How best to put this?
Watching Minions is like watching a spastic colon spew little yellow turds at you. It’s like being barraged with egg-yolk dodgeballs for 91 minutes. It’s like getting a headache-inducing buzz stuck in your ears, one that can only be removed with a power drill.
Yeah, that’s mean for a film that will probably make the kids happy. Hey, look, Minions! Those little yellow buggers you see in bus stops and toy stores and probably adult parodies sooner or later. They’re arriving in multiplexes this weekend in their very own, heavily publicized spin-off (see: cash grab, franchise obligation, marketing tie-in made filmic). And it’s awful! What did the Beatles ever do to deserve getting one of their masters stuck in a movie like this? Was Lennon so cruel?! Minions is frenetic, frustrating side material for one of Universal’s most lucrative entities.
Developed as a prequel to Despicable Me, Minions delves into the lives and humble beginnings of those mumble-mouthed Tic-Tacs. What motivates them? How did these genetic absurdities with limited physiologies, incapable of using words and complete sentences, come to exist without any clear nether regions? What are their hopes, their dreams, and their passions? What attracts them to cruel and unusual figures across the eons, like the Tyrannosaurus Rex, Dracula, and the NBC Universal Corporation?
Fear not. Geoffrey Rush (our handy, assured narrator) gives us the straight dope: The Minions evolved from single-cell organisms with a singular purpose. They must serve the meanest, nastiest master they can find. And that’s it. The Minions are a total Darwinian minefield of questions gone unanswered. The Minions don’t seem to die or mate as far as we can tell (even though they wear thongs and appear to be aroused by fire hydrants); they just live to serve like the lemmings they are.
By 1968, the Minions become isolated in caves and have no fearsome leader. A brave trio of Corn Pops named Kevin (long, tall, leader), Bob (squat, two eye colors, has a teddy bear), and Stuart (butt-cut, likes guitar, took careful attention to distinguish from the other two) cross the seas to seek out their latest overlord. And they find one, in the form of a wiry, bee-hived dominatrix named Scarlet Overkill (Sandra Bullock, eating the whole ham). The Minions instantly fawn for Overkill and plot to steal Queen Elizabeth’s crown for the maniacal bouffant villain. From there, it’s an endless stream of mean-spirited Tom & Jerry humor spliced with insufferably cheap Brit gags.
Structurally, Minions is relentless. There’s nothing wrong with goofing around, and children under 6 will probably love the Minions like they did in prior installments. Regardless, Minions behaves like an attention-deficit assault, sparing no time for anybody watching to enjoy what’s happening. The Minions live to shriek and waddle like constant fire alarms. The plot could best be described as a bored origin story comprised almost solely of flashy music videos (with Steve Winwood, Who, and Kinks songs no less), all in the name of lip service to Minion fans.
Eventually this all leads to an inevitable tease for more profi… adventures to come. Perhaps most disappointing is how Minions possesses not even the faintest shreds of wit and stealth from Despicable Me, just more annoying sounds that children will overuse until time out. Minions is less a movie than a brand strategy meeting, all the way through: aggressive, attention-starved, and familiarly stereotypical, come to think of it. Surely there are funnier, more inspired, and still kid-appropriate laughs than sipping tea and wiggling butts? Like most anything else?
To Minions’ minimal credit, its referential humor is maxed out. However, one can’t determine if the film’s referencing Stanley Kramer or Woody Allen or Dr. Seuss or In Like Flint at any given moment, given how all of the context explodes onto the screen simultaneously. At one critical juncture, Kevin is running around the streets of London in a panic, about to be captured and possibly killed by a sumo wrestler, a mer-man, a barbarian, and about three dozen other caricatures. As an escape, Kevin whips into a pub, where none other than the Queen, buck teeth and all, is pounding lager while arm wrestling a barfly. This all plays out in less than 30 seconds before moving on.
All these gags are either too fast, or just uninspired. The physical deformities of villains, and the Queen, are supposed to be the laugh. But again, no features ever register. Shots last half a second. And the parade of unsightly physical traits as family comedy? That’s just lazy. And that speaks to Minions’ overall philosophy: pace so quickly that the audience will never know what to think. One has to wonder if the referential humor will even play for parents or if the slapstick will work for kiddos, given the numbing speed of it all.
Take, for instance, the Queen’s Corgis in a visual bit. They’re inherently silly, potato-shaped animals, and yet Minions can’t even land the easiest of jokes, because there are just too damn many attempts happening at once. Corgis make way for polo, which makes way for boob gags, then explosions, then Minion gibberish, then more kitschy music cues, and on and on…
Here’s a fitting Beatles reference for this movie: “It’s all too much.”