Thursday, November 18, 2010

Megamind / *** (PG)

Featuring the voice talents of:
Megamind: Will Ferrell
Roxanne Ritchi: Tina Fey
Minion: David Cross
Tighten: Jonah Hill
Metro Man: Brad Pitt

DreamWorks Animation SKG presents a film directed by Tom McGrath. Written by Alan J. Schoolcraft and Brent Simons. Running time: 96 min. Rated PG (for action and some language).

Earlier this year I reviewed the movie “Despicable Me”. It was about a super villain who ended up being pretty good at heart. I enjoyed it, but I may have been too easy on it. It was cute. It was fun. But, it really seemed to just be going through the CGI family animation motions. Now, comes “Megamind” in that Hollywood tradition of giving audiences two tastes—from a different studio, of course—of the same basic premise. However, “Megamind” seems to tap into something that “Despicable Me” was lacking. They both have heart, but “Megamind” also seems to contain a big heaping dollop of humanity.

The titular Megamind (voiced by Will Ferrell, “The Other Guys”) is a super villain to Metro City’s champion Metro Man (Brad Pitt, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”). This is his story. Much like Superman, Megamind is sent by his parents to Earth from another planet when he is an infant. Along the way, another baby, who will grow up to be Metro Man, knocks him off course, and their destinies as arch rivals are set. It is during their budding rivalry when we see the film’s first hints of its humanity. Megamind’s failures in childhood are funny, but they’re also a little sad. This element of depth brings the material closer to the audience and allows us to connect more with Megamind’s story.

In adulthood, Megamind’s rivalry with Metro Man has blossomed into all the typical superhero/villain patterns that are well known to us through countless movies and comic books. Megamind kidnaps the same victim every time—hapless reporter Roxanne Ritchi (Tine Fey, “30 Rock”). Roxanne has gotten so used to the routine that she feels no fear in any of Megamind’s overly complex traps. She takes great pleasure in pointing out to the not-so-master villain that Metro Man always thwarts his schemes. But what would happen if somehow Megamind won, just once?

The crux of Megamind’s story is the answer to that question, because if the villain ever defeats the hero, then their story is over. The villain fights to the death while the hero always lets the villain live to return another day. Right? The success of the movie lies with that one broken rule of the superhero/villain dichotomy. If the villain wins, then he’s got nothing left to live for. Since Megamind has no one to try to defeat anymore, he begins to feel and yearn for other things again.

After his inadvertent win, Megamind is lost without a nemesis. His lifelong sidekick, Minion (David Cross, “Kung Fu Panda”), a fish for whom Megamind has constructed a robot gorilla body, tries desperately to keep his friend in the criminal mind. The two concoct a plan to make their own superhero by injecting Roxanne’s cameraman with Metro Man’s DNA transforming him into Tighten (Jonah Hill, “Horton Hears a Who”). Like all of Megamind’s plans, this one backfires, as Tighten seems more inclined to evil than good. Meanwhile, Megamind slides further from villainy as he begins to fall in love with Roxanne.

Director Tom McGrath (“Madagascar”) and his screenwriters have a great deal of fun flipping the notions of good guys and bad guys. It appears as if Megamind was possibly never meant to be a criminal, which might explain why he was so terrible at being bad in the first place. They also add a lot of little comedy details that are never explained, such as Megamind’s habit of mispronouncing certain words. They poke fun at many superhero movie icons and conventions, including Marlon Brando’s role as Superman’s father in “Superman: The Movie”.

Like “Despicable Me”, “Megamind” doesn’t reach much higher than flip-flopping the conventions of the “bad guy” to turn him into a good guy. It does, however, reach much deeper and is a better movie because of it. My wife actually turned to me at one point during the movie and said, “How could I have known I’d need tissues at this movie?” That’s a good sign, even with a cartoon comedy.

Special Note: I’ve noticed a disturbing trend with a good deal of CGI “family films” of late. In an effort to appeal to children’s parents, filmmakers are including more and more classic rock songs in movies that are clearly aimed at children. This one has several heavy metal songs that were popular when I was in high school, including songs by artists like AC/DC, Ozzy Osbourne, and Guns N’ Roses. While I do appreciate the use of popular music in these films, sometimes the lyrics of these songs are not appropriate for children. The inclusion of these songs might be intriguing for the parents, but I’m not sure a five-year-old should really go around singing about the virtues of being on the “Highway to Hell”. I’m not trying to be a prude, but prudence is generally a good thing, especially where children are concerned.


Jimh. said...

OK, I wasn't sure if it was going to be that good, but if you give it a good review...I think I will! Thanks!!

Andrew D. Wells said...

It's not a drama, Jim. You'll love it!