Despicable Me 4 Review

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Despicable Me is one of those franchises that’s essentially critic-proof. Whatever the Rotten Tomatoes score is, it’ll surely make enough money to ensure Despicable Me 5, 6, and 7 with three Minions sequels and a Mario crossover interspersed. Beyond that, there’s not much point in reviewing Despicable Me 4 through a critical lens. In virtually any other film, the plot and character motivations would be the main points of analysis. In Despicable Me 4, only one question is pertinent: is it funny? There are enough laughs to forgive the narrative issues, which we will unpack here. You’re not getting off that easy.

Gru (Steve Carell) is living happily with his family, which now includes a baby boy who we might as well call Jack-Jack. The film “borrows” much from The Incredibles, including a climax with a giant robot and Gru confronting a nemesis from his past who kidnaps his son. The villain this time is Maxime Le Mal (Will Ferrell), a French fiend who Gru once upstaged in a school talent show. After being humiliated by Gru again, Maxime seeks revenge against his family, forcing them into hiding. While Maxime’s reasons for vengeance are humorous, we never believe our heroes are in immediate danger. Several villains from past movies make cameos toward the film’s end. The witness protection plot would feel more justified if all of them teamed up against Gru, upping the stakes and comedy.

While the story is a missed opportunity, Despicable Me 4 is essentially another exclusive to tell jokes, most of which do land. The slapstick is still inventive and the characters are still charming, although the film juggles more ideas than it knows what to do with. The subplots include Lucy posing as a hairdresser, Margo trying to fit in at school, Edith’s rivalry with a karate teacher, and Agnes being conflicted about lying. These storylines lead to some big laughs, most notably a chase that turns a Karen into the T-1000. Yet, all of these subplots are essentially dropped by the third act.

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Despicable Me has never been the most focused franchise, but with this sequel in particular, the filmmakers were more interested in some characters than others. The Minions are once again prioritized with five of them getting superpowers. You’re probably thinking, “Aren’t the filmmakers two years too late to cash in on superheroes?” They are, although that’s part of the joke. Like most of the DCEU’s offerings, the “Mega Minions” are backed by hype, but only deliver disaster. This amounts to one of the best punchlines as the Minions usher in superhero fatigue.

Although the Minions are always good for a laugh (depending on who you ask), the best storyline involves Gru and a neighbor girl named Poppy (Joey King). When this character first appears, the audience might expect a stereotypical mean girl. Poppy develops a surprisingly fun dynamic with Gru, though, looking up to him as her inspiration to be a supervillain. Poppy’s diabolical aspirations are only made funnier by King’s delivery, saying every line through a brace-faced filter. The film could’ve done more with this character, but she helps distinguish this fourth (technically sixth) installment from its predecessors.

Other than those who weren’t alive when Rise of Gru came out, Despicable Me 4 won’t win over many new fans. It probably won’t lose any old ones, however. If you’re looking for an animated sequel with depth, there’s Inside Out 2 or even Kung Fu Panda 4. If you’re in the mood for familiar escapism, Despicable Me 4 essentially delivers what it promises. As for myself, the critic in me can’t deny that the script is all over the place. The viewer in me, though, can’t help but laugh at a well-timed goat poop joke.

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About Nick Spake

Nick Spake has been working as an entertainment writer for the past ten years, but he's been a lover of film ever since seeing the opening sequence of The Lion King. Movies are more than just escapism to Nick, they're a crucial part of our society that shape who we are. He now serves as the Features Editor at Flickreel and author of its regular column, 'Nick Flicks'.

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