Whatever You’re Expecting, Despicable Me 4 Is Worse

Movies Reviews Despicable Me
Whatever You’re Expecting, Despicable Me 4 Is Worse

Illumination has engineered a bulletproof animated children’s brand in the Minion-maddening Despicable Me franchise. Steve Carell’s cantankerous Gru could play Whac-A-Mole with his yellow pill-shaped sidekicks for 90 minutes and bank a billion dollars internationally. Despicable Me 4 is somehow worse than that hypothetical, and will no doubt pack sold-out theaters filled with screaming toddlers jonesing for their next banana-flavored hit. What feels like a collection of in-universe shorts is Scotch-taped together into Gru’s latest sequel, the lowest, squishy-rotten hanging fruit on the children’s animation tree—and I say that having suffered through a nearly fatal case of the Mondays from The Garfield Movie barely a month ago.

Carell returns to voice supervillain turned Anti-Villain League agent Felonious Gru for at least one more sweet, over-the-moon paycheck. It’s a full-on family reunion with Gru’s adopted daughters (Madison Polan, Dana Gaier, Miranda Cosgrove), his wife Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig) and the newest addition, Gru’s first biological child, the scowling and pointy-nosed Gru Jr. (like father, like son). Gru’s latest AVL assignment pits him against French-accented supervillain Maxime Le Mal (Will Ferrell), an adversary from his supervillain school days at Lycée Pas Bon. Maxime’s cockroach obsession allows for an effortless jailbreak, which sends Gru’s clan into AVL’s agent protection program. It’s Gru vs. Maxime as the story’s heavyweight showdown, but also Gru vs. Gru Jr. (winning his love), Gru vs. adolescent villain-in-training Poppy Prescott (Joey King), and other shortsighted tangents stuffed between braindead “Three Stooges but Minions” vignettes.

Despicable Me 4 suffers from an aimless, wastefully inconsequential approach that doesn’t seem possible from co-writer Mike White (School of Rock but also The Emoji Movie). Shiny objects often punctuate children’s entertainment, and dumb-as-rocks gags keep short attention spans in check, but this sequel is guilty of motoring through isolated skits without clever distractions or attention-worthy humor. Director Chris Renaud is a shell of himself compared to his work in Despicable Me, a family-friendly do-gooder that at least understood how to develop introductory character arcs. Despicable Me 4 loses focus like a golden retriever in a Petco plushie aisle, splitting characters into bottled subplots that can only be addressed in single-file order. Renaud’s narrative command is littered with non sequiturs and short-term memory loss, failing even the rudimentary franchise mechanics of “Gru + Minions + Cute = Haha.”

Two primary plotlines tangle into an ineffective hodgepodge of zappy gadgets and expired juvenile humor that’s impossible to care about. Gru’s rivalry against Ferrell’s French-for-no-reason criminal influences some seismic storytelling shifts…only to be backburned until continuity begs for another thrust forward. Gru’s fatherhood insecurities about the infant boy who loves mama more is a dull evolution given how the filmmakers forget how payoffs are worth zilch if there’s no investable buildup. Storytelling milestones exist here, but there’s no resonating impact—everything happens for the sake of viral sequelitus. Gru busily becomes Poppy’s mentor overnight. Gru’s family is strictly instructed to stay hidden, but that’s unimportant scenes later. There’s a weird karate school confrontation that feels like a discarded, bite-sized special feature and, even more bizarre, an underbaked “Mega Minion” side quest. Renaud’s oblivious to the cacophony of mindless Despicable Me indulgences that, when welded together, summate to a needlessly dense, pointless mass of mini-sodes passing as all-ages creative abandon.

Despicable Me 4 is the ultimate moviegoing grenade any parent can fall on for their child’s sake, even featuring blatant Terminator and Spider-Man 2 references, and an out-of-place Van Halen “Hot for Teacher” needledrop. Not even Minions engaging in superhero satire squeeze more than a passing chuckle out of Thing Minion, Cyclops Minion and beyond. There’s no accountability for joke structure, like a comedian who only tells punchlines and glosses over the “boring” set-ups. White and Ken Daurio’s screenplay is a hopeless grab bag of spanked Minion cheeks, utterly toothless nostalgia ploys that shove a legacy character on screen for a quick gawk, and limply phoned-in emotionality. Given the talents involved, it’s almost impossible to think something as disjointed and unfinished can unfold before out eyes. It’s a mess.

Illumination has never had an issue selling the digital animation in this franchise, and once again, it remains cartoonishly polished. The problem is… just about everything else.

There isn’t an ounce of recommendable substance, soulful values or slapstick sincerity within Despicable Me 4. If you like watching animated yellow tushies in denim overalls jiggle, maybe you’ll chuckle a handful of times. If you require literally anything else from a movie, this sixth Despicable Me universe entry can’t deliver. Despicable Me 4 is unfathomably incompetent, even considered in “Television Babysitter” terms, where an animated children’s flick’s sole job is to keep underage viewers quiet and attentive for an hour. Whatever sweetly adorable, warm-and-fuzzy charms put Despicable Me on the map have evaporated, leaving behind the fatigued, unmotivated, empty-on-the-inside husk of a once-watchable supervillain comedy. Despicable Me 4 is a black eye on a franchise that’s running out of ideas, destined to keep spinning these godawful wheels until the hundreds of millions of dollars per release stop lining everyone’s pockets.

Director: Chris Renaud, Patrick Delage (co-director)
Writers: Mike White, Ken Daurio
Starring: Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Will Ferrell, Pierre Coffin, Joey King, Sofia Vergara, Stephen Colbert, Miranda Cosgrove, Chloe Fineman, Steve Coogan, Chris Renaud, Dana Gaier, Madison Polan
Release Date: July 3, 2024

Matt Donato is a Los Angeles-based film critic currently published on SlashFilm, Fangoria, Bloody Disgusting, and anywhere else he’s allowed to spread the gospel of Demon Wind. He is also a member of the Critics Choice Association. Definitely don’t feed him after midnight.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin