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Minions: The Rise of Gru review: Fast and funny, but fading

You don’t get to be the highest-grossing animated film franchise of all time without knowing how to appeal to your audience, even when its as an audience as wide-ranging as fans of the Despicable Me films.

The latest entry in that franchise, Minions: The Rise of Gru, certainly knows how to play to its audience, even if its appeal is starting to wear a little thin.

Gru looks happy as he's surrounded by his Minions in his under-construction lair.

The fifth installment of the Despicable Me film franchise and the sequel to 2015’s MinionsThe Rise of Gru is a prequel film of sorts, following 11-yr-old aspiring supervillain Felonious Gru (voiced by Space Force star Steve Carell) as he attempts to join a supervillain group known as the Vicious 6. When an unexpected turn of events results in the villains hunting him, Gru must rely on his ever-present, yellow minions, a new mentor, and some new allies to escape the sinister Belle Bottom (Taraji P. Henson) and the rest of the Vicious 6.

Along with bringing back franchise actor Carell as the voice of Gru, The Rise of Gru also brings back director Kyla Balda, who goes solo on the film after sharing directing duties on Minions and 2017’s Despicable Me 3. As with past installments of the franchise, The Rise of Gru also welcomes a host of high-profile voice actors as new characters, with Jean-Claude Van Damme, Lucy Lawless, Dolph Lundgren, Danny Trejo, and Alan Arkin playing the other five, colorful members of the Vicious 6. They’re joined in the cast by Michelle Yeoh, Julie Andrews, and RZA in supporting roles.

The members of the supervillain team Vicious 6 stand at a table.

Where prior Minions film was predominantly set in the late ’60s, The Rise of Gru unfolds in the mid-’70s, and like its predecessor, the film’s period setting offers plenty of opportunities to give the adventure a unique feel. The music, fashion, and trends of that particular era play well to the bright palette established by animation studio Illumination across the franchise. And like every film in the series, there’s plenty to see in every corner of the screen, and an impressive attention to era-appropriate detail fills The Rise of Gru.

As Gru, Carell has always delivered a wonderful performance, and he manages to bring just as much snark and overconfidence to the 11-year-old character as he did to the middle-aged Gru in prior installments. That same, reliable energy can also be found in Pierre Coffin’s return as the voice of the minions, who remain the franchise’s biggest draw. The Rise of Gru also delivers more of the franchise’s high-profile casting in supporting roles, often accompanied by in-jokes adult audiences will appreciate  — such as action icon Van Damme voicing a lobster-armed villain named “Jean Clawed.”

Gru holds a cheese-spraying rifle, surrounded by his Minions.

Although there’s plenty of comedy to be found in Minions: The Rise of Gru, the film doesn’t maintain quite the momentum of its predecessors over the course of its 88-minute runtime. Gru and the Minions are still funny, but the hijinks they get up to are starting to feel a bit too familiar these days — particularly those of the franchise’s little, yellow agents of chaos, who are growing more predictable with each installment.

Watching the film in a theater where the number of adults sans kids was almost equal to the number of accompanied kids in the audience, the big laughs in The Rise of Gru weren’t nearly as frequent as they’d been in prior Despicable Me films. After experiencing both Minions and Despicable Me 3 in a general audience that seemingly couldn’t stop laughing, the long draught of silent viewing during the The Rise of Gru by kids and adults alike suggests (albeit anecdotally) that the franchise could be losing a step.

Minions: The Rise of Gru | Official Trailer 3 [HD]

Even if it’s unable to muster as many laughs overall, Minions: The Rise of Gru remains a fun, entertaining adventure that’s likely to please new and longtime fans. By making a villain the central protagonist of the franchise, Despicable Me made a big gamble that ultimately paid off — and continues to do so, even as the adult version of Gru embraces a more law-abiding life. By exploring his early years, the Minions movies get to keep playing in that bad-guy-as-hero sandbox, and The Rise of Gru proves that even one of the weaker entries in the franchise is still lots of fun for audiences of all ages.

Universal Pictures’ Minions: The Rise of Gru is in theaters now.

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