At The Picture Show
Freak vs. geek
Sinister, theatrical egomaniac takes on charismatic, crimefighting egomaniac in DreamWorks' uneven 'Megamind'
Director: Tom McGrath
Screenplay: Alan J. Schoolcraft and Brent Simons
Starring: The voices of Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, David Cross, Jonah Hill, J.K. Simmons and Brad Pitt
Rated PG / 1 hour, 36 minutes
(out of four)
We've seen the same idea twice this year - the Super Villain as ironically sympathetic protagonist. He
is an unwitting self-parody, his nefarious theatricality matched in volume only by his crippling emotional
frailty. In both cases - and this should not require a spoiler alert for anyone with a brain - he eventually
softens and melts comfortably into the role of Hero.
First it was the summer's enjoyable Despicable Me, and now the formula repeats itself in Megamind -
which, as opposed to the James Bond-like material of its predecessor, takes place inside a comic-book
world, complete with a chiseled, top-heavy superhero who commands a city's adoration like a
The genre gives the filmmakers license to play around with the
archetypes of comic-book heroes and villains - archetypes that have particular relevance now, with the
pervasiveness of superhero adaptations. Indeed, the film's preamble is a bastardization of the well-known Kal-El origin story, with Megamind being sent to Earth on a small spaceship by his loving
parents as his home planet is destroyed. Of course, as he tells it, some other family has the same basic
idea - and so begins the rivalry between him and Metro Man.
Perhaps because there's such a vast supply of resources to pull material from, the most inspired part of
Megamind is its first 20 minutes or so, as we see the characters' absurdly divergent backgrounds.
Metro Man (or whatever he was called before officially getting into the superhero business) finds
himself with a warm and loving Middle American family and grows up to be the most popular boy in
school, while our titular antihero lands in a prison yard and grows up to be mocked and ridiculed by his
more popular classmates.
As with all the books and plays that like to take old tales and look at them from the villain's perspective
- Wicked comes to mind - it's amusing to see a different take on what is essentially the Superman
mythos. From Megamind's perspective, his nemesis was a spoiled brat, a braggart and even something
of a bully - a parody of the All-American Boy that more than a few high-school also-rans have seen the
other, nastier side of.
In adulthood, this All-American Boy becomes the hero and
protector of Metro City - as, appropriately, Metro Man (voiced by Brad Pitt), eschewing Superman's
gaudy primary colors for a more minimalist ensemble, a single "M" blazed across a costume of
immaculate white. Adding to the comical largesse of the character's image, the town's recently unveiled
Metro Man statue is an amusing send-up of the iconic Atlas statue in Rockefeller Center.
His entire existence seems to revolve around saving the citizens of his city from the sinister and
elaborate plans of Megamind (voiced by Will Ferrell), who is basically a very unsuccessful large-scale
Or, to look at it another way, Metro Man's life consists of helping fight the monster he helped create,
solving crises that could have been completely avoided had he only been a little nicer to his childhood
counterpart. (A point, I might add, that the film never really examines beyond the first 20 minutes.)
As for Megamind, his entire life revolves around destroying Metro Man . . . which, when early in the
film he finally accomplishes - to even his own stunning surprise - leaves him in complete control of
Metro City, and therefore without any reason for being.
The main problem with Megamind from that point on is that we
realize it plays much better as a loose parody of superhero films than it does as its own superhero (er,
supervillain) film. Once it gets into its formulaic plot machinations, it runs out of steam and ends up
resembling pretty much every other DreamWorks Animation movie. The bulk of the film's most
interesting development - a depressed Megamind's complicated scheme to create a superhero for him
to fight - is handled in a bland and disappointing montage, almost as if we're supposed to be in a rush
to get to an action-packed third act.
And even that character, Titan (voiced by Jonah Hill), seems like a knock-off of the much more fully
realized Syndrome - the spurned child-turned-villain from The Incredibles - not only in personality and
character details, but hairstyle, too.
The underwhelming Titan storyline - which takes up the entire second half of Megamind - turns what
would have been a good movie into kind of a frustrating action/parody hybrid that ignores what it does
best in favor of fulfilling the most basic of genre expectations.
There are still some great touches thrown in - like Megamind's hilariously pretentious mispronunciation
of words (he pronounces Metro City as a combination of "Metropolis" and "atrocity"), or his one-line
explanation of what separates a villain from a supervillain, or the "No You Can't" posters - and the
voice cast, including the great Tina Fey as perennial kidnap victim Roxanne Ritchie, does a fine job. But
too often we get the feeling we're watching a paint-by-numbers action-comedy instead of a movie
comfortable in its own skin.
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Read more by Chris Bellamy