Director : Tom McGrath
Screenplay : Alan Schoolcraft & Brent Simons
MPAA Rating : PG
Year of Release : 2010
Stars : Will Ferrell (Megamind), Brad Pitt (Metro Man), Tina Fey (Roxanne Ritchi), Jonah Hill (Hal/Titan), David Cross (Minion), Justin Theroux (Megamind’s Father), Ben Stiller (Bernard), Jessica Schulte (Megamind’s Mother), Tom McGrath (Lord Scott/Prison Guard), Emily Nordwind (Lady Scott), J.K. Simmons (Warden), Ella Olivia Stiller (Schoolchild), Quinn Dempsey Stiller (Schoolchild), Brian Hopkins (Prisoner), Christopher Knights (Prison Guard), Mike Mitchell (Father in Crowd), Jasper Johannes Andrews (Crying Baby), Jack Blessing (Newscaster), Stephen Kearin (Mayor)
The superhero genre has been turned inside out so many times at this point that you would think there is nothing left to do with it, but first-time screenwriters Alan Schoolcraft and Brent Simons have managed to pull off a clever coup in the computer-animated comedy Megamind by avoiding the kind of satirical cynicism that has defined similar efforts (notably this year’s hyperviolent Kick-Ass) and playing the mythos straight, albeit from a slightly warped perspective. Thus, they give us a superhero-versus-supervillain scenario that is straight out of the pages of Action Comics, but it is told from the point of view of the villain, whose villainy is a comically sympathetic byproduct of bad luck and social isolation and whose thoughtful self-awareness turns his heinous schemes into desperate cries for attention.
The story is narrated by the titular Megamind (voiced by Will Ferrell), a blue-skinned alien with a lightbulb-shaped cranium and a crescent-moon face who was sent to Earth by his parents just before their home planet was sucked into a black hole. This obviously familiar origin story is complicated by the fact that another alien baby from a different quadrant--derisively nicknamed “Mr. Goody Two-Shoes” by Megamind--was sent to Earth at exactly the same time, thus usurping his potential for greatness. While Megamind’s spaceship crashes inside a federal penitentiary and he is raised by the inmates, the other baby crash-lands in a mansion and becomes the toast of everyone everywhere he goes, including the elementary school they both attend. When Megamind realizes that he cannot compete by being good, he decides to become bad, a reasonable choice given all that is stacked against him. The other alien child grows up to be the strong-chinned, barrel-chested superhero Metro Man (Brad Pitt), so-named because he defends Metro City against Megamind’s various plots, all of which fail disastrously. But, you can’t keep a good villain down, and when Megamind finally succeeds in defeating his arch nemesis, he realizes that his entire sense of identity relies on Metro Man providing a ying to his yang. In a curious way, Megamind retools the philosophical explanation for evil as a defining corollary to good by flipping the terms: What is the point in being bad if no one good is trying to stop you?
Director Tom McGrath (Madagascar) finds a workable balance between the story’s physical sense of comedy, which the three-dimensional CGI emphasizes to great effect, and the underlying pathos of a story about a fundamentally decent guy hiding inside a bad guy’s attire (which in this case includes a special, high-collared cape called “The Black Mamba”). The filmmakers have plenty of fun playing up the genre’s clichés, notably the villain’s obedient minion (a fish literally named Minion voiced by David Cross), the ridiculous extent of his technological aspirations, the public’s fawning admiration for its grinning superhero protector, and the damsel in distress, which in this case is a headstrong Lois Lane-type reporter named Roxanne Ritchi (Tina Fey), who has been kidnapped by Megamind and rescued by Metro Man so many times that all she can do is roll her eyes, even when precariously perched over a pool of snapping alligators or being threatened with various spiked contraptions. Roxanne is the movie’s level-headed center, unflappable in the face of Megamind’s dastardly plans and Metro Man’s well-rehearsed narcissism. She is also the obsessive object of her geeky cameraman Hal (Jonah Hill), who is later recruited by Megamind to take Metro Man’s place, yet another plan destined for disaster when Hal realizes that superpowers don’t necessarily have to be used for good.
With its clever variations on old tropes, Megamind is a great deal smarter than it might first appear, and while its hectic battle sequences and penchant for mass destruction will certainly keep the eyes of action junkies satiated, its sly depictions of the balance between good and evil in the world actually provide quite a bit of food for thought. Will Ferrell’s take on Megamind’s overeager desire to fill his villainous role feels just right (his voice has a slight hint of exasperation to it at all times, and he reaches crescendos of excitement that make his subsequent deflation that much funnier), as do the self-consciously heroic cadences that Brad Pitt lends to Metro Man’s grand proclamations to his adoring fanbase. Even when the film rests a little comfortably on obvious choices (you can literally count down to the predictable use of AC/DC’s “Back in Black” and Michael Jackson’s “Bad” on the soundtrack), Megamind has enough tricks up its sleeve to justify its take on such well-trodden ground.
Copyright ©2010 James Kendrick
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All images copyright © DreamWorks SKG Animation