Review: “Despicable Me 3”

3.5 out of 5 stars.

The “Despicable Me” films have always been rather all over the place—that’s not a bad thing in this case though, and for the record I really do like the first two movies.  But despite all the colorful gadgets and cartoonish supervillains and yellow sidekicks, at their heart they’ve always been about family (we will exclude the 2015 spinoff “Minions” from this discussion.  In fact, let’s just forget that that movie ever existed).  In the first film, our not-really-evil supervillain protagonist Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) adopted three little girls, Edith, Agnes, and Margo.  In the sequel, he met his wife, a secret agent named Lucy (Kristen Wiig).  In “Despicable Me 3,” Gru now gets to meet his long lost twin brother, Dru (I was going to say evil twin, but both of them are kind of evil.  But also not really actually that evil?  I guess in this universe supervillains can be good but also be villains).

The film opens with Lucy and Gru losing their jobs at the Anti-Villain League after Gru fails to capture Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker), a former 80s child star trying to steal the world’s largest and most expensive diamond.  Gru is feeling down about everything—his loyal minions even go on strike after he refuses to go back to being a villain—when he learns that his brother Dru (also voiced by Carell) has been looking for him since their father passed away.  It turns out that when they were babies, their parents split up Parent Trap style, the dad taking Dru and the mom (who briefly appears in this film, voiced once again by the wonderful Julie Andrews) taking Gru.  Dru is a prosperous pig farmer living in a huge mansion in the country of Freedonia.  He has almost everything Gru doesn’t—charm, wealth, and most importantly, a full head of hair.

But wait, there’s more!  Dru’s didn’t actually come from the pig business.  Their father was a legendary supervillain, but was always disappointed in Dru’s lack of ability when it came to the family business (a feeling Gru can relate to, his mother always having considered him a disappointment).  Dru wants Gru to teach him how to be a villain, and Gru, initially resisting, ultimately agrees, and is reminded of the joys of being a supervillain.  He and Dru devise a plan to steal the diamond back from Bratt, although that turns out to be part of a larger plan to destroy Hollywood, the town that turned its back on him when his show was canceled.

Despicable Me 3
Lucy and Gru

There’s a lot happening in this movie, and it has a harder time keeping it all together than the previous two films.  Besides Gru’s conflict with Dru, and Gru’s conflict with Bratt, there’s a side-plot involving the minions who went on strike, and what happens to them until they find their way back to Gru.  It sounds awful, but it’s often amusing, and further proves after that spinoff movie that we do not speak of that comic sidekicks work best when used in moderation.  We also see Lucy struggling to figure out the best way to be a mom to the girls.  The film starts to lag some in the middle because of all that’s going on, one issue being that the minion scenes are actually funnier than the ones with Gru and Dru.  The movie is still funny, sure, but something about Gru and Dru doesn’t gel as well as Gru’s interactions with the kids, or Lucy, or the minions, or his rival supervillains, or even his mother.

Yes, this is a family movie, and these films, while surprisingly moving (and we do get several really lovely interactions with Gru and his children in this movie too) have never reached the emotional depth of, say, Disney or Pixar.  That’s obviously not the filmmakers’ intention.  But it feels like there are a lot of missed opportunities in the story in “Despicable Me 3,” or things that are glossed over or just don’t quite make sense in the grand scheme of things.  If Gru’s father was such a legendary supervillain, and Gru wanted nothing more than to be the world’s best villain, how did he not know about him?  And any conflict simmering between Gru and Dru is gone in the blink of an eye, like when they first meet and Gru is clearly jealous of him, or later in the film when they fight about their intentions regarding the diamond.  I was half-expecting Dru to become a really evil supervillain (it’s still weird that we need to distinguish between good and bad villains in this series) at the end of the film and pit himself against Gru, but—spoiler alert—that’s not the case.  Points for not being predictable, I guess, but most of the conflicts that Gru has with Dru and with himself aren’t explored fully, the film instead choosing to favor frantic chase scenes and more of those crazy gadgets.

The animation is colorful and fast-paced; the character animation for Bratt is especially fun to watch, as he is often light on his feet, dancing to 80s hits.  Parker is fun as Bratt, a new villain who adds something fresh to the film, and Carell’s Gru (and I guess now Dru) voice fortunately doesn’t feel tired yet.  And when looking at the franchise as a whole, it’s fun to see Gru, who started the first film almost a loner, adding to his ever-expanding family.  “Despicable Me 3” isn’t great (certainly not as good as the first two movies) but it also isn’t bad, still delivering a lot of laughs and a lot of heart.  The series definitely follows a set formula, but there’s something to be said for a formula that works—and this one does.

Runtime: 90 minutes. Rated PG.

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