Minions: The Rise of Gru Two stars In cinemas; Cert G
Twinkies, cockroaches and canned beans. If mainstream American pop culture has taught us anything, it’s that these are the things that could withstand a nuclear apocalypse. We might add Minions to the list.
According to this, the fifth entry in Illumination’s viable and extraordinarily valuable Despicable Me saga, Minions look just like Twinkies. I can’t say I noticed. But there is no escaping the obvious: Minions are indestructible.
The wee yellow fellas will outlive us all. A century from now, our descendants will look to the goggle-eyed, dungaree-sporting banana bugs as a sort of maddening cultural milestone.
“The Minion is where it all got weird,” they’ll say. “When people decided that the world was, in fact, a horrible place, and that the only way to distract themselves from the outrageous horrors of real life was to trade in their hard-earned cash for a solid 90 minutes of noisy, cartoon gobbledygook.” They’d be right, too.
A lot has happened in 12 years (yes, it really has been that long since the first Despicable Me film). Minions: The Rise of Gru – or, to give it a title worthy of its ambition, Minions: Will This Do? – is a step too far.
The gobbledygook used to be funny. It used to have a heart. The people behind it made an effort. There was a time, you’ll recall, when this franchise ruled not just the blockbuster landscape, but also the charts (without 2013’s Despicable Me 2, Pharrell Williams might never have written ‘Happy’ – imagine that).
Minions: Seriously, Will This Do? makes for an oddly discombobulating viewing experience. There are no hit tunes. There is no pulse. Director Kyle Balda – working off a flimsy screenplay by Matthew Fogel – barely troubles himself in the captain’s seat. I’ve laughed harder after stepping on the business end of a plug.
We’re in a sugary version of America’s west coast. The year is 1975, super villains are a thing, and a creepy 11-year-old named Gru (Steve Carell, with added squeak) is in an awful hurry to take over the world. Luckily for him, his favourite gang of villains – the Vicious 6 – are down a member and are holding interviews to find his replacement.
Gru – with plenty of encouragement from his devoted minions (Pierre Coffin, working his backside off in the voice booth), and zero support from mum, Marlena (a wasted Julie Andrews) – is invited to audition. The entire endeavour goes sideways when, after a mortifying encounter with his sinister heroes, our conniving protagonist steals a precious, powerful stone from their lair.
Yep, we have ourselves a MacGuffin, and everyone – including the ensemble’s angry, ousted leader, Wild Knuckles (Alan Arkin) – is after it. Chaos ensues. We’re talking crazed kidnappings, wild goose chases across America, the whole shebang.
Does any of it make sense? Hardly. Does Minions: We Hope This Will Do ever rise above its rickety, half-arsed tale with a cute selection of cleverly co-ordinated gags? Pull the other one.
Nobody ever bothered with Despicable Me for its plot, but this sketchy and surprisingly reckless spin-off is barely trying.
There are starry heavy hitters amidst the slapstick. Michelle Yeoh plays a deadly Kung Fu master. Jean-Claude Van Damme lends his dulcet tones to a man with a lobster claw for an arm.
We are reliably informed that the great Taraji P Henson voices the film’s primary antagonist. If, perhaps, Balda’s rushed and infuriatingly manic display worked harder to resemble something other than the world’s first feature-length GIF, we might have noticed.
Alas, Minions: Gru Loses His Groove is the kind of film you forget about while watching; a cloying, troublesome mishmash of bright concepts feebly executed by bad storytellers.
Wouldn’t it be funny if Kevin and the other Minions were left in charge of an airplane? Yes. Wouldn’t it be gas to stylise the opening credits like that of a Bond picture? You betcha.
How might the filmmakers go about telling the story of a prepubescent genius whose classmates slag him off because he wants to be the world’s coolest supervillain? With great skill, you’d hope.
Alas, this isn’t Pixar – the ideas are strong, but the sloppy, second-rate follow-through spoils the mood. The jokes suck, basically, and the Minions’ increasingly erratic and annoyingly unfunny gibberish is really starting to grate. Watch it make another billion at the box-office.
Selected cinemas; Cert 15A
In the aftermath of the Uvalde shooting and US society’s inability to restrict guns, this unforgettable drama is eerily timed. Justin Kurzel’s movie depicts the perpetrator of the 1996 Port Arthur massacre that claimed 35 lives and immediately spurred sweeping reforms of Australian gun law.
Caleb Landry Jones (until now, something of a character actor) is stunning as the 25-year-old Tasmanian who we quickly realise is not quite right. Indulged by his dad (Anthony LaPaglia) and kept at a distance by his cold mother (Judy Davis), Nitram – his nickname, which is ‘Martin’ spelled backwards – has trouble communicating and controlling his inclinations.
He befriends a wealthy local heiress (Essie Davis) and moves into her rustic, dog-filled mansion, much to the consternation of his folks. Stability and acceptance look to be on the cards, only for a tragic accident to send him over the edge.
Cannes-winner Landry walks a line between arousing our sympathy and our dread, so we are never on sound footing despite knowing where the road is headed. The mundanity of the suburban backdrop depicted by Kurzel heightens that dread somehow. This is a searing and disquieting film that doesn’t claim to have the answers. Hilary White
IFI & selected cinemas; No cert
The East-West smoulder of the Cold War is undergoing a revival, a cursory glance at the headlines will tell you. Harking back to its heyday, however, is this strangely nostalgic, Irish-made doc about a Cuban spy cell that operated on US home soil in the 1990s.
Following a potted history of the communist enclave 90 miles off the Florida coast, we meet the unassuming team that would come to be known in the media as “the Cuban Five”. By answering Castro’s call in service of la Revolución, these otherwise ordinary Joes agreed to be torn away from their families and placed in the US under false identities to disrupt and report back on anti-Cuban groups.
By their own admission this was not James Bond stuff, and once rumbled in 1998, the cell from the impoverished Caribbean island was met with as much bemusement as scorn by the US authorities.
Co-directors Ollie Aslin and Gary Lennon track down all key players and hear them out. The use of both factual archive footage and clips from a schlocky Latino spy show creates an intriguing contrast between the glamorised connotations of espionage and the unhappy, stressful reality. Worth a look. Hilary White
Eric Ravilious – Drawn to War
IFI & selected cinemas; No cert
After disappearing off the coast of Iceland in 1942 while with the Royal Navy, Eric Ravilious and his reputation as an artist vanished into obscurity. Forty years later, his children uncovered an archive of his watercolours and lithographs, their textural energies and contained enigma restoring him to the conversation about British artistic heritage.
This biographical documentary by Margy Kinmonth ably charts Ravilious’s lifetime – his journeyman days, his complicated relationship with wife Tirzah, and his use of art towards the war effort.
Although adhering to a documentary-portrait format, this is sturdy and sound cultural filmmaking.
Kinmonth gathers family, commentators (Alan Bennett, Robert Macfarlane, et al), and an extensive epistolatory archive (the voice cast includes Freddie Fox, Tamsin Greig and Jeremy Irons) to give a rounded view of the man and his work.
As with anything to do with the British in wartime, it strays into hagiography in its final throes, declaring Ravilious’s legacy as “unsurpassed”, which is perhaps over-icing the cake a tad. Hilary White