Things quickly go south when Gru is mocked for just being a kid during an interview to join the Vicious 5, then steals a sacred “Zodiac stone” from the supervillain team in return to prove that he’s as good a villain as any of them. Of course, the supervillains don’t take being fooled by a kid lightly, so Belle Bottom (Taraji P. Henson), the phenomenally named Jean Clawed (Jean-Claude Van Damme, naturally), Nunchuck (Lucy Lawless playing an actual nun with nunchucks), Svengeance (Dolph Lundgren) and Stronghold (Danny Trejo) all come chasing for Gru.
The film is at its best when it leans heavily into its ’70s genre film inspirations, particularly Blaxploitation and Bruce Lee movies. Every character is both a very dumb caricature and hilariously cool and larger-than-life, like the aforementioned nun with nunchucks, or Michelle Yeoh playing an acupuncturist who doubles as a kung-fu master.
Indeed, fans of “Enter the Dragon,” but also “Three the Hard Way” or even “Dolemite” may find plenty to like in “Minions: Rise of Gru,” or at least things to point and laugh at, like the mere attempt of Illumination channeling Blaxploitation through the Minions of all things. There are cool jackets, rollerblades, big afros, disco and soul songs, RZA, Taraji P. Henson as one badass supervillain, and even more kung fu training and fighting. Sure, it’s still the same lowbrow humor we’ve come to know from this franchise, but it’s hard not to smile and even laugh with the film once Michelle Yeoh starts pushing the Minions to “channel your inner beast.”
With the kung-fu comes the most action scenes Illumination has done in a film, and director Kyle Balda proves he’s capable of delivering fluid, dynamic action sequences with stakes as well as visual gags.