What happens when, in a comic book universe of good versus evil locked in an apparently unending, pantomime struggle, the villain finally gets the better of the superhero? That’s the idea that lies at the core of Megamind, the latest animated movie from Madagascar director Tom McGrath.
Will Ferrell lends his voice to Megamind, the blue-skinned protagonist of the title. A bulbous-headed alien who has villainy thrust upon him, Megamind is marginalised at school by his peers and, worst of all, his arch-nemesis, Metro Man (Brad Pitt), a boy who can do no wrong in the eyes of his friends and teachers.
As a result, Megamind dedicates his adult life to causing chaos in Metro City, constantly kidnapping television reporter Roxanne (Tina Fey), only to have his wicked plans foiled by his square-jawed rival, Metro Man.
Telling a story from the perspective of an anti-hero may have already been attempted once this year in Despicable Me, but Megamind is, nevertheless, quite different – filled with references to comic books and movies, it’s a keenly realised deconstruction of the black-and-white world of superhero stories – Superman is the most obvious reference point.
Far from a ruthless monster, Megamind is merely misunderstood – a stranger in a strange land, his inept, mostly fruitless attempts at playing the part of a criminal mastermind are endearingly inept. Metro Man, on the other hand, is a vain, swaggering muscle-man who thrives on public adulation.
Then, one day, Megamind unexpectedly beats his long-time opponent, and gains control of Mega City. “Imagine the most terrible thing you can think of, and multiply it… Times six!” Megamind tells a terrified, yet faintly bemused populace.
Left without a hero to fight, Megamind quickly grows tired of heaping his lair with money and treasure, and begins to look around for other things to do, first striking up a relationship with Roxanne while disguised as an unassuming white-collar worker, and later attempting to create a new superhero to fight, with disastrous results.
While Megamind’s plot is cleverly constructed enough – albeit in a light, family-friendly kind of way – the movie’s strongest aspect is its humour and welter of loving geek references.
There are several scenes that gently pastiche Richard Donner’s 1978 Superman movie, including a slapstick recreation of that film’s romantic flight scene, and a priceless Marlon Brando impression from Will Ferrell. Eagle-eyed viewers will perhaps also note, with a titter of recognition, a fleeting reference to the conclusion of the 1980 Flash Gordon movie.
Megamind’s starry voice cast is uniformly excellent, with Jonah Hill providing the voice of Hal, a dorky camera technician who becomes a power-crazed monster, and Brad Pitt as the muscle-bound hero with a secret passion for music. Tina Fey gets less of a look-in as Roxanne, however, and to have such a great comic actor wasted on a fairly straight role is something of a waste.
The film undoubtedly belongs to Ferrell, and while the role gives him plenty of opportunities to improvise and make loud noises, his performance is surprisingly restrained, giving Megamind the character more nuance and pathos than you might otherwise expect.
Megamind’s use of 3D, in a year filled with unimaginative uses of the processes, is also worthy of note, and its subtle appearance early on make the film’s late action sequences appear all the more spectacular. A city-levelling fight scene towards the conclusion is particularly well handled, and looks uncannily like an Akira for the under-twelve market.
Ultimately, Megamind is an unchallenging, gentle action comedy, delivered with charm and knowing wit. There are numerous moments that appear to have been inspired by other CG family movies – Pixar’s The Incredibles is the most obvious touchstone – but McGrath’s film has enough humour and style to carry Megamind through its more derivative moments.
Plus, Ferrell’s Marlon Brando impression is, by itself, worth the price of a ticket…
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