What It Is
Megamind (voiced by Will Ferrell) tends to have bad days. That’s not for lack of trying to have a good one. An alien sent to earth as an infant, he was raised by ambitious but forgettable criminals and survived some difficult schooldays (rejected by his fellow kindergartners). Today he’s the resident super-villain of Metrocity (a name he mispronounces to rhyme with “velocity”), living in a fortress with his minion named Minion (David Cross). Here he devises contraptions and conjures schemes to thwart his enemy, the inexorably righteous and square-jawed Metro Man (Brad Pitt) — another alien sent to earth around the same time as Megamind, but raised by very nice parents.
The routine is wearing on Megamind, especially since he always loses his contests with his heroic counterpart. And so you can imagine his surprise when his latest plot goes right for him. He kidnaps reporter Roxanne Ritchi (Tina Fey), again, locks Metro Man in a dome, again, and waits, expecting the same ending, again. This time, however, the plan succeeds: Metro Man is foiled, Roxanne is flummoxed, and Megamind is triumphant. But that means he’s now expected to run the city, be wealthy beyond his own dreams and wreak low-key havoc: garbage isn’t picked up, streets aren’t repaired, citizens stay home.
Megamind is soon bored with his lording-over-everything life, and so comes up with yet one more scheme sure to go wrong: he makes his own hero so he can return to business as usual.
What goes wrong this time is that Megamind’s choice of hero — Roxanne’s cameraman Hal (Jonah Hill), transformed by a spritz from a raygun — is actually selfish and silly. And, as both he and Megamind are smitten with Roxanne, their competition is personal, at least in Megamind’s mind. The squabble means that Megamind must eventually admit he wants to do some right things, which means he might begin to have some good days, and even that he’s inclined to be a hero, in spite of himself.
Why It’s Fun
If Megamind is not exactly original — the bad guy who’s really a good one was more charmingly imagined in Despicable Me — it does offer a bit of manic energy, courtesy of director Tom McGrath (who made the extra-manic Madagascar movies) and, of course, Will Ferrell. Making use of the star’s familiar man-child persona, Megamind can be petulant and devious, obtuse and hopeful. With his giant blue head (to house his mega-sized mind) and flair for the dramatic, he’s at once a spoof of super-villains and a super-villain, used to failing but still anticipating spectacular success. In cartoon form, Ferrell’s willful stubbornness, sarcasm, and mispronunciation are both inflated and reduced: the contrast between Megamind’s scrawny body and bulbous skull becomes a repeated sight gag, as do his ridiculous preening and thoughtless meanness toward Minion.
Like Megamind’s, Roxanne’s role is both standard and meta, a Lois Lane-style damsel in distress who’s also quite aware that this is her lot. Once Metro man is out of the picture, she’s courted by both Hal and Megamind, while he’s disguised himself as a museum worker named Bernard (at first voiced by Justin Theroux, before Megamind freeze-dries him into a handful of lifeless material). Looking for true love and a happy ending, Roxanne begins to fall for Megamind/Bernard, while also not quite forgetting about the much-missed Metro Man. She believes, as you do, that her hero is dead and gone (though she and you will find out this is not quite as it seems). As Roxanne puts up with Megamind/Bernard’s childishness but is less patient with Hal’s downright idiocy, she becomes something of a stand-in for viewers. Though we know Megamind’s ruse and she doesn’t, her generous spirit is admirable, if convenient, and her rejection of Hal makes her seem smart.
With its bright blue-skinned protagonist, the film provides consistently colorful though rather mundane 3D animation, with a couple of flying-over-the-city scenes and some projectiles. (The 2D version will serve just as well for a family outing.)
Who’s Going To Love It
Fans will include kids and adults who appreciate Will Ferrell’s usual shtick. (For all the focus on him in trailers, Pitt, in fact, has a very small role, as the central conflict concerns Megamind and his “Frankenstein,” Hal, who wears tights and goes by the name of Tighten when he’s playing superhero.)
For Fey’s fans, the connection will be obvious as well: Roxanne is much like Liz Lemon, wise and quick on her feet, skeptical and eternally optimistic. The asides provided by David Cross as Minion will elude youngsters, but appeal to at least a few parents (those who remember Mr. Show).
As well, the film provides plenty of material for viewers fond of obvious musical cues. Using classic rock-type tunes like “Born to be Bad” and “Highway to Hell” to denote the broad badness of either Megamind or Hal, it also envelopes the smitten Megamind in happy-happy delirium scored by Minnie Ripperton’s “Loving You.”
What To Be Aware Of
The film includes a couple of deaths at Megamind’s hands, Metro Man’s at the start (he gasps and contorts as he complains that his nemesis has discovered his weakness, then appears to be turned into a skeleton that’s catapulted into Megamind’s lair), as well as Bernard’s. These are treated in a breezy, cartoony manner (though the skeleton flying through the air and landing splat in front of Roxanne might be a little daunting for younger viewers).
Other violence includes fights and explosions and raygun-zaps, as well as the regular kidnapping and tying up of Roxanne, who plainly shows her disdain for whoever grabs her.
The humor ranges from occasional slapstick to chatty references to the superhero and super-villain conventions the film is mocking. Other background gags are designed for adults rather than children, for instance, the posters Megamind puts up on the buildings in Metrocity once he’s taken over: recalling Shepherd Fairey’s “Hope” posters and the 2008 Barack Obama campaign’s slogan (“Yes We Can”), they read, “No You Can’t.” It’s a clever, if very brief, joke that reminds you of a recurring theme, the vivid and eternal contrast between “bad” and “good.”
And yet... here that contrast slips slightly, when Megamind turns less bad and Hal/Tighten turns more bad. Still, the movie insists on a plain-enough division between two sides, premised on the essentially good nature of Megamind, despite his bad nurturing (by those criminal parents). “I do have a choice,” he eventually realizes, a good lesson for families to talk about.
6 out of 10
Director: Tom McGrath
Cast: Will Ferrell, Tiny Fey, Jonah Hill, Brad Pitt, David Cross, Justin Theroux
Studio: DreamWorks Animation
US Premiere: November 5, 2010
UK Premiere: December 3, 2010