The second animated movie about a supervillain to arrive this year, how does DreamWorks Animation's Megamind stack up?
It’s the age-old story of superhero versus super villain, but with a twist. In the latest work from DreamWorks Animation, the twist is the point of view. In a normal superhero movie, the hero is the center of attention, but in Megamind, the star is the villain. The ‘hero’ of our movie is a big-headed, blue-skinned, super genius villain named Megamind.
From a fractured planet comes forth a little pod containing a baby, Megamind (Will Ferrell), and his pet minion, Minion (David Cross). From a nearby planet comes the pod containing Megamind’s future sworn enemy, Metro Man (Brad Pitt). From the first day of school, the two were natural rivals. Metro Man was the handsome one with all the powers, Megamind the blue freak from the nearby prison. Every hero needs a villain. Megamind decides to be that villain.
There’s just one small problem: Megamind is not a successful villain. He’s almost successful, for what that’s worth, but he and Metro Man have gone through the motions so much that Megamind’s plans are clichés, especially to Megamind’s usual kidnapping victim, Roxanne Ritchi (Tina Fey). So, what happens when the villain finally wins one?
That’s the central question behind Megamind, and the general catalyst for the entire film, which contains a variety of messages ranging from be careful what you wish for, you just might get it, to don’t judge a book by its cover and everything in between. That’s one of the problems of Megamind: it’s a fun enough picture, but there’s no scope to it.
In a way, it’s not really fair to compare a DreamWorks Animation production with a Pixar, because they are not working in the same strata of film here. Pixar is producing some of the best works of film ever, while DreamWorks is merely putting out middling features, in my opinion (How To Train Your Dragon being the obvious exception). It’s like Pixar’s incredible feats have spoiled me, since, whenever I go into an animated picture now, I tend to hold it up to Pixar standards.
That’s not to damn Megamind with faint praise because, as animated adventures go, it’s fairly good. It goes on a little too long, with lots of fat in the middle, but there are certain moments in the film that just crackle with wit and energy, akin to director Tom McGrath’s previous works in the Madagascar series. The climactic battle scenes, in particular, are very exciting. The visual effects are very good, particularly the flying scenes, but it’s overwhelming.
At some points, things move just a little too fast for the mind to process properly. However, the pacing seems to run a little bit slow for long stretches, then too fast at other moments. The movie moves at a leisurely pace, then abruptly charges forward in gallops before slowing down again.
One of the weirdest things about Megamind is that, in a standard animated feature with humans (or humanoids), the character on the screen generally resembles the actor who does the voice. In Megamind, the only person with his off-screen looks connected to his on-screen character is Jonah Hill’s Tighten/Hal. Aside from the red hair of Tighten, they’re basically the same guy. All the others in Megamind don’t resemble their real-life counterparts. Yes, I know Megamind is blue, but facially, he looks more like Neil Patrick Harris than Will Ferrell. Tina Fey and Roxie also look nothing alike. Ditto Brad Pitt and Metro Man. It’s a bit disconcerting.
On the positive side, Minion is very well designed, and Megamind’s various criminal outfits are wonderfully bad, and the performances from the cast are outstanding. Will Ferrell manages to rein himself in quite nicely, channeling his Alex Trebek straight man routine, while Brad Pitt totally hams it up as Metro Man. Jonah Hill doesn’t tone his persona down, but it works fairly well with his role (though he does come across as a little too strong at times).
Another huge plus to the film is the use of music, both original music by Hans Zimmer and specific use of various classic 70s and 80s rock songs for Megamind’s various smoke-and-laser-filled dramatic entrances. Yes, they’re clichéd songs (Guns and Roses, Michael Jackson, AC/DC), but that’s where a lot of Megamind‘s funniest moments come from. The script from writers Alan J. Schoolcraft and Brent Simons definitely has its moments of hilarity, but when the jokes fail, they land with a serious clank.
The movie both embraces and sends up all those superhero tropes that the audience is so familiar with, and it starts doing this from the very beginning. Rather than give Megamind a traumatic event to make him evil, it’s just because he wasn’t popular in school (and was raised by prisoners). Rather than have Metro Man take on a mild-mannered persona, he shows off in school by flying around, lifting the school, and such. Even Megamind’s closest minion, an alien fish in a bowl, is a subversion of the standard big dumb head goon that most evil geniuses rely on.
Megamind is a fun, witty picture, but it’s nothing special. Pixar has already taken on the superhero business, and is incredibly hard to top. The fact that Megamind is a bit too hyperactive at some points and a bit too lethargic at others doesn’t help it. More jokes hit than miss, but there are long stretches of the movie where it just feels flat. It’s a good attempt at finding a new slant on the superhero tale, but it’s been done better before.
US correspondent Ron Hogan has always wanted to be a super villain. Superheroes are boring! Find more by Ron at his blog, Subtle Bluntness, and daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.
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