Running time: 94 min. Rating: PG for action and some language.
Directed by: Tom McGrath
Starring: Will Ferrell, Brad Pitt, Tina Fey, Jonah Hill, David Cross, Ben Stiller
Dreamworks splendid new animated film ‘Megamind’ finally sheds some light on the behavior of comic book super-villians. The answer it comes up with is something I’ve long suspected. From Lex Luthor down through Mr. Glass, the evil nemesis isn’t so much concerned with world domination or depriving the world of a hero, but rather need adversaries who are special, and by extension make them special too. Megamind gets this paradox—that the villain strives to destroy that which gives him meaning—and a great many other things too about the world of comic book characters.
The opening sequence of Megamind is inspired and sets the film’s silly but focused tone; a little baby with a bulbous blue head is sent out from his home planet, Superman style, by his parents. As a wormhole sucks his home into the darkness, along with another neighboring planet, he sees he has company; another shuttle complete with another baby. This kid has genial good looks and human features and falls into a life of luxury, while the blue boy gets dumped in a prison yard and raised by criminals. They go to school together and immediately there’s a difference; the child of priviledge astounds with his heroic feats, while the canny, con-raised, pigmentally exotic balloon-head seems to jinx everything he touches. When he realizes that the space of ‘good boy’ and ‘hero’ is already filled, he makes a conscious decision to embrace that which he excells at; being ‘bad’.
Over time, this evolves into ‘evil’ and now he’s a super-criminal named Megamind (Will Ferrell), who wears baby-seal skin boots and has developed his childhood minion into a fearsome robot named, well, ‘Minion (David Cross). Now, that bratty wunderkind from his school days has become the protector of Metrocity (Megamind says it so it rhymes with atrocity) and is naturally nicknamed ‘Metroman’. Part of Megamind’s weekly routine is kidnapping reporter Roxanne Richi (Tina Fey) and preparing elaborate traps for Metro Man when he comes to rescue her.
It’s a sublime life, and with his army of flying robots and his doting best-bud Minion, Megamind couldn’t be happier as the runner-up in those battles with his flying, super-powered nemesis. Then one day, the unthinkable happens; he wins. Metro Man is out of the picture, the city is his, and he’s discovered a curious thing; Roxanne Ritchi is actually not so bad to talk to when it isn’t imperative that she be captured and held for ransom. Most of all though, he’s thoroughly bored.
Life without Metro Man is existentially exhausting; what is the point of a Megamind if there’s no one there to thwart him? He makes a new hero out of the hapless slob Hal (Jonah Hill) and it backfires; he’s left with a super-charged miscreant named Tighten who looks like the villain from Superman 4 crossed with Jonah Hill. Tighten is a menace and a real badguy, who channels his spurned love for Roxanne into a city-wide rampage. For the first time, the doorway to heroic opportunities has opened up for Megamind. But, will he walk through it?
Instead of being a geek-fest or a goofy children’s lark, Megamind is a sublime surprise; a real movie with fleshed-out characters and a story. As a bonus it features some high-end action scenes that put to shame most big summer blockbusters and a visual styling that references and homages golden age comic tales. It isn’t necessary to see Megamind in 3D, but as with this year’s earlier How to Train your Dragon, its’ flawlessly executed and is about as good as this sort of thing gets. The voice cast is suprisingly strong, including a focused Will Ferrell, a spirited Brad Pitt, and a marvelously endearing turn by David Cross as an alien fish who’s wearing a body that resembles that gorilla with the porthole window in Robot Monster. Tina Fey does her best Lois Lane as Roxanne Richi and she totally nails her character’s uncertainty when it comes to unraveling the complexities of Megamind’s psyche.
DirectorTom McGrath and his writers suggest the value and richness that were available in those older, more simple comic stories from the 40s and 50s. Megamind is a true villain, but he’s a villain for a reason, and when events occur that present him with a new opportunity that matches his gameplan, he goes for them. Bit by bit, Megamind finds that within himself, there lurks a responsible man, and as is often the case that man is goaded to life by a woman. It’s a reshuffling of the original Superman mythos to shine a light on what made the story valuable in the first place. Metro Man is invincible, and good, and righteous…but isn’t it also possible he’s exhausted and distracted, and maybe just not happy with his place in things? There’s a witty bit that builds off the idea that a being such as Supes only seems to be constantly resolute and single-minded because he moves so fast that we miss the long, introspective thought processes in between.
Megamind is filled with stuff like that, including some knowing winks to the Superman films. Most memorably there’s Megamind’s disguise as ‘space father’ to Tighten, who appears as dumpy, white-haired Brando clone complete with pretentious dialogue and lisp. David Cross as the true-blue Minion steals the show, and his robotic mutant is beautifully designed to capture the actor’s giddy energy in pantomime.As a visual experience, Megamind truly shines, and if it doesn’t have the emotional depth of The Incredibles, it has a far more dazzling aesthetic architecture, including thrilling flying sequences and a battle with a massive robot that is the stuff of Superman fanboy dreams.
The 3D isn’t necessary but it forces the artists to strategically plan out the composition of the scenes. This has the wonderful effect of producing sequences that look like lovely comic covers. My favorite scene is watching Megamind walk on, temporarily defeated, into the pouring rain of a MetroCity night, the city towering in the background. Although there are a few dud jokes (moratorium on break-dancing in kid’s movies please) and a general lack of substance in the overall structure, Megamind is as enchanting and energetic as an old-school Superman comic. Between this and How to Train Your Dragon, Dreamworks finally seems to be stepping up their game and establishing a serious presence in the animation world. It’s about time.