Now on VOD, Minions: The Rise of Gru is the fifth entry in a continuing saga of wildly profitable marketing successes from parent of a parent of a parent company (I think; I lose track of all the conglomerative monopolistic buyouts) Universal. Hooray for Universal! Isn’t that exciting for Universal! Aren’t we all just thrilled that a gigantic corporation just grossed more than $700 million at the box office for the latest in the Despicable Me movie franchise? This, after the previous two, 2017’s Despicable Me 3 and 2015’s Minions, each crossed the billion-dollar mark, ensuring further exploitation of the little yellow pidgin-speaking pill-shaped eyeball-goofball creature things, whose design has essentially become a ubiquitous corporate logo. The problem with this line of cynical thinking? The Minions are still kinda funny most of the time, existing in slappy, sloppy plots chock full of ridiculous antics that are reasonably entertaining for families looking to distract themselves for an hour-and-a-half. Universal sure knows how to crank out perfectly acceptable products!

The Gist: It’s 1976. In the basement of far-out-man ultrafunky vinyl shop Criminal Records is the lair of the Vicious 6, a team of villains who just acquired a MacGuffin, an ancient-Chinese-secret big ugly gold medallion that looks like it belongs in a nest of chest hair tufting from the plunging neckline of a dude’s superfly wide-open collar. Ambitious Vicious 6er Belle Bottom (Taraji P. Henson) stages a coup, ousting geezer leader Wild Knuckles (Alan Arkin), thus reducing team membership to five (the rest of whom are voiced by Jean-Claude Van Damme, Lucy Liu, Danny Trejo and Dolph Lundgren). Who, one can’t help but wonder, will be the new sixth member?

After a pidgin-Minion-sung parody of Nancy Sinatra’s “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down),” the first in a lengthy tally of probably fairly expensive music-rights fees, we cut to Gru (Steve Carell), this franchise’s main character, who isn’t nearly as popular or funny as his Minions (all voiced by Pierre Coffin), but hang in there, you’ll be privy to plenty of their horseplay soon enough. He’s in middle school, where he’s the class dorkus, declaring that he wants to grow up to be a supervillain. He goes home, where the Minions busy themselves building his secret lair in the basement. Gru and the Minions blast people with cheese rays, show off their butt cracks, toss a fart bomb in a movie theater so they can enjoy a private screening of Jaws and function as a conduit for era-specific references – Pet Rocks, Evel Knievel, Tupperware burps, rotary phones, disco, Linda Rondstadt, 8-track tapes, etc. – that are almost jokes.

Occasionally, the silliness briefly subsides for the plot, which involves Gru applying to become an official member of the Vicious 6, and Wild Knuckles plotting his revenge for getting the unceremonious boot. Everyone ends up in San Francisco. There are callbacks to previous Despicable movies and their characters, which you’ll catch if you bothered to pay close enough attention, and maybe you actually did, so hey, good for you, but if not, it doesn’t matter in the least. You might recognize the core Minion trio of Bob, Kevin and Stuart as they endlessly dink around here, but if not, no biggie; they’re joined by a new guy, Otto, a chubby chatterbox with braces. There’s a kung fu sequence in which Michelle Yeoh voices an acupuncturist who’s also a master martial artist, but that has almost nothing to do with the big, loud, violent conclusion to all this. Are we having fun yet?

Minions: The Rise of Gru (2021)
Photo: Everett Collection

What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: Only itself and whatever else it references (James Bond, Chuck Norris action movies and the like). Therefore, here’s the DEFINITIVE RANKING of every movie in the DMCU:

  1. Despicable Me (reasonably fresh idea at the time)
  2. Despicable Me 2 (whatever)
  3. Minions (whatever mk. II)
  4. Minions: The Rise of Gru (whatever mk. III)
  5. Despicable Me 3 (didn’t bother to stay awake while my kid watched it)

Performance Worth Hearing: Michelle Yeoh Elevates Everything, Pt. MCMXLVIII.

Memorable Dialogue: Stuart does not care for being the butt of a slapstick sequence in which he nearly gets flushed down an airplane commode: “No. No haha!” (Is he reviewing his own movie?)

Sex and Skin: Plumber butts; still no clue how Minions reproduce, so it’s gotta be asexually.

Our Take: Stuart’s not really reviewing his own movie. It’s funny enough, but only just enough. The most amusing element of Rise of Gru might just be the screenwriting credit, considering this thing is a barely written grab-bag of vignettes with a MacGuffin sometimes, and only sometimes, floating through them. It features so many needle drops and musical bits, I’ve theorized that the script originated with a Spotify playlist of ’70s hits ripe for Minioninzed parodies and cheeky gags, then was retrofitted with the most half-assed plot since – well, since the last Minions movie.

So the why-bother factor is high here, and about an hour into this 87-minute gamboling diddlefart of a movie, anyone older than 12 is gonna be feeling some substantial are-we-there-yet energy. But the visuals are bright and cheerful and not quite as obnoxiously manic as they could be (I’m still recovering from two Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballses), and for the most part, the Minions retain their absurdist appeal, just like Universal calculated in their boardrooms and accounting departments, no doubt.

Our Call: STREAM IT. Minions: The Rise of Gru demands minimal cephalic commitment on your part; escapism always has value. And even though it could be better, the feeling that it could be worse is much more prevalent.

John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Read more of his work at

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