‘Despicable Me 4’ Review: This Time They’re Superheroes

If one wonders how a franchise on its sixth film in under 15 years (counting spinoffs) could still have any good ideas, one solution, apparently, is to simply throw all ideas at the screen. That’s the approach taken in “Despicable Me 4,” the latest, messily passable iteration of the deliriously successful franchise that follows the adventures of the reformed supervillain Gru.

This one, helmed by the animated franchise’s longtime director and producer Chris Renaud, is a stream of mostly high-octane B-plots: Members of Gru’s family are struggling to adjust to life in witness protection after a new villain (Will Ferrell) becomes hellbent on revenge; Gru reluctantly mentors his teenage neighbor, who aspires to villainy; the Minions become lab-grown superheroes; and so on.

As the movie noisily stretches itself out in too many directions, it largely sheds any meaningful charm or heart and struggles to cohere around a central story with actual stakes. It extends on a problem in the franchise that began with the third film, which relied more on gimmicky narrative and visual pyrotechnics and empty slapstick to keep things afloat. (What’s better than one Gru? Two!)

There’s still occasional fun to be had and a budget that’s clearly put to use, but we’re mostly here, it seems, to keep the Minion cash cow chugging along. In all of the chaos, you may find your mind drifting off to the better, simpler days of the first film that set off the enterprise, when it was just a story of a bad guy gone good, but a genuine story nonetheless.

Despicable Me 4
Rated PG for Minion-related violence. Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes. In theaters.

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