Letter From The Editor - Issue 58 - August 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
December 2010

Freak vs. geek

Sinister, theatrical egomaniac takes on charismatic, crimefighting egomaniac in DreamWorks' uneven 'Megamind'

Megamind
Paramount Pictures
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 demigod.

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 prankster-slash-terrorist.

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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