What makes Despicable Me 2 so enraging is that the first film challenged us. Not a lot. But it doesn't take much to shake up a Hollywood paradigm.
Casting a villain as the hero is one way. Filling out a cast of characters with three wildly individual little girls bursting with personality is another way. And, of course, the simple fact that the first film was not based on a comic book or a line of toys or another older movie was almost earth-shattering. We had no idea what to expect. Amazing.
I thought, at the time: These guys get it. Directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud. Screenwriters Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul. They get that we need new stories and perspectives, and they get that it's possible to offer such scary things and still be entertaining.
But I was wrong. Because they have reverted to tedious, narrowminded Hollywood form with Me 2. The appealing premise of the first film, Gru's humorous despicableness, cannot carry over, because the first film was all about the little girls curing Gru of his villainy, which they did entirely too well. I'm sure I unconsciously imagined that the same team behind Me would have found a way around this creative dilemma, so it makes Me 2 even more of a crushing disappointment that they didn't.
It's an almost terrifying reversal we get instead. Where Me ended with a happy, unconventional family, Me 2 is all about finding Gru (the voice of Steve Carell) a wife, so that the family can be "normal." Somehow this "naturally" translates into a "comedic" running motif about how women are too fat, too ugly, too hairy, too obnoxious, too pushy, too anything-but-"ladylike" for Gru. One particularly awful scene apparently demanded, for comedy's sake, that an unpleasant evening end with Gru drugging his date and hauling her home atop a car as if she were, perhaps, a deer slain on a hunt.
There's plenty despicable, all righty. But none of it is the sort of all-encompassing misanthropy that made Gru so hilarious an anti-hero in the first film. The drugged-woman-atop-the-car bit is achieved, in fact, with the help of Lucy (the voice of Kristen Wiig), an agent for the Anti-Villain League, which has enlisted Gru's help to hunt down a new supervillain before he can put his very bad master plan into play. Lucy is one of the Good Guys, so as far as the movie is concerned, being treated like a prey animal is appropriate punishment for a woman who is annoying but harmless.
Me 2 seems not to think there's anything despicable in its depiction of its possible supervillain suspects, Asian stereotype Floyd (the voice of Ken Jeong) or Mexican stereotype Eduardo (the voice of Benjamin Bratt), the latter of whom may even be supervillain El Macho, former nemesis of Gru's. It's just all in good fun.
All this unpleasantness — Me 2 is crude, racist, sexist and in entirely well-worn ways — almost completely drains whatever charm may have lingered from the first film. Nothing that made the first film work has been retained. Well, OK: Gru's blobby yellow worker-bee Minions are still very funny. They could have cut away all the non-Minion stuff here and ended up with a bunch of Minion shorts. And that would have been just fine.