Themes of family and bonding remain front and center in "Despicable Me 3", which sees reformed villain Gru working hard at building a healthy relationship with the brother he never knew he had. It's lighthearted, inoffensive stuff even if it doesn't quite scale Pixar-level heights. To be fair though, the strength of this franchise has never been plot or story; it's always been about mining laughs from placing the characters at the center of ridiculous gags.
The film hits the ground running with the appearance of a brand new bad guy in Balthazar Bratt, a former child star from the 80s who still hasn't recovered from his show being cancelled prematurely, and is obsessed with destroying Hollywood and humankind as a result. When Gru fails to capture Bratt he's kicked out of the Anti-Villain League, but he decides to pursue Bratt and thwart his plans anyway with his twin brother Dru, a millionaire in the pig farming business who is longing adventure and risk.
Directed by Kyle Balda and Pierre Coffin, this third installment in the animation series moves along briskly, but it does feel overpopulated with characters. Kristen Wiig returns as the voice of Lucy, Gru's fellow AVL agent-turned romantic partner, who's carefully negotiating her role as mom to Gru's three little girls. The Minions are back too for more manic shenanigans, this time spending a chunk of the film behind prison bars. Much screen time is devoted to establishing Dru as a pivotal character, and almost entirely opposite to Gru in personality. The scene-stealer here is Bratt, the shoulder-pads and handlebar moustache sporting retro-baddie whose weapon of choice is a brand of massively inflating bubblegum, and who urges his rivals into 'dance fights' set to 80s chartbusters. It's a shame the writers don't mine more satire from the child-star-who-crashed-and-burned scenario.
The problem with introducing multiple new characters is that key players are sometimes shortchanged, and you can't help feel that is the case here. Gru's unusual but heartfelt relationship with the three girls he went on to adopt was the chief draw of 2010's "Despicable Me", but they don't get enough time together in this outing. The same is true of Gru and the Minions who're kept apart for most of the film owing to a plot turn.
Nevertheless the laughs are aplenty, including cheeky nods to "Finding Nemo", "Star Wars", and a "Pink Panther"-inspired closing credits sequence. The secret sauce of the film remains grumpy Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) and his permanent state of impatience and irritation, which powers the franchise.
I'm going with three out of five.
Rating: 3 / 5