script has little effect on the overall plot other than to show Gru's parenting skills. To the rescue — both in terms of the film's overarching point and to arrange for more rambunctious silliness — is Kristen Wiig as Agent Lucy Wilde, an overly-confident super-spy groupie assigned to partner with Gru in search of a top secret, powerful mutagen. As much as I actually like the Lucy character, she's also the blatant love-interest device.
Thankfully, other aspects of 'Despicable Me 2' keep things lively and joyful — just enough to keep me from reaching for the remote to revisit its predecessor. Russell Brand returns as Gru's incredibly old gadget man, Dr. Nefario, and while he's never given a good piece of dialogue, the character plays an important role and used for another gut-busting gag involving his dreadfully slow motorized chair. The newest addition is also the animated film's best feature: Benjamin Bratt as Mexican restaurant owner Eduardo Perez, father of the aforementioned Antonio. Although the former villain known as El Macho brings tons of creative laughs to the screen, he never seems like much of a foil to Gru and vice versa. Still, it's enough to make this sequel a strong follow-up, but not quite as memorable or surprising as the first movie.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Universal Studios Home Entertainment brings 'Despicable Me 2' to Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack with an UltraViolet Digital Copy. A Region Free, BD50 disc sits comfortably opposite a DVD-9 copy of the movie. Both are housed inside a standard blue keepcase with a lightly embossed slipcover. After several skippable trailers, viewers are taken to an animated screen with the Minions causing havoc, menu options along the top and music playing in the background.
Dr. Gru and the girls battle villains, boys, and mutant minions with an eye-popping and spectacular 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode. The screen abounds with an extensive array of sumptuous colors; primaries pulsate and dazzle while warm, vibrant secondary pastel hues energize every scene. Contrast is spot-on with crisp, brilliant whites, keeping every nook and cranny in sharp focus and plainly visible. Black levels are inky rich with excellent shadow delineation and superb gradational differences in the grayscale. The 1.85:1 window also displays razor-sharp definition of individual objects. From the hairs of various characters and the texture of clothing to the fine lines in the design of buildings, the video is consistently detailed and distinct through to the very end.
The animated sequel also debuts unto Blu-ray with a fantastic DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack that's lively and energetic. Much of the action takes place in the fronts where imaging feels wide and welcoming with excellent fidelity and a great deal of warmth. Channel separation is very well-balanced with a variety of convincing off-screen effects, and vocals are distinct and intelligible in the center of the screen. Dynamic range is crisp and detailed, delivering superb clarity to the loudest sequences as well as to the quietest moments. The low-end is robust and surprisingly potent, providing each song selection with a pulsating beat and every action scene with palpable weight. Rear activity is also quite active and spirited, filling the room with a variety of atmospherics that are discrete and employed with excellent directionality to create a wonderfully satisfying, sometimes immersive soundfield. In the end, Gru's second spy adventure arrives with a terrifically enjoyable and fun lossless mix.
Gru, his Minions, and the girls return for another adventure battling super villains in 'Despicable Me 2,' which also introduces fans to two new and fairly funny characters, Lucy the spy groupie and El Macho. Entertaining and amusing as the film may be, the animated sequel doesn't quite deliver the same charm and enthusiasm as its predecessor, but it offers a fun time for the whole family. The Blu-ray arrives with reference quality video and an excellent audio presentation. Bonus materials aren't very extensive, but they're amusing and enlightening in their own way. Overall, the package is a worthwhile purchase for fans of the first movie.