Friday, December 21, 2012

Megamind (2010) - A Witty, Amusing One-Joke Comedy

Megamind: What if A Superhero had an Evil Twin? Or Wait, What If... He Was Ugly? Or No, What If He Walked With a Limp And Needed A Guide Dog? No, I Got A Better One...

Megamind poster
"Megamind" (2010).
The animated films were coming fast and furious in 2010. "Toy Story 3" came out and made a billion dollars, "Shrek Forever After" made $750 million, "Tangled" made $600 million... and then there was "Megamind" (2010). "Megamind" was a 3D animated superhero parody directed by Tom McGrath from a script by for DreamWorks Animation.


"Megamind" didn't bomb, but it vastly underperformed. Big Chief Jeffrey Katzenberg couldn't come out fast enough to say that it wasn't going to get a sequel because its "approach and tone and the idea of parody" did not play well overseas. It is not a bad film, in fact, it is quite enjoyable, but it has a wise-guy sensibility that requires a certain jaded mindset to appreciate fully - or internationally.

DVD picture "Megamind" 2010
The "Megamind" DVD.
Megamind (Will Ferrell) and Metro Man (Brad Pitt) both arrived on earth as infants. When they grew up, Metro Man took the path of virtue, while Megamind became evil. Despite constant battles between the two which Metro Man routinely wins, there remains rough parity between them, a situation in which Megamind is determined to change to his advantage.

Metro Man flying over crowd "Megamind" 2010
Give me five, bro!
One of Megamind's schemes to destroy his nemesis has him and his sidekick Minion (David Cross) kidnap local reporter Roxanne (Tina Fey). Using her as bait, he hopes to lure Metro Man into a trap, which is successful. Using a death ray, he kills Metro Man.

Roxanne "Megamind" 2010
Roxanne is played by Tina Fey.
Next on his agenda is to destroy the Metro Man museum, but as he goes about it, he suddenly realizes he misses not having someone to worry about. He gets the idea from Roxanne to inject someone else with Metro Man's DNA so that he has a worthy opponent again. Through an accident, Megamind injects the serum into Roxanne's cameraman, Hal (Jonah Hill). After some training in disguise by Megamind, Hal is so clueless that he mistakenly takes the name "Tighten" rather than the "Titan" Megamind suggests.

Megamind grinning "Megamind" 2010
Megamind hands outstretched.
Both men develop a romantic interest in Roxanne, but eventually, with nobody left to fight, Megamind loses his real relationship when Minion leaves him. Wishing to get Roxanne all to himself, Megamind looks for the serum that would return Hal to his non-superhero state, but he can't find it - it's in his invisible car which is, you know, invisible. At first, it looks like another continuing battle for Megamind, but it turns out that Hal doesn't want to fight for good, he'd rather be a villain like Megamind. This horrifies Megamind, so to change his mind he reveals everything to Hal, who gets upset and fights Megamind. Unfortunately for Megamind, Hal wins and chases Megamind out of Metro City. Hal then starts doing villainous things, usurping Megamind's entire identity.

Megamind and Hal "Megamind" 2010
Hal is quite annoying.
Roxanne doesn't like the new turn of events either, so she takes Megamind to the late Metro Man's secret lair. To their surprise, Metro Man is there, alive and well. Rather than being killed, Metro Man wanted to retire and become a musician, so he just pretended to be killed. He still has his powers but has no more interest in fighting Hal or anyone else. He'd rather be a dilettante and play the guitar.

Megamind, Roxanne "Megamind" 2010
Megamind and Roxanne.
Megamind despairs, but rather than fight Hal on the side of virtue as Roxanne suggests, he turns himself into prison. Hal, though, wants a villain to oppose, and kidnaps Roxanne and threatens to kill her if Megamind doesn't become his adversary again. Megamind decides to fight to save Roxanne, and he gets Minion back to help out. A fight ensues, and the fate of Metro City hangs in the balance.

Megamind as baby "Megamind" 2010
Megamind as a baby.
This plot probably looked terrific on paper, and the execution is terrific, but "Megamind" plays out its one-joke premise without any surprises. If you simply think about the initial idea "a villain needs an adversary to be villainous," the rest of the story just plays out almost automatically. The writers probably congratulated themselves during production on such an innovative twist on the superhero genre that had never been tried before, but it hasn't been done before for a reason: it's silly. Not to be mean, but your average high school comic book fan could have come up with this storyline without too much trouble. What if Superman wasn't predestined to be a good guy? What if he had a twin? What if he were actually a little more like everyone else and had his own interests (does Superman even know what a hobby is?). How does Superman know he's supposed to be good and is there some requirement for him to display that goodness?


You can almost hear the gears whirring away in the screenwriters' heads: "This vision of a perfect guy without some flaw we can look down upon and feel pity for, it's so, like, 20th Century." It's another chip at ("deconstruction of") the question of whether those types of people that we automatically used to look up to are still worthy of respect (the answer invariably being no, because we no longer automatically respect any entire group). If those are the sorts of comic-book-geek questions or social attitudes that delight you, well, this film will astound and delight, otherwise, it likely won't - the latter seeming to be the general consensus. The chain of thought I just described is why there will be a high likelihood that you will say/think something along the lines of, "Will Ferrell was okay, but the story was kind of stupid" after you watch "Megamind."

Megamind and Minion "Megamind" 2010
"I'm so evil muahahahaha"
Another issue for many viewers is that the film strongly resembles "Despicable Me," which came out earlier the same year and made almost twice as much money. There are unavoidable parallels with Pixar's "The Incredibles" as well. As Jeffrey Katzenberg himself helpfully pointed out, it resembles earlier DreamWorks misfires "Shark Tale" and "Monsters vs. Aliens," which also attempted to de-mystify the creaking plots and hoary cliches of the animation/superhero genres. There is nothing wrong with that intellectually, but the conventions and cliches exist for a reason: people are comfortable with them and like them, and they become annoyed if you criticize them.

Megamind startled look "Megamind" 2010
"I better switch that monitor off before she sees what I was looking at!
The good versus evil paradigm of every successful superhero film works because people want to put themselves in the shoes of the "good guy" and imagine themselves defeating the annoying "bad guys" who are always around in real life. When you fog up the whole question with abstract philosophical points about "what does it mean to be a villain, can the dialectic continue without an opposing value" and tripe like that, people lose patience. Philosophy class is one thing, a good swinging superhero is something completely different.

Metro Man flying to Roxanne's rescue "Megamind" 2010
"Here I come, to save the day!"
The film certainly is enjoyable if you want to settle in and watch the puerile plot twists. The 3-D images have a stark clarity that makes the characters stand out. Advances in the art leave old-school techniques in the dust unless you are looking for a distinctive style and a point of view - both of which "Megamind" lacks because it doesn't aim for them. If you are a true fan of animation and compare, say, "Sleeping Beauty" to "Megamind," you will be awed by the flash and sizzle of the images in "Megamind" - and probably wind up watching "Beauty" first because of its human artistry and the soul that breathes in every frame. Computers are wonderful at making images appear startling to the eye, but the mind hungers for a unique and slanted perspective on the world, not a neutral computer recreation.

Megamind swinging a punch "Megamind" 2010
The three principals.
The voice cast couldn't be better. Will Ferrell is brilliant as always, playing his usual flawed-but-lovable good guy who is only imperfect because that is how he was made. His character is as three-dimensional as the animation, and you grow to care for him as your pity for his predicament grows. Brad Pitt is fine also, though he has a much smaller role that does not have enough time to grow on us. Tina Fey plays Tina Fey, with the knowledge, attitude, and the raw intelligence which she goes to great pains to pretend to hide but purposefully doesn't, which only emphasizes it all the more in a very clever back-handed fashion. David Cross plays the usual smarter-than-his-boss sidekick that is a staple of animated films going at least back to Napoleon and Lafayette in "The Aristocats" and King John and Sir Hiss in "Robin Hood." The music by Hans Zimmer and Lorne Balfe is competent, but nothing you likely will be whistling on the way home.

Megamind mouth open "Megamind" 2010
"Oh, so you like music, how interesting."
Will this pass the time, make you laugh, reach into your heart at times and tug at it whenever Will Farrell becomes frustrated with the conundrums of a superhero's life? Sure, "Megamind" is funny and sharp and clever and well-executed. However, it remains a one-joke premise about a bad guy being pointless without a good guy and vice versa, so your mind may wander after a while. Oh, and make sure you see it in 3D, the film really requires it for the full experience.



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