What makes Despicable Me 2 so frustrating is that its predecessor was challenging. Not challenging in a hugely subversive way, but it doesn't take much to shake up a Hollywood paradigm. Casting a villain as the hero in a cartoon comedy is one way. Filling out a cast with three wild -- and wildly individual -- little girls is another way. And the simple fact that the first film was not based on a comic book or a line of toys was practically earth shattering.
Despicable Me is about a supervillain named Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) who adopts the three girls from an orphanage. When it debuted, I thought directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud got it. They seemed to understand that we need new stories and perspectives, and they knew how to present these things in an entertaining way.
Turns out I was wrong. They have reverted to narrow-minded Hollywood form with Me 2. The focus of the first film --the funny side of Gru's nastiness -- doesn't carry over because Me was about the little girls curing Gru of his villainy. Where Me ended with a happy, unconventional family, Me 2 is all about finding Gru a wife so the clan can be "normal." Somehow this translates into a motif about how women are too fat, ugly and pushy for Gru. One particularly awful scene involves Gru drugging his date and hauling her home atop a car as if she were a deer slain on a hunt.
There's plenty despicable here, for sure. But none of it is the sort of all-encompassing misanthropy that made Gru such a hilarious antihero in the first film. In fact, the drugged-woman bit is achieved with the help of Lucy (voiced by Kristen Wiig), an agent for the Anti-Villain League who has enlisted Gru's help to hunt down a new supervillain. Plus, the filmmakers don't seem to think there's anything despicable about their depiction of the potential supervillains, Asian stereotype Floyd (voiced by Ken Jeong) and Mexican stereotype Eduardo (voiced by Benjamin Bratt).
Perhaps worst of all, however, is the story's "happy" conclusion: that regardless of their own dreams, women are for rescuing and then marrying. I bet the Gru at the end of Me would have moved mountains -- or blown them up -- if anyone suggested that's all his girls are good for.
Me 2's one redeeming feature is Gru's blobby worker-bee Minions, who are very funny. The filmmakers could have cut away all the non-Minions stuff and created a bunch of shorts. That would be anything but despicable.