Brooklyn Boro

Rosen’s Review – Macbeth vs. Minions: Rise of Gru

Both boast big time Brooklyn connections to the 'bad guys,' but only one can take the crown.

July 13, 2022 Evan Rosen
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Last week I witnessed two productions on complete opposite ends of the theatrical compendium. One was William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, on Broadway at the Longacre Theatre, starring English actor and Brooklyn homeowner Daniel Craig. The other was the new Minions: Rise of Gru film, which features the voice of Brooklyn-born Alan Arkin as Gru’s supervillain idol, “Wild Knuckles.”

Both stories explore the ascent of a budding criminal. Ascents which are famously foretold – whether explicitly stated or implicitly understood – we know what becomes of these men, Gru and Macbeth. Both of them suffer from “vaulting ambition that o’erleaps itself,” which brings them to great professional heights and which also brings them great trouble. Both also succumb to the wills of the women in their lives (if you’ve seen previous Despicable Me films, you’re familiar with the “gurls”).

Their stories are now ubiquitous in our culture – you’ve seen the yellow Minion merchandise and you’ve heard of the fated Scottish king. Oddly enough, both stories also rely on the meaning of largely unintelligible language. The Minions speak in a flurry of gibberish that is a combination of multiple dialects; Shakespeare, of course, is Shakespeare.

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To take it even one step further, Macbeth and Wild Knuckles, the characters whom our Brooklynite actors embody, also share much in common. They are overly-greedy for power. Macbeth attempts to kill anyone in the way of his throne. Wild Knuckles puts his life on the line to capture the Zodiac Stone which offers otherworldly shapeshifting powers. In these endeavors, both men lose the trust of those they lead. Macbeth is usurped and murdered. Wild Knuckles suffers the same fate – only somehow he survives when he is thrown off a helicopter mid-flight. Both send their henchman to capture a young child who threatens their power (Fleance and young Gru) and both are extremely skilled and violent men.

Macbeth, starring Daniel Craig and Ruth Negga, 2022.

So, what does this mean? Minions is Macbeth and Macbeth is actually just Minions?

Not quite. The Minions movie is animated and targeted towards a younger audience. There is no cursing (although there’s no cursing in Macbeth either), there’s no explicitly stated death, there’s not even real implied danger. Arkin’s character tortures young Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) by tying him to a giant record player blasting Andrea True’s “More More More” for 48 hours straight. There’s another part where a nunchuck-wielding villainous Nun aptly named “Nun-Chuck” gets smashed by a high speed truck and returns unscathed. It’s a ridiculous movie.

And actually, it was better than Macbeth. I’m not just saying I enjoyed it more, I’m saying it was better.

There’s a great challenge in putting on a Shakespearean play. Director Sam Gold gives himself an even bigger challenge by attempting to make, what seemed to me, the funniest possible version of the Scottish play. The only problem: Macbeth is not a comedy and despite his proven acting chops, Daniel Craig is not a comedian.

It was a tongue-in-cheek production that seemed to comment on the story of Macbeth at every turn, rather than attempting to simply tell the story – one of the greatest of all time. Actress Ruth Negga is Tony-nominated for her portrayal of Lady Macbeth because she alone seems able to occasionally escape this trap and commit herself to the role and to the truth of the circumstances. Those excited to see Craig show his capabilities left only disappointed, as it appeared the acting was never really considered in this production.

Although the show produces many laughs and Michael Patrick Thornton proves a natural comedian and highly lovable Lennox, the choices and special effects only pull the production down. The bloody battle between Macbeth and Macduff (which climaxes with Craig getting sneakily stabbed somewhere around the anus) and an inexplicable kumbaya song at the end feel all the more wrong and confusing.

“It would’ve been cool to see the original play and then draw links to today myself,” said one Brooklyn actor, Matt Drye, who attended the performance and felt the liberties taken to be somewhat heavy-handed. “I think we as an audience are smart enough to do that.”

Macbeth is on Broadway at the Longacre Theatre.

You’d think that between a legendary story like Macbeth, and a children’s movie like Minions, it would be the latter that falls into the trap of going for laughs and circumventing real meaning. But instead, screenwriter Matthew Fogel and the Minions team did just the opposite.

The film works because of the acting and the characters’ commitment to the heart of the story. It may seem odd to praise the acting in an animated film, but anyone who sees the Minions and their unending devotion for their “mini boss,” will know what I mean. In fact, it’s a Minion-on-Minion interrogation scene in the middle of the film that stands alone as the funniest and most authentic part of all.

Minions: Rise of Gru, 2022. Photo Courtesy of Universal Pictures

When Otto – the largest and most naive Minion – loses the Zodiac Stone and young Gru is captured, the other Minions are desperate to save their master. They furiously begin to shake and rattle Otto, screaming unintelligible questions at their poor confused friend, who in this moment, becomes their enemy. It’s a hilarious moment and it’s because of just how committed the Minions (voiced by Pierre Coffin) are to their objective– finding the stone and saving their boss. It’s no wonder why these little yellow creatures seem to be taking over the world.

“The Minions are one-of-a-kind,” explained Benjamin Brodo, Manager of Planning and Monetization at NBCUniversal and one of many adult audience members in attendance at Alamo Drafthouse’s Friday screening. “Watching their nonsensical shenanigans brings me immense pleasure.”

People love the Minions because they do not attempt to show their cleverness, as the actors in Macbeth do. They never comment on what they are doing, but conversely do it simply and wholeheartedly. We humans who observe them wish we could capture just an ounce of their verve, their joy, and their childlike passion for whatever they do.

(from left) Stronghold (Danny Trejo), Belle Bottom (Taraji P. Henson), Wild Knuckles (Alan Arkin), Jean Clawed (Jean-Claude Van Damme), Svengeance (Dolph Lundgren) and Nunchuck (Lucy Lawless) in Illumination’s Minions: The Rise of Gru, directed by Kyle Balda. Photo Courtesy of Universal Pictures.

Alan Arkin’s “Wild Knuckles” is a bad guy, and he plays him as a bad guy blindly chasing power despite the consequences. Daniel Craig’s “Macbeth” is a bad guy, but played in a tongue-in-cheek manner where the stakes are not readily apparent and the gag becomes more important than the human in it. We don’t get to see how bad he really is or just how badly he wants anything, because the production focuses on what is around him, instead of inside him.

We watch these things to see characters live in a way we cannot in our daily lives. If we wanted to go to the theater and see ourselves, we would sit at home and look in the mirror. If we wanted blood, we would watch the news. No, we hope to see what we strive to be – freer, more passionate and more engrossed players in the game of life. We hope for realness, to inspire us to be more real, and to teach us something about ourselves and about life. This is what the Minions do and why they are so beloved. They remind us of the nonsensical, loving children we used to be, before we tried to become clever; before we were in want of love and approval from any audience.

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