by Mel Valentin
“Superhero fatigue,” a concern raised by movie critics and movie bloggers, has yet to set in (that might have to wait until next summer when moviegoers will have four, $100 million plus superhero-themed blockbusters vying for their entertainment dollars). "Megamind," DreamWorks Animation’s third computer-animated film just this year (after "How to Train Your Dragon" in March and the third "Shrek" sequel, "Shrek Forever," this past summer), won’t hasten the arrival of that fatigue. "Megamind" won’t. With the exception of "Kung Fu Panda" and "How to Train Your Dragon," "Megamind" is as close to Pixar-level wise as DreamWorks Animation has come or will come in the foreseeable future.Megamind riffs on Superman’s familiar doomed-planet origin, positing not one, but two planets, both with super-advanced civilizations about to be destroyed by a planet-destroying cataclysm, both with desperate parents who send their respective sons on life-saving rocket ships to Earth. The Superman stand-in, Metro Man (voiced by Brad Pitt), gets everything Megamind (Will Farrell) doesn’t: a wealthy, loving family, super-cool superpowers (e.g., flight, invulnerability, super-speed, heat-ray vision) that manifest at an early age, a perpetually cheerful, do-gooder personality that makes him the object of rabid adoration for hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of Metro City’s citizens, an about-to-open museum dedicated to his many accomplishments, including his many defeats of the hapless Megamind, and a crush-worthy, TV journalist, Roxanne Ritchi (Tina Fey), for a girlfriend.
"Every supervillain needs a superhero (and vice versa)."
What about Megamind? He might have a big brain and a big cranium to house it, but he doesn't have superpowers. In that, he's like Superman's arch-nemesis, Lex Luthor (different origin story, though).Megamind has exactly one friend: a back-talking, fish-like alien, Minion (David Cross). Megamind later builds a robot body for him, an obvious nod to 1953'a z-grade science fiction thriller Robot Monster. Megamind’s spaceship lands in a prison for the criminally gifted (a nod to Marvel Comics' Professor Charles Xavier/Professor X and his School for Gifted Youngsters [later the Xavier Institute]), where he’s taken in by several prisoners and raised to be a super-criminal.
In elementary school, Megamind tries to curry favor with his classmates and fails disastrously. Socially and physically awkward, he’s picked last for every team-oriented exercise. Every attempt Megamind makes to impress his schoolmates fails, leaving Metro Man to clean up the mess. Bitter, Megamind decides to get back at everyone who’s rejected him and become the best supervillain ever. Metro Man frustrates him at every turn, but when his latest, greatest plan to eliminate Metro Man apparently succeeds, Megamind soon realizes that a supervillain without a superhero isn’t a (happy, fulfilled, completed) supervillain and decides to create a new superhero.
But the best-laid plans of supervillains go awry (as they often do), giving Megamind a second chance to rethink his career path. It gives Megamind a straightforward three-act structure to mirror Megamind’s transformation from protagonist-supervillain to protagonist-superhero (maybe), but the decision the create a superhero also serves as metatextual commentary on the superhero genre, a genre Alan J. Schoolcraft and Brent Simons obviously know well. Megamind sees his relationship with Metro Man as a never-ending series of battles, with Metro Man always winning, but Megamind escaping to fight another day, just like any superhero-supervillain combo in a comic book series for one of the Big Two (Marvel Comics, DC Comics), or their smaller imitators (Image).
Megamind errs in assuming the new superhero will abide by the unspoken code of conduct among superheroes and supervillains (he doesn’t). The same decision gives Megamind both the obligatory shot at redemption and, just as importantly for audiences, provides Megamind with the rationale for an epic end-of-film action set piece. Reminiscent of The Incredibles’ climactic battle, the battle in Megamind gives DreamWorks’ animators the chance to flex their computer-assisted creativity in a big-city setting. They do, often brilliantly, but that creativity extends to the character designs (among the best in the studio’s decade-and-a-half history), the textured, detailed backgrounds (again, among the best), and the periodic set pieces (including several cheer-worthy flight scenes), and 3D that adds, rather than detracts, from the moviegoing experience.And that’s not saying anything about Schoolcraft and Simons’ consistently witty, often clever, occasionally hilarious script, a script that relies on character-based and situation-based comedy, verbal wordplay, and metatextual humor more than the physical humor and pop-culture jokes and gags that have made DreamWorks Animation efforts feel tired, stale, and clichéd the moment they hit movie theaters. Add to that first-rate voice work from Farrell, Fey, Pitt, and Jonah Hill as Hal, Roxanne’s romance-obsessed cameraman, and the end result is everything moviegoers, single or family-sized, could want from a superhero comedy, animated or otherwise.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=19528&reviewer=402
originally posted: 11/06/10 03:00:00