Friday, November 26, 2010

Megamind: A Review


Here's a pitch for an animated movie: There's a super-villain who's really a softy at heart, and he fights against an even more despicable villain to save the day. 

The use of the word 'despicable' is deliberate, since Megamind has more than a passing similarity in plot to Despicable Me, another animated feature with 3-D aspirations where the bad guy is really a good guy. They are even similar in that both have rather large body parts: Despicable Me's Gru had a large nose, the titular character from Megamind a large head. They, even more surprisingly, have minions called 'Minions', with the exception that in the former, there are many while in the latter there is only one...who is named Minion.

The fact that two animated films with a similar plot being released the same year shouldn't be a surprise: Hollywood is if nothing else, repetitive; let's remember they released Armageddon and Deep Impact (the meteor hitting the Earth movies), as well as both Volcano and Dante's Peak (the volcanoes erupting and causing chaos movies), in the same year.

Therefore, between Megamind and Despicable Me one is rather spoiled for choice.

We start with the destruction of two worlds, each of which has one child put on a spaceship and sent to Earth. On one planet, we have the future Megamind (Will Ferrell), a baby with a fish companion who will become Minion (David Cross). On another, we see the future Metro Man (Brad Pitt), a more humanoid-looking child. Metro lands in a home of wealth and privilege, while Mega lands in prison. We get to see their upbringing: at their school (which Megamind pronounces as sch-ool) the cocky, overly confident Mega is the idol of his classmates, while Mega is literally the last boy picked.

Deciding that it's his destiny to be Metro Man's arch-nemesis, he decides to turn to a life of super-villainy. We then have a montage of newspapers showcasing how inevitably Megamind fails in his efforts, and then to the dedication of a Metro Man Museum. Being a master villain, Megamind does what he always does: kidnap Metro Man's erstwhile girlfriend, reporter Roxanne Ritchi (Tina Fey) and sabotages the dedication. Metro Man attempts to come to the rescue, but somehow, Megamind and Minion (which would make them M & M, wouldn't it), bumble their way into permanently defeating Metro Man.

With Metro Man gone, Megamind can do as he wishes, and he does, for a while: a bit of stealing, painting the dome of Metro City (which he pronounces as metrocity) his trademark blue, but then he soon tires of his domination. Deciding he needs a hero foil, he creates one, accidentally investing Roxanne's nerdish cameraman with Metro Man's power, and he soon turns into Titan (Jonah Hill). While Mega and Minion train Titan, Mega begins romancing Roxanne while disguised as Megamind expert Bernard.

Titan, far from being a hero, turns villainous after his own unrequited love for Roxanne is rejected. Now, it's up to Megamind to stop Titan.

While watching Megamind, I kept thinking how strange that he had no great powers himself. Unlike Metro Man, Megamind couldn't fly or melt things with his eyes: the only thing he had going was his ability to create gadgets. I didn't think this was a contest between a superhero and a criminal mastermind. It reminded me more a World Wrestling Entertainment match: two excessively flashy caricatures with silly costumes and theme music battling it out in essentially a fixed match.

I would say that neither Metro Man nor Megamind fit their traditional roles as hero and villain. Metro Man as a character was rather unpleasant: conceited, egocentric, self-absorbed. Megamind may have been inept, but it always seemed he knew he would fail because he apparently never had high goals or plans.

True villains made sure to enslave the population and hold them in check: even Serena from Supergirl held the citizens in a police state. Once Megamind defeats Metro Man (in a rather horrifying way for small children), he really has nowhere to go.

As a film, Megamind is somewhat entertaining, though at times a bit too strong for small children. One thing I will take director Tom McGrath and co-writers Alan Schoolcraft and Brent Simons to task on is for the imagery. Granted, some of the visuals were brilliant: when Titan takes Roxanne to the highest tower in Metro City one felt as if one was close to falling.

However, when Titan is attacking the city, the smoke rising in the horizon and the citizens walking in a daze away from the chaos over a bridge was to me far too reminiscent of New York City, September 11th, 2001. Whether this was a conscious decision or not I have no way of knowing, but for my mind it was all just a bit too much to accept for a children's film.

Certainly there are things that will fly over the little one's head: Ferrell doing a Marlon Brando impersonation (unless they have seen the original Superman: The Moviewhich I think is doubtful, and even then Ferrell seemed to sound more like Don Corleone than Jor-El, but I digress) or in the training of Titan montage where it looks like they ripped off the Donkey Kong game.

I figure these parts were created to appeal to their parents. Kids I figure will generally like the story; seeing Megamind as being actually a hero more than a villain might appeal to them, and certainly the colors and overall look of the film are at times almost beautiful.

I didn't understand some of the choices with the acting. I didn't understand why Ferrell had to mispronounce so many words. I don't know what the humor is in saying 'metrocity' rather than 'Metro City', or 'milan-coly' (which confused the people behind me until they figured out he meant 'melancholy').

Was that to show how dumb he was?  Was it meant to just inspire laughs?

To her credit, I didn't recognize Fey's voice, and her Roxanne was more world weary about the constant and repetitive struggles between Mega and Metro. Pitt had the cockiness of a raging egomaniac. In a curious twist, I recognized Hill's voice quickly, and it didn't seem to be a stretch from his more recent fare.

Side note: I wonder if McGrath and Schoolcraft/Simons have a thing against education or just like puns. Besides Megamind's curious pronunciations, when Titan uses his laser eyes to change the city's name, he spells it 'Tightenville'. Are we to think all supervillains and aspirants to said title are basically illiterate? Just a thought.

Megamind is a harmless film, slight, with good visuals (though nothing that struck me as needing 3-D enhancement). It certainly wasn't serious, and I confess to laughing only once: when we saw the poster Mega created which was a parody of President Obama's campaign poster for "Hope" (or was it "Change", I can't remember, it's been so long since the election). Those touches were intelligent.

I knock points for the 9/11 subtext (which was off-putting for me) as well as what seemed to me a slight diss on the Shroud of Turin (Metro Man's cape having his DNA which will be the source of the future Titan's power). Still, it was suppose to be light and basically harmless, not unlike Megamind himself.

He's neither villain or hero...just a little boy blue.

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