In the Minion-saturated world we live in, it's easy to forget that the wacky little yellow creatures started life as minor supporting characters. They were a charming bit of seasoning in Illumination Entertainment's enjoyable Despicable Me, which told the story of a grouchy supervillain reluctantly accepting the responsibilities of parenthood. In the sequel to that film, the Minions were given an expanded role: more screen time, plus a substantial subplot involving the Gremlins-esque Mutant Minions. Now, the Minions have finally – and inevitably – been given their own movie. Unfortunately, the film mostly serves as a reminder of why these characters work better in supporting roles.
For starters, they're barely characters. The Minions are defined by a very specific brand of ceaseless energy, boundless curiosity and mostly-incomprehensible gibberish, but they're more or less all the same. Minions tries to make it easier for us by zooming in on three of them: Kevin, Bob and Stuart (all voiced by Pierre Coffin). They're all just Minions. Stuart only has one eye, so he stands out a little bit.
After a genuinely amusing prologue that gives us a refresher course on what Minions do (they volunteer their services to bad guys) and taking us on a tour of Minions unintentionally foiling their evil overlords throughout history, we head to Orlando circa 1968. There, we find a group of international supervillains holding their annual Villain-Con, which is basically a less sketchy version of Comic-Con. The star of the show is Scarlet Overkill (Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side), “the first female supervillain in history.” Fortunately for the Minions, she needs a few evil henchmen for an upcoming job. Her evil scheme: to go England and steal the royal crown from Queen Elizabeth. Sure, why not?
The plot is – to borrow a phrase from Mr. Creosote - “wafer-thin,” but it's merely a springboard for all sorts of wild Minion antics. Unsurprisingly, the film starts to run out of steam long before it hits the finish line. The Minion brand of mayhem works best in small, chaotic bursts. Without occasional breaks, they become tiresome and annoying. I recognize that I'm probably in the minority on this: the movie made over a billion dollars at the box office (more than either of the Despicable Me flicks), so there are clearly plenty of parents and kids who can't have enough Minion stuff in their life (as further evidence of this, let me point you in the direction of that relative of yours who finds a way to work Minion stickers into every Facebook comment thread).
To make matters worse, the new characters feel flat-out lazy. Scarlet Overkill is a generic, unmemorable villain, which might explain why the film goes out of its way to keep rambling on about how awesomely evil she is. Bullock's vocal performance feels equally uninspired... she's a talented actress, but her calm, neighborly voice is ill-suited to this over-the-top megalomaniac. Similarly underwhelming is Scarlet's husband Herb (Jon Hamm, Mad Men), a goofy '60s stereotype who mostly functions as Scarlet's lackey. The supporting cast is stacked with big names – Michael Keaton (Batman), Allison Janney (Juno), Steve Coogan (Tropic Thunder), Geoffrey Rush (The King's Speech) and more – but in most cases, the characters aren't interesting enough to require the services of such expensive performers. I will tip my hat to Jennifer Saunders' work as Queen Elizabeth, depicted here as a sort of perpetually exasperated, half-drunk grouch.
There are stray gags that work here and there (particularly in the first act), but not enough to make the film satisfying for anyone who wasn't already head-over-heels in love with the idea of a Minions movie. It's certainly understandable that Illumination is putting so much of their time and effort in Minion-related stuff at this point – they've become their own mega-brand – but the discouraging thing is that the flicker of real promise they showed with Despicable Me has been extinguished. This isn't a film so much as a piece of product; an instantly forgettable 90-minute centerpiece for a party table littered with Minion-covered ephemera. Too bad the Minions are too famous to go back to being some movie's minions.
Rating: ★★ (out of four)
MPAA Rating: PG
Running Time: 91 minutes
Release Year: 2015