Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: The Wolverine

The posters are the best part of the movie

The Wolverine is certainly better than it’s overly-named predecessor X-Men: Origins- Wolverine. This is, of course, damning with faint praise as Origins was a fairly terrible movie, only better than the truly awful X-Men 3 which, for all intents and purposes, seemed to have started to euthanize the franchise until Matthew Vaughn’s First Class managed to apply a defibrillator to the near-rotten corpse.

The main problem with the X-Men version of Karate Kid Part 2, is that it is absolutely mediocre except for one fun action sequence involving a bullet train that pushes it up a half-star for me. The set-up is intriguing enough and the actors are certainly putting in an effort. But there’s little visual payoff. The first major action sequence could have been carbon-copied from any Bourne movie, except with adimantium claws grafted on. I shouldn’t have a desire to imitate the guys from The Office screaming “Parkour!” when watching a $100 million dollar action film at this point, but guys doing unnecessary flips over buildings while a shaky cam manages to catch very little of the action will make me want to do just that.

Logan, played for the sixth time by the stalwart Hugh Jackman, travels to Japan. It’s a welcome change of scenery, in what is largely a compacted version of one of his classic story arcs. For me, Wolverine has always been better as a side character and, to risk the collective fanboy rage of the internet, has never worked for me as the flagship of the film franchise, even with Jackman’s charisma. He’s at his best when he’s a dumb, violent, midget scrapper. The guy who, when Joss Whedon was showing his internal monologue during a fight in the comics, only managed to think, “I really like beer.”

Still, what we’ve got is what we’ve got and it ain’t bad. It ain’t that good either. It is, as predicted by the trailers, entirely milquetoast. And as I can’t simply recommend it solely based on the strength of the out of left-field mid-credit sequence that I wasn’t expecting, it’s going to come down to just how much you enjoy watching what must be a constantly creatine-ingesting Jackman run around the Far East in a wife beater, saying, “Bub.” Even the storyline is pretty paint-by-numbers as it mostly revolves around him trying to protect Mariko Yashida (Tao Okamoto), the granddaughter of a Japanese business magnate and soldier he saved in the second world war, despite having his healing ability depowered back to around the level that it was in the comics when he was introduced. He is still healing better than a normal human being, but when he gets shot, he actually gets slowed down a bit instead of being the T-1000.

What’s absolutely frustrating is that Jackman’s chemistry with Okamoto is so much more palpable than what he shared with Famke Janssen’s Jean Grey, who’s attraction was certainly noted in the first two installments of the franchise, but who didn’t truly reciprocate until Brett Rattner showed up to ruin everything. Yet over and over again the film can’t help but rub our collective noses in the failure that was pushing Wolverine into the rightful spot of Cyclops in X-Men 3. Every time the romance angle begins to bear fruit, the film slows to a crawl as he has hallucinations of Jean haunt him.

The cast is almost all Japanese (which is also a nice change of pace) and also on hand is Rila Fukushima who seems to be the more off-putting Asian counterpart of Cristina Ricci in her role as Yukio. This works for her, however and assists her in making her part much more memorable than, say, Svetlana Khodchenkova’s “Viper,” who seems to be such a generic template femme fatale that even when she explains her character and her motivation I still felt like I didn’t know anything about her. I would actually enjoy seeing Yukio in the upcoming Days of Future Past, but I doubt that will happen considering how practically everyone from the first three films and First Class are already being sandwiched into the script.

I can give director James Mangold credit for the stuff that does work, including but not limited to the internal family battle for the Yashida family, an interesting opening involving World War II, a few funny bits involving Logan’s fish-out-of-water status and the mentioned train sequence, but so much of it comes across as limp that it’s hard not to imagine what would have happened if Darren Aronofsky had directed it as originally planned and brought his special blend of visual craziness to the tale.

(Three damns given out of five.)

Kent’s Movie Diary- 7/29/13

7/27/13- So out of curiosity based on it having been sampled for a Man or Astroman? song, I checked out a fetid piece of sixties beach-based hilarity called The Beach Girls and the Monster yesterday. Now compared to Red Zone Cuba, which I’d just watched on Mystery Science Theater 3000, it’s a marvel. Any film student that worries about how bad their movies may end up being need only remember that they’ll never be as terrible a filmmaker as Coleman Francis. Anyway, Beach Girls is hysterical tripe. Weighing in at only 66 minutes, it manages to pack in everything you love about bad teen cinema of the era. A terrible/awesome-looking monster, girls’ hinders, an honestly good score consisting of an odd melange of choice surf tunes and avant-garde jazz by Frank Sinatra Jr. of all people (which gets totally butchered in the sound editing), girls’ hinders, acting that seem like real actors were rotoscoped over characters from Scooby Doo and a hero with even more body hair that me… oh and did I mention girls’ hinders gyrating around? It’s honestly an awful film but in the best traditions of movie mocking, it’s entertaining as hell. I could see this being a rousing success at a Cinema A-Go-Go event hosted in Lawrence by the Retro Cocktail Hour much the same way that such cinematic slurm as Cat Women on the Moon and The Brainiac were.

7/29/13- I threw one of my vaunted Movie and a Dinner parties last night. Had around ten people show up, which is a nice number for my apartment. The reason I mention this is because a lot of times when I show a newer film, I’ve noticed the that fewer people tend to show up. My highest attendance the whole time is from when I showed North By Northwest, which is understandably a great film. This time I showed The Muppets, the latest film to feature Kermit and the gang and it went off like gangbusters. Personally, while I certainly have an affinity for films like Great Muppet Caper and Muppet Treasure Island (the only outright horrible Muppet film is Muppets From Space), I think the latest is the best Muppet film since the original Muppet Movie and my Muppet-loving friends seem to agree. (I wonder how many times a person can legitimately use “Muppet” in a sentence?) I am still bewildered over how some of the original cast felt that the film was an affront to Muppet-lore because it’s so obvious that the filmmakers, James Bobbins, Jason Segal, et al, love the property and took incredible care to craft something that built on the Henson work instead of just slapping the characters into an existing story. I have to imagine they were devastated when they heard this, but I’m glad they continued on their vision because it’s fantastic. Is Kermit relatively passive in the film? Absolutely, but the ironic thing is, considering he’s the Muppet leader, he’s ALWAYS been fairly passive. He doesn’t leave his swamp to go to Hollywood until somebody tells him he should. He mostly seems to be the “put upon” character that things happen to, so his character in The Muppets seems like a logical progression. The only thing about the entire film that I find underwhelming is the ending. Knowing that the original planned ending, it’s a little hard to figure out exactly why the decision was made to go with the very odd way they chose to go. (I’ve read originally, coming one dollar short of their telethon goal, Statler and Waldorf end up dropping a buck from the balcony, declaring the show “wasn’t THAT bad.”) It seems altogether more satisfying than what happened, even if it ends up surprisingly “uplifting” given the bleakness of it. Sure, the whole thing is completely turned around as part of a closing credits gag, but that’s pretty far to wait for people that tend to pick up and start moving as soon as those names start rolling.

Afterwards, I threw in Gremlins 2: The New Batch since they both involve a lot of puppet work, fourth wall breaking and comedy. I’ve mentioned on the podcast my adoration of Joe Dante’s parody of his own work. And I know I’m not alone. AV Club made it an honorable mention for their “best movies of the 90s” article.  http://www.avclub.com/articles/the-best-films-of-the-90s-orphans-outliers-and-per,86534/ The movie completely takes the piss out of the original (also enormously entertaining) film and turns it into pure chaos in the style of the Looney Tunes, even to the point of Bugs and Daffy introducing the picture. Daffy even takes a few parting shots if you bother to stay through the credits. If you haven’t bothered to see the sequel, I absolutely recommend throwing it in your DVD/blu ray player, if only as an experiment. Besides, Christopher Lee is in it as Dr. Catheter.

Finally, this morning as I was feeling really crappy and my friend Spencer, a big fan of the original, is staying with me. I put in Gamera: Guardian of the Universe, the 90s remake of the “classic” (if you’re being extremely generous) 60s giant monster film that came out to capitalize on the Godzilla train and somehow ended up with sequel after sequel. The modern trilogy are some of the best kaiju films ever made and if you want to see some giant monsters stomping around Japan following Pacific Rim, by all means, pick up the blu ray set from Mill Creek. The discs are cheaply made and the subtitles are mediocre at best, but it could be worse, believe me.

Movie Diary 7/26/13

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I’ve put a couple of these up on my tumblr already as we’ve stopped talking about older films on the podcast in a number of instances but I’d still like to talk about what I’ve been watching. I thought I’d also share them with AotD listeners/readers. You can find other installments as well as some of my other pursuits at http://kentholle.tumblr.com

7/26/13- I haven’t been updating this the way I’d hoped recently, but there’s a few reasons for this. Number one, I’ve had a weird schedule because I managed to pick up a temporary supervisor position at work. Secondly, I just had a crazy weekend that ended with me on a surgeon’s table. So that happened.

The result of this is that I finished a couple of books and spent a couple of days mainlining Mystery Science Theater 3000 (with a little Dick Van Dyke thrown in here and there.) When I’ve been laid up with this illness or that issue in the past, MST3K has always been my comfort food. I love that show so dearly and have seen nearly all of it’s 200 episodes. If you have not seen it before, I recommend pre-ordering the Vol. 28 set that Shout Factory will be doing soon as they will be including a bonus of one of the best episodes ever, Mitchell, starring Joe Don Baker as a doughy, alcoholic cop. The episode has been out of print since the early days of Rhino’s distribution of the show and I’m super excited not to have to pay out the nose for a used copy on bay. Not sure when it will go up, but keep your eyes peeled.

Anyway, I had overdone it a bit on Wednesday in regards to my recovery, so for Thursday I knew I had to take it easy. Fortunately, Thursdays this summer have been my day to get together with Yocum, my teacher friend who is as big a movie obsessive as I am. He’s shown me older films that I’ve managed to miss one way or another and I’m introducing him to some newer films since he doesn’t manage to get out as much. So while I’ve finally managed to see Forbidden Planet, Hey There It’s Yogi Bear and Cats Don’t Dance, I’ve shown him such varied fare as The Adventures of TinTin, Lilo and Stitch and Attack the Block. It’s something I’ve really begun to look forward to and I’ll be sad when it comes to an end in a few weeks. Maybe we’ll have to switch it to Sundays, but I know he’s got a lot to do with his wife (as it should be) so, like all good things, it’s most likely going to slowly grind to an end. (Insert “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina here.) Anyway, another thing I’ve enjoyed is that the last couple of weeks we’ve been joined by my friend Spencer from The Sticky Clutch, the cover band I sing for.

This week we managed to sneak in a double-feature despite Yocum having plenty of guests around the house. We started with Crack in the World, the feel-bad film of 1965. It’s the kind of disaster epic that Roland Emmerich had to have huffed deeply from as a child. Call it “The Day Before Tomorrow.” Essentially, a nuclear weapon is used to access the Earth’s molten core so it can be used as a source of limitless energy. But instead of peace, love and understanding, science once again unleashes death as the explosion results in a “crack in the world” that begins to go along a fault line and threatens to, against the protestations of such things as gravity and common sense, break the world in half. It’s a film that promises lots of fun images of destruction and mayhem and delivers mostly stock footage of volcanoes. And the ending… what the heck is going on with that ending? But it’s still got a cheesy sense of doom throughout that makes it worthwhile and the Olive FIlms’ transfer, especially considering just how much stock footage is involved, is phenomenal for a 60s effects film. It just plain looks gorgeous.

After that, I showed him one of my favorite films of last year, Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom. This one played better than I could have hoped. Even as I explained in my review at the time that Kingdom is the culmination of Anderson’s work to this point, incorporating so many of this common themes and fetishes, there are still a lot of things that make it unique among his filmography, or at least are comparable only with Fantastic Mr. Fox. The beautiful look of the film, despite all the usual Anderson touches that go along with the French New Wave look he adores, is (like Fox) so attuned to a golden/Autumnal color palate that it one of his best looking films, despite being made in super 16mm. And, aside from a reference to the kid getting a boner, I find it difficult to figure out why the movie got a PG-13. In many ways, it feels like it’s a fantastic children’s movie and honestly would have no problem showing this film to them, especially any over 10. It’s got an innocence that most of his other films do not. And there’s the change in soundtrack. Ironically it’s the only period movie he’s actually done, yet it’s the only one that does not feature 60s pop tunes, aside from the great Le Temps de l’Amour by Francoise Hardy. Everything else seems to be either classical or old Hank Williams tunes. (By the way, I love when they mirror the beginning Benjamin Britten piece in the end credits with Jared Gilman doing the same thing with all the instrumentation used by Alexandre Desplat.) Anyway, he ended up loving the film to the point that he went out and bought it today, which makes me giddy the way it always makes me giddy to introduce one of my favorite films to an appreciative audience. This is why Tarantino has his own movie theater. I’m also excited because in an ensuing discussion I found out that the only other Anderson film he’s seen is Bottle Rocket and the only Edgar Wright film he’s seen is Scott Pilgrim (which I also showed him) so practically the entire filmography of two of my favorite filmmakers is now wide open to show him. I don’t know if he’ll like the other films as well as he liked the two I’ve already shown him, but gads am I thrilled to find out. This is what being a movie geek is all about.

Now on the negative side, I’m getting a little sick of having to pay higher prices because I can’t just buy a blu ray by itself. Instead I have to buy it with “bonus discs” that are the exact same content in a poorer-quality format. I don’t need some DVD, OK? I will never, ever, ever watch it. And I don’t have sticky-fingered children digging in my collection, so that excuse isn’t going to fly with me. I shouldn’t be forced to bolster a sagging format. You might as well be saying, “In order to buy this movie you want on blu ray, you also must purchase it on VHS and laserdisc in case there are any other dead formats laying around.” I understand there’s a difference because the jump from blu to DVD is more subtle and you can use both in the same machine. But it’s not like when people were switching from records to CDs that you could buy the record by itself for less, but if you wanted to buy the CD you had to purchase both. I mean, I’m a vinyl lover and I probably wouldn’t even go for that. No wonder their numbers are going screwy.

And is anyone out there actually using Ultraviolet? Yeah, I didn’t think so. DIVX for the streaming age.

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: Much Ado About Nothing

I wonder how much they got paid for this.

It occurs to me that there are a few instances of me starting out reviews apologizing for not meeting the expectations of the collective cultural consciousness or even simply the niche of what I would consider my fellow film-geek contemporaries. Upon reflection, I’m not sure why I feel the need to do this. After all, having independent views on art should be celebrated, especially if someone is at the very least taking the time to understand why they feel certain ways about storytelling in various methods. But the fact is, I feel the odd need to do it again, this time in service of explaining the following academic no-no: I don’t get Shakespeare. Oh sure, I thought MacBeth was kind of cool, but unless you’re counting The Lion King or the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode where they watched a dubbed German presentation of Hamlet, I haven’t gone out of my way to let the bard into my life. Perhaps it was the clinical, school-based setting in which I learned about him. Perhaps it’s my absolute hatred of Romeo and Juliet in its many, varied forms.

Oh sure, I understand Shakespeare. I understand his importance in theater/scriptwriting. I even understand that Francis Bacon might have actually written the plays under a pen name (thanks, Frank Cho’s Liberty Meadows for that little rant from Al the bartender.) But 400 years is a long time and his cult of personality gets a little overdone for my tastes. Plus, it’s just hard to get through. Reading it can be so utterly taxing and most film presentations seem to be built upon the foundation of making them absolutely boring and presenting little for modern context. Keep in mind, this is coming from a history major.

However, while I have drifted apart from Joss Whedon in the years since the Buffyverse was snuffed out from television, he has remained a vibrant and relevant figure in my cultural canon. Avengers and Cabin in the Woods were my number one and two films of 2012, respectively, bringing cleverness and originality into what could be well-worn tropes.
Now let’s be honest, a black and white version of a Shakespeare play filmed as a lark at someone’s house would normally not be picked up and distributed. The entire enterprise hinges upon the Whedon brand. So the question becomes, could Whedon make Shakespeare relevant to me through his direction, editing down of the material and updating the setting. The choice of the play is intriguing. It’s certainly not one of his most well-known pieces so it comes across as even more unique. Unlike Hamlet, it hasn’t been put in a sleeper hold by every English major with a chip on their shoulder looking to do “their take on it.” Casting Amy Acker, one of my official TV crushes, certainly didn’t hurt. Nor did the other familiar faces populating his cheapie.

As the film began, I had a tough time with the dialogue. It may be English, but for myself, listening to Shakespeare is often like watching Univision. Sure, I get every fourth word, but it’s so unfamiliar to my ears that a lot of it simply doesn’t register the way a conversation in modern, American vernacular would. Fortunately, I’m attuned with an ability to take what I am able to pick up and put it in context to understand what’s going on. By the end, I was doing a much better job of understanding what was being said and picking up on things. It certainly helps that, unlike my previous experiences with Shakespeare, the dialogue isn’t revered to the point that it’s the sole focus of the production. Whedon manages to inject personality into the film, picking up where the page leaves off. The incorporation of modern technology into gags absolutely helped my contextual grasp of the characters. And while not all the physical comedy works, Alexis Denisof does a good job with a lot of his and Acker does some exceptional bits out of nowhere. (It makes me wish she’d gotten to be more physical back when she was portraying Fred, a favorite back on Whedon’s series Angel, where she and Denisof had fantastic chemistry.) Nathan Fillion and Tom Lenk manage to make the most of their small roles. Clark Gregg surprises a bit since I really only recognized him from his small roles as Agent Coulson in the Marvel Universe films. Sean Maher and Garfunkel and Oates’ Riki Lindhome manage to be a little bit menacing… everyone does their job here and most of them are known for being in one Whedon production or another, from Buffy to Avengers. Let’s face it. It’s a big part of the draw.

The thing that I wasn’t sure always worked was the decisions in terms of the cinematography. For what is supposed to be one of Shakespeare’s comedies, it is filmed in a way that really doesn’t heighten the “funny” involved. Back when Kevin Smith made Clerks, black and white was an economic choice. But since Ado was shot digitally (and Whedon is far from being a guy selling his comics just to buy the film equipment), the decision to go black and white would have to be a purposeful one. Is it to try to minimize the “home movie” aspects of the film? Perhaps. Because as far as being an “artistic” decision, I don’t see purposefulness of it. It’s not like great comedy doesn’t exist in black and white, but typically when it is done in modern times, it’s part of creating a dark, noir feel and this is certainly far from a noir. There’s absolutely some interesting camerawork and compositions going on, but overall I wonder if it was the right stylistic choice.
Regardless, as a way to bring Shakespeare kicking and screaming into the modern world and as an entertainment, Ado is a success. I could see this taking the place of at least one Branagh movie in high school classrooms.

(Three damns given out of five)

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: Pacific Rim

Jimpsy Darglar

I’m just going to go ahead and say it; I loved Pacific Rim. I loved it unabashedly and without the dried-up cynicism that invades even my own thoughts from time to time. I haven’t had as much fun watching a movie in the theater since The Avengers. Apparently this is not universal. I see people complaining about it being too dark. I see people complaining about it not being dark enough. Well, I guess they made this one just for me, because it hit my sweet spot with the gooey, chewy chocolate center. I found myself grinning over the course of nearly the entirety of Guillermo del Toro’s big knock-down drag-out.

It seems like del Toro, though having common flourishes in his work, has two modes of film-making. There’s the Pan’s Labrynth-style horror fantasies that seem to delight the arthouse community and then there’s his Hellboy mode in which he goes for the big, fun action film. Both are exciting to see for different reasons and both are usually high quality in their respective genres. This is squarely in the second column. A tale of human-piloted robots (aka “Jeagers”) versus alien monsters which are attempting to wipe out said humanity (kaiju, literally the Japanese word for giant monster), it also manages to have a human core that elevates the material while never bringing the film to a skidding halt.

One of the clever things del Toro does is plug the characters’ motivations and personalities directly into the plot. Somewhat literally. Early on it is explained that the strain of piloting a Jeager is simply too much for one person to handle, so a link is made between two pilots. They share their memories, fears and feelings with each other, which of course leads to all sorts of complications and makes it tricky for just anyone to be a pilot. We see father-son teams. Brothers. Husband and wife. I actually found myself hungry for more information about these people. The intimacy described is never fully explored for, one would guess, several reasons. Of course there’s a possibility of getting down and dirtier into the concept if there are more films, but while there is enough story here to fill a franchise, it seems satisfied to simply tell a streamlined yarn. Could they be brought about easily? Well sure. But there’s nothing here, even in a post-credits sequence, that feels like it’s specifically being seeded for the purpose of setting up a franchise, which is kind of refreshing, honestly.

It’s an odd assemblage of a cast, cheerfully devoid of any traditional star power, and it works. Idris Elba continues to be awesome in everything he does except The Office. (Never quite understood that one considering he’s got some good comedic timing.) Rinko Kikuchi’s Mako, a rookie pilot in the Jeager program, manages to be effective even with her broken English. Charlie Day is fantastically funny as a kaiju expert and he has fantastic chemistry with the entire cast, but most notably del Toro favorite Ron Pearlman, who plays a black market dealer in kaiju parts. The only weak spot is, surprisingly, Charlie Hunnam. His performance seems oddly stilted against the others, though I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because he’s concentrating on his American accent.

As I was leaving the theater, one of the staff was asking people what we thought of the film. Getting positive feedback, he replied, “So it’s not just a live-action Gundam Wing?” I responded, “It’s more like Neon Genesis Evangelion with Star Wars overtones.” “Touche,” he said. Not sure what he meant by that, but I decided to move on.

And while it’s become cliche to describe a film as being the next Star Wars, Pacific Rim does share many characteristics. The fantastic setting doesn’t transfer over, of course. Pacific Rim is decidedly Earthbound. But just as George Lucas took the cheesy Flash Gordon serials he had seen as a youth and tweaked them into something new, so Guillermo del Toro took the at times sublime, but often goofy, giant monster films he saw as a kid, combined them with famous anime concepts and tweaked them into something familiar but put together in a fresh way. Both used an advance in budget and special effects to update childhood loves that often look ridiculous by today’s standards. Both do a great job of world building, giving us glimpses of things that would be fascinating to learn more about. Both star a wooden-acting, younger blonde alongside a veteran Brit. Both have a kick-ass lady that manages to exude attractiveness without being overtly sexual. I doubt the blue streaks of Kikuchi’s Mako will end up being as iconic as Princess Leia’s ear-buns, but still. Without recapping the plot, they also both share story characteristics as del Toro deftly maneuvers the Jeager program to be, like a certain group of rebels, outsiders and underdogs attempting to go up against incredible odds.

There’s never going to be another Star Wars. There’s just never going to be that kind of a universally beloved original film which comes out of nowhere, surprising everyone. So comparisons notwithstanding, I’m not going to sit here and declare it the next anything. I’m not even going to call it the next Godzilla. (I actually found more in common with the 90s trilogy of Gamera films, anyway.) While I noticed a subtle nod here and there, mostly the overt pastiche is kept to a minimum so rather than play “Spot the Reference,” I was able to simply enjoy it as the first Pacific Rim and leave it at that. Frankly I’m appreciating it for being just about the only ‘blockbuster’ this summer that isn’t a sequel, remake or an adaptation. (Even if I’ve enjoyed several of them.) This is Del Toro’s love letter to the science fiction he grew up with and it is joy-filled movie making on a grand scale.

(Five damns given out of five)

 

Kent’s Damned Movie Reviews: Despicable Me 2

Beedo beedo beedo!

I’m going to go out on a limb and say a lot of people probably enjoyed the first Despicable Me more than I did. I thought it was alright, but ultimately I thought the pacing didn’t work as well as it should and most of the characters were flat. But it did have some moments of high-volume laughter. Similar problems surrounded the animation house Illumination’s Hop. A story that was just… off. What could have been a fantastic parody of Christmas movies settled for being a mediocre copycat of them with a grafting of Easter jokes.

Fortunately, while Despicable Me 2 is certainly not a great film, the company seems to have learned from their earlier efforts to produce a more well-rounded piece with improved comedic timing and a deeper look at Gru, the centralized supervillian-cum-domestic.

Of course everyone loved the Minions of the first film and there was no doubt that they would be back with a vengeance considering most of the film’s advertising revolved around them. What surprised me is just how much of them is in the film. I am of two minds when it comes to the little yellow tater-tots with eyes. Part of me loves that they seem to exist in large part to allow for more cartoon violence than often seems to be permitted in modern animation. As a ne’er-do-well kid raised on Tom and Jerry and Tex Avery cartoons, this appeals greatly to me. But there’s a large part of me that knows the reason why kids love them is the reason they are always threatening to tip the scale to being too much of a good thing; they can be utterly annoying if done wrong. Every single time I saw the trailer played before a movie this summer, a kid would immediately imitate the “fire alarm” minion and repeat “BEEDO! BEEDO! BEEDO!” I can only grimace thinking of what terror parents will be experiencing as their children try to recreate their mannerisms, watching the film at home over and over. Fortunately, the filmmakers walk the fine line and the Minions manage to stay on the funny side despite a larger presence in the sequel.

Gru is still the main character, this time being recruited by the Anti Villain League, a super-secret spy organization that, like MI-6 or C.O.N.T.R.O.L. has a wrangle on the type of crooks that Gru used to be and given his pedigree (stealing the moon has made him a legend) they decide he can help them combat a new threat. Joining him is Agent Lucy Wild (Kristen Wiig) who becomes closer to him and is a decent addition to the cast as a romantic foil. Indeed, thanks to the expanded universe of the second film, the whole thing feels more like Get Smart, but that seems to only help, especially since the archetypes seem to help the flimsy story go down a bit smoother. The design work also seems just a little bit tweaked more towards a retro 60s aesthetic in some ways, though it’s been long enough since I’ve seen the original that I’m not sure why. It just vaguely seems that way.

The inclusion of Lucy, the romance subplot and the new focus on the minions means that the three girls that Gru has adopted, while still present and still a big part of his life (up to the point of giving up villainy), are largely sidelined and only really show up in a secondary capacity aside from serving as comedic devices or to help push the plot forward. I doubt most people will be disappointed by this.

Steve Carrell’s odd, nondescript accent still doesn’t make sense as a performance decision to me (it sounds like Michael Scott doing a bad impression), but the character does manage to display some pathos. Of course one of the highlights for me was the surprise of hearing Kristen Schaal, who should be in pretty much every animated project. Such is the power of her voice.

In a battle of broad summer animated comedies, I’m giving the edge to Monsters University, but Despicable Me 2 (is it weird that I actually view numbered sequels as a novelty now?) is definitely good for some belly laughs.

(Three damns given out of five)