‘Despicable Me 4’ Movie Review: Illumination’s Sequel Stumbles

Despicable Me 4 sees Gru and the family take on a different dynamic. Instead of trying to achieve world domination as a villain, the Gru crew has to accomplish the most challenging mission they have ever faced. Somehow, they must achieve the impossible feat of “blending in.”

On the surface, this could be a hilarious concept. The characters are anything but ordinary, and this says a lot about the characters, considering the universe they inhabit. In various moments, Despicable Me 4 plays with this idea quite well. But for the fourth entry, the charm of the series is waning. Like Shrek Forever After, Kung Fu Panda 4, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom Skull, and Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, Despicable Me does not survive the fourth movie curse. 

Despicable Me 4 – The Story

The fourth film starts with a cold opening of Gru (Steve Carell) and his yellow gibberish-speaking Minions attending a villain school reunion. In the thick of the party, Gru searches for an old rival named Maxime Le Mal (Will Ferrell), an over-the-top villain obsessed with cockroaches because of their indestructible nature. The bitter rivalry is evident as Le Mal wins Best Pupil, sparking Gru’s jealousy. Le Mal reveals his transition into a humanoid cockroach during his acceptance speech, prompting Gru to expose himself as a member of the Anti-Villain League and announce that he is there to arrest Le Mal.

Gru succeeds in imprisoning the roach man, but only after Le Mal promises revenge. Shortly after, we are presented to Gru’s new family life. He is now settled as a husband with Lucy (Kristen Wiig) and his three adopted children, Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier), and Agnes (Madison Skyy Polan). But there is a new addition in the form of Gru Jr., an infant who looks exactly like a miniature Gru and loves to find creative ways to put his father through misery. 

Gru’s world is routine until he is informed that Maxime Le Mal has been released from prison. The Anti-Villain League, or AVL, throws Gru and his family into a witness protection scenario, relocating them and giving them brand new names. Otherwise, Maxime might destroy Gru’s life and loved ones.

A wildly unfocused sequel

As mentioned, the above scenario is ripe for potential and has endless possibilities for comedic value. At different times, the humor is competently explored, such as in a scene involving Lucy pretending to be a hairdresser, which continually escalates. In other scenes, Gru tries to make friends with a self-important neighbor named Perry (played by Stephen Colbert), where one can almost see shades of Curb Your Enthusiasm

Despicable Me 4’s script goes wildly off course for inexplicable reasons. It’s almost like one of the Minions broke into the writers’ room and rewrote sections of the movie. For example, halfway through the film, the story breaks away and follows the AVL’s experiment to create superpowered Minions, now called Mega Minions, resulting in an Avengers-style joke. Another segment has Gru doing a heist with a teenager, and they find themselves at risk of a Honey Badger. This results in the characters making dated Honey Badger jokes from 2011. It earns a chuckle but is one non-sequitur in a movie overflowing with non-sequiturs. Children will not complain, but for the most part, it’s a series of random scenes with exhausting gags instead of attempting to move the story in a clear direction. 

The bright side of the Illumination sequel

Despite a lack of coherency, one must acknowledge the animation from Illumination. Visually, the studio has a talent for crafting animated eye candy. The sequel continues to showcase how the studio has a signature style. The weakness for myself and undoubtedly children is the use of color. Of all the studios, Illumination does color best, making the happenings on screen feel disarming.

Illumination is one of the only studios resurrecting some of the old-fashioned cartoon humor millennials grew up watching. For example, small comedic bits throughout Despicable Me 4 are seemingly influenced by shows like Animaniacs. Gru Jr.’s constant need to torment his father is the clearest example.

Characters in these movies are designed with comical exaggeration. One can’t help but wish that the studio would remake nostalgic Cartoon Network shows. The character design and humor would be an excellent fit for a movie adaptation of Dexter’s Laboratory or The Powerpuff Girls. The artistry and visual aesthetic remain pleasing in the fourth film. Unfortunately, a memorable movie did not accompany the vibrant animation.

Despicable Me 4 is humorous but feels like it’s on autopilot

The main problem with the fourth outing is the need for something fresh. The experience of seeing the fourth entry is like hearing a joke many times before. One can even predict the entire structure of the movie before it begins. Gru fights a villain of the week, the daughters say the most adorable things, and the Minions eventually either harm each other or cause mayhem for everyone else. There are a few fresh ingredients, such as Gru Jr. and a character played by Stephen Colbert, but more is needed to make the sequel feel justified or exciting.

The fourth entry is an adequate diversion for parents wanting to distract their kids for 90 minutes. It’s wonderfully animated, and the randomness of the comedy will keep kids involved; however, it could be more memorable. Overall, Despicable Me 4 offers more of the same. The animation and comedy are over the top; the Minions occasionally mimic The Three Stooges. The movie will likely entertain kids, but others may find it pedestrian.

Despicable Me 4 is now in theaters.

Learn more about the film, including how to buy tickets, at the official website.

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