Sequels often present conundrums for filmmakers. For example, how can you call a movie “Despicable Me 2” when the hero is no longer despicable?
The answer is you just do it anyway and hope nobody considers it a problem. And if Gru, the reformed supervillain again voiced by Steve Carell, is no longer evil, he is still impolite. Hearing Carell grumble in his invented Eastern European accent about how his neighbors are a bunch of morons carries a satisfying humor of its own.
Having retired from trying to conquer the world, Gru has settled down to raise the three little girls he adopted in the first movies. His massive underground base has been transformed into a jelly factory. The macaroni-shaped Minions happily go along with Gru’s switch to legitimate businessman, but his technical wizard, Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand), misses being evil. His name probably has something to do with it.
Then, in a setup reminiscent of “The Incredibles,” Gru is tempted out of retirement by a spy agency called the Anti-Villain League. This rockets “Incredible Me 2” into the realm of James Bond parody, with a submarine car from “The Spy Who Loved Me” and a volcanic ending that cannot be anything but an homage to “You Only Live Twice.” The villain’s attack chicken is a new element, though.
The Anti-Villain League needs Gru’s insider knowledge to capture an unknown mastermind who has stolen a virus that transforms cuddly animals into rampaging purple monsters. The agency has tracked the enemy to a shopping mall and believes he is operating one of the stores as a front.
Gru is sent undercover to manage a cupcake shop in the mall and spy on the other proprietors. He isn’t pleased to be saddled with a partner, rookie agent Lucy Wild (Kristen Wiig), not sensing she has a crush on him.
The idea of a villain using a shopping mall for a lair and the prospect of Gru and the Minions trying to make cupcakes are rife with comic potential, but the filmmakers do little with either possibility. Gru locks on to a suspect immediately, Eduardo (Benjamin Bratt), owner of the Mexican restaurant. He is certain Eduardo was once the masked villain El Macho, who apparently died years ago while riding an explosive-laden shark into an active volcano.
Amid all the spy stuff, romance is in the air. Gru’s three girls want to set him up on a date, which annoys him. But Gru really blows his stack when the bespectacled oldest girl, Margo (“iCarly” star Miranda Cosgrove), swoons over her first crush, Eduardo’s smooth-talking son, Antonio (Moises Arias).
“Despicable Me 2” suffers one problem common to sequels, namely that the freshness found in the original cannot be recaptured. Otherwise, there is no drop in quality. The same creative team – writers Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul and directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud – returns, guaranteeing more snazzy visuals and terrific humor. Even the scenery conveys Gru’s awkward transition to fatherhood. Just the sight of a pink plastic playhouse in the front yard of Gru’s “Addams Family” home scores a laugh.
Much of the comedy is slapstick, and much of the slapstick is provided by the horde of gibberish-spouting, violence-prone Minions. Why settle for three stooges when you can have 300? The Minions are the most perfectly realized comic cartoon creations in ages, probably since Sebastian the crab from “The Little Mermaid,” and “Despicable Me 2” could have overdosed on the crazy creatures. But the Minions don’t get that much more play than they did in the first movie.
As in the original, the voice cast is exceptional. Carell’s accent for Gru is genius, and he gets a superb romantic interest in Wiig’s enthusiastic Lucy. Wiig returns after playing the vile orphanage administrator in the first movie.
Bratt delivers an effusive comic performance under what must have been pressing circumstances. He was a last-minute replacement for Al Pacino, who recorded the role of Eduardo then dropped out over those familiar “creative differences.” My guess is those creative differences went something like this: “That was fine, Mr. Pacino, but could gives us a little less on that line. Maybe take it down about 8 decibels. The microphone can handle only so much gusto.”
Unlike “Monsters University,” “Despicable Me 2” is not being released in 3-D because the market demands all computer-animated movies be in 3-D. Coffin and Renaud revel in the third dimension and integrate it into the comedy. They don’t simply throw objects at the camera. They pull the audience into the action, and “Despicable Me 2” becomes a delightful carnival ride.
This sequel is almost as much fun as the riotous original while tugging a bit at your heart because Gru is a misunderstood sweetheart and his girls are adorable. And so are the Minions.