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‘Despicable Me 2’
Who doesn’t love those Twinkie-shaped Minions speaking in a surprisingly understandable gibberish language? Well, Illumination Entertainment (I bet you thought this was a DreamWorks film, right) definitely listened to the fans, making them more prominent characters in the highly anticipated sequel. But much of what made the first installment so delightful appears absent here. Alas, 75 percent of “Despicable Me’s” charm still outdoes most animated films.
The once international villain, Gru (Steve Carell), is a changed man, placing all his energy into caring for his three adopted children — Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier) and Agnes (Elsie Kate Fisher). But as Marlon Brando learned so many years ago, once you’re out you always get pulled back in. Anti-Villain League agent Lucy (Kristin Wiig) recruits — or rather “lipstick-tasers” — Gru into unmasking an unknown foe bent on world domination. Sure, a diabolical evildoer might be lurking in the underground of a nearby mall (apparently that’s where true terror brews), but the real tension resides in Gru’s inability to communicate with the opposite sex –– a problem originating in his youth.
The plotline is weaker than the first, and the nemeses somehow more caricatured than Vector from the first. I use the term “mysterious” lightly to describe the true identity of the villains here; it’s all rather obvious and more childish than adult. The real story occurs between Gru, as a single parent, and Lucy. Will this unlikely pair realize that opposites — hero and villain — attract. But as a shorter film, too much happens in very little time.
This is a franchise built around adorable characters. Between the many antics of Gru’s legion of minions and his children (how will we ever forget Agnes jovially declaring, “It’s so fluffy.”), the mischief overshadows narrative depth. Sadly, the antics of the first film are more memorable. “DM2” is loads of fun for children, and it might even evoke a few smiles from older viewers. But it feels more like a bridge film between the first and the “Minions” spinoff set for next year. We’ll see.
‘The Lone Ranger’
Director Gore Verbinski (the “Pirates of the Caribbean” trilogy and “Rango”) unites with A-lister Johnny Depp for the fifth time. This isn’t their worst film together (I count two weaker “Pirates” lost at sea) — it even contains a few charms — but several breakdowns in common sense might make you wonder if Verbinksi and his team ever took a screenwriting class or just hoped going over budget (adding up to somewhere in the neighborhood of $215 million) would make up for narrative illogic and unnecessary subplots.
What’s in a name? Not much for “The Lone Ranger”. Far from “lone,” this masked vigilante storms the countryside with the quirky Comanche outcast, Tonto (Depp). Sure, this might be a “Lone Ranger” origin story — highlighting lawyer John Reid’s (Armie Hammer) transformation from within the law to above it — but Tonto is the star.
“The Lone Ranger” is almost a fun film, but it doesn’t understand its audience. Structured like “The Princess Bride”, the story begins in the 1930s at a fair in San Francisco, where a young boy in a Lone Ranger costume meets an aged Tonto, who tells the child of the great hero’s legend. I imagine the screenwriters (in a film this big and rather disastrous, it’s difficult to pin down the byline) include these odd futuristic cutaways to establish a youthful audience, but such a move makes little sense in a film so awkwardly violent at some moments and childish at others (the use of the original theme song is very, very corny). Over-the-top outlaw Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) eats the heart of a Texas Ranger; two other outlaws lose their heads to an enormous wood beam that gives them the worst kind of flattop. Scenes like this thematically conflict with the many goofy ones with Depp somehow channeling Jack Sparrow as an American Indian.
Rumor has it the original script included more supernatural elements like werewolves. That would’ve been far more interesting than a half-mast plotline about silver mining and railroad expansion coupled with some generic American Indian spiritualism. “The Lone Ranger” is fun like the second two “Pirates” films. Unfortunately, Depp’s charm and some spectacular digital effects can’t create a story worth re-watching, or a universe revisiting.
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