(Insert Multi-ligual Minion Gibberish Gag Here)
DIRECTED BY KYLE BALDA, PIERRE COFFIN/2015
“You gotta serve somebody”. Bob Dylan sang that in 1979. Minions says the same thing, albeit in muted, confused helium-addled gibberish. In an age when most every film has been singing loudly about following your own path, and being true to yourself, it’s quite remarkable that something as distracted and zany as this film would seize on the notion that people are actually meant to serve, not self-serve. One might say that this is something that elevates Minions.
Except, there’s the fact that our legion bright yellow little critters are bent on only serving evil. That’s a little hiccup in the theological association that I might’ve been making via Bob Dylan. But then again, perhaps this aspect, too, is intended as a covert commentary on human kind? Because who, on some level, doesn’t actually want to hook his/her cart to the biggest, baddest ruling entity around, whatever that is? If only we saw a hint of that human lust for power, or that selfish need to be Great. In “Minions”, an origin story that covers the beginning of time through 1968, we are told everything and nothing.
The tale of how the minions got to their current master Gru (voiced by Steve Carell in two previous movies) unwinds like an excited little kid would tell it: “This happened! And then this happened! and then THIS happened…!!”, and on and on, with little to no attention to the meat of things. Why are the eternally peppy minions so devoted to only serving evil masters? “Dunno, don’t care!”, says the movie. “Here’s more gags and adventure!”
It almost doesn’t matter if the 3D animated Minions, is good or not. It’s all about the numbers. And this film has a few numbers worth tallying:
1. Three. Three is not only the number of films’ in this series, it’s also the number of minion characters we stay with throughout this tale. These three bulbous yellow oddities valiantly break off from the pack to go and find a new, ideal master. The variosu dinosaurs, vampires, and would-be dictators they’d been working for simply weren’t cutting it. With their sense of purpose (service) snuffed, something must be done. A journey must be taken. It’s minions, minions, minions, the whole time. As peripheral gagmeisters in the Despicable Me films, many felt they were the best parts of those movies. Here, we get too much of that good thing.
They wind up working for one Scarlet Overkill (generically voiced by Sandra Bullock), the world’s first female super villain. They meet her at one of those super villain trade shows that most every superhero spoof has featured at one time or another. Ms. Overkill is only interesting because of the way her dress transforms into a rocket, and that she’s actually far less of a “femme fatale”than she thinks she is. She’s clearly a textbook narcissist, something that the film’s writers seem to be proud of themselves for having researched. Her scheme to overthrow Queen Elizabeth and conquer England provides the groundwork for the movie’s happenin‘ setting and soundtrack, but Scarlet Overkill proves as unmemorable as the most disposable Marvel movie baddie. It’s the three minions you remember. Even if I can’t remember their names. (One is Kevin… Don’t ask which…)
2. One-Hundred Million. As in, $100,000,000. Some are saying that that’s how much money this film will make in its opening weekend (domestically). A criminal haul, to be sure, but the fact remains that a film review is no place to discuss box office projections. But with Minions, it’s the go-to topic for those who’ve seen it, and those who haven’t. And, why not? Universal Studio’s current box office domination is who the minions are truly in service of, anyhow. This is simply not a movie that would exist if some powerful person at Universal hadn’t said, “People think the minions are the best part? Then let’s do a whole movie of just minions!!”
3. 1968. If the movie does clear $100,000,000, that may just be enough to pay off its music licensing tab. As mentioned earlier, the late-’60’s swingin’ London setting is fleshed out by an off-the-charts hit parade of British Invasion and stateside rock. Minions, being an overall inocuous film with an occasionally devious streak, is complimented by the sonic wallpapering of music that, in it’s day, was “bad boy” and anti-establishment: The Rolling Stones (who play before they even get to London), The Who, The Doors, The Monkees, and even The Beatles – a most elusive band when it comes to film soundtracks – due to their sky-high cost per needle-drop. Here, they’ve sprung for not one but two Beatles tunes – both in the closing credits! (Make that three beatles songs, if you count the few seconds of “Love Me Do” that plays during an anachonistic Beatles sight gag.) Bob Dylan may be the only major artist of the time period who isn’t heard in the film, although Donovan, so infamously torn down by Dylan in the 1967 documentary Dont Look Back, is. Because they call him Mellow Yellow.
Of course, if these tunes have any cultural bite left in them, being a part of films such as this are sure to file it down to nothing. But, who can begrudge these rock n’ roll icons their animated kids’ movie paychecks? I suppose there are far more despicable things than cashing in late in life. (Goodness knows that Bob Dylan’s tunes have shown up in a myrid of other films. He will be fine.)
The London 1968 setting is fun, what with it’s double decker busses and counter-cultural intrusions (protestors, hippies) amid the standard issue regal monolithic settings. (The Tower of London, Big Ben, etc.) But while it’s understood that letter-perfect period accuracy isn’t anyone’s goal here, the vibe is such that an extended cameo by Austin Powers would’ve rooted it in a comparitively more recognizable reality.
The name voice cast get top billing, even as they’re all supporting characters at best. Besides Bullock, Jon Hamm takes the mic as Herb Overkill, Scarlet’s inventor husband, a dopey mod hench doofus. Micheal Keaton makes a quick mark as an upbeat dad with an off-kilter family, who give the three minions a ride to pre-Disney World Orlando (Not much there back then…) So much for steering clear of sequels and franchises, eh Birdman?
The list of recognizable voice actors goes on, but there’s little point in listing them when the true vocal star is co-director Pierre Coffin (the voice of every minion) and a canister of helium. The 85 minutes of incessant minion chatter is a prime reason that Minions is exhausting while also funny at times. It’s hollow, but not empty. It’s glossy, but never shines. It’s a nearly arbitrary adventure that’s meant to be madcap (ala last year’s far superior Penguins of Madagascar), but simply plays as random barage. Do stay through the closing credits, even as the end is welcome. Minions is merely the next step in Universal Studio’s plan to conquer the family market at the box office. And their evil, plan is working. Buy a ticket, and you too will be a minion. (Helium not included.)