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"Megamind" Is a Mega-Disappointment

by on February 28, 2011

There are people who think they can harpoon the lunacies and ludicrousness of superhero stories just by pointing out Spider-Man should be shooting webs out of his butt. This is a joke that’s kind of funny when heard for the first time, but any humor value it has drops off dramatically upon repetition, and it isn’t something you can build anything on. There is plenty of material begging for parody or satire in superhero genre fiction, and the genre is fertile ground to parody or satire other things. “Spider-Man should shoot webs out of his butt” is just a trite and obvious observation made by the kinds of people who probably haven’t looked at the funnier or more creative works coming out of superhero genre fiction for at least two decades. I feel like these were the people who wrote and produced DreamWorks’ Megamind, a half-baked, warmed-over rehash of concepts that have been done far better, far more creatively in any number of other works.

The title character of Megamind is a giant-headed, blue-tinted supervillain, nemesis of the handsome, barrel-chested Metro Man since the two were rocketed to Earth as infants on parallel trajectories. Metro Man ended up in a mansion to be raised by millionaires, while Megamind ended up in the federal penitentiary to be raised by convicted criminals. The two are soon locked in perpetual combat, often over the plucky and intrepid reporter Roxanne Ritchi, with Megamind always coming out on the losing end. After establishing the status quo, Megamind violently upends it when, much to everyone’s surprise (including his own), one of Megamind’s evil schemes finally works, killing Metro Man and leaving Metro City helpless before his reign of terror. Unfortunately, the opponent-less Megamind soon hits an existential crisis, asking, “What’s the use of having it all, if there’s no one around to stop you?” He decides to create a new hero to battle, accidentally giving Metro Man’s powers to Roxanne’s creepy, stalker-ish cameraman Hal. Things go wrong after that, leaving Megamind to seek out his innner hero, defeat Hal, and win the girl.

AC/DC in a superhero movie. Who'd have thunk it? Oh, wait...Iron Man did. Three years ago.My biggest problem with Megamind is that it’s too serious to be a good parody, but too comedic to be taken seriously. The jokes just aren’t funny, while the attempts at the heartfelt moments are undermined by the jokey, silly tone everywhere else in the movie. Its too predictable story is straitjackted by exactly the same conventions that it seems to be trying to undermine or lampoon, feeling like a focus-grouped, committee-written movie that tries to be all things to all people and ends up being nothing to nobody. The only flashes of creativity in Megamind come at the very end in some of the twists driving the big climactic fight between Megamind and Hal. I’m tempted to say that everything else in the entire movie was lifted from other, better superhero movies, TV shows, and comic books except that I’m not positive at all that any of the major crew members have been exposed to anything other than the recent blockbusters at the multiplex, plus the 1966 Batman movie and 1979 Superman movie. Judging by their comments in the DVD commentary track, they seem to genuinely think that they’ve crafted something new and original. Instead, Megamind is safe, tame, and obvious, especially when held up against sharper parodies like The Tick, The Venture Bros., Frisky Dingo, or the live-action Mystery Men movie; the goofy, offbeat superheroics in shows like Teen Titans, The Super Hero Squad Show or Batman: The Brave and the Bold; the nightmarish “villain wins” comics like Mark Waid’s Empire; the pitch-perfect surprises in store in Kurt Busiek and Fabian Nicieza’s “villains-turn-good” comic book series Thunderbolts. This is to say nothing of the excellent straight superheroics of shows like Justice League or Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, or movies that can tell a serious superhero story without dodging the silliness inherent in the genre like The Incredibles or All-Star Superman. It doesn’t even manage to match up to the heart or humor of Despicable Me, last year’s other “villain-turns-good” animated movie. Indeed, if the release dates didn’t indicate that these two movies had to be conceived and developed in parallel, it would be too easy to assume that Megamind was just a rip-off dashed out after Despicable Me‘s box office success.

Megamind is a success on a technical level, at least. It’s always pretty to look at and manages to muster up a few impressive set pieces, like the detail in Megamind’s secret lair or the gigantic Megamind head composed of millions of little minion robots that figures into the climax of the movie. Megamind was another of the latest crop of CGI animated films that were made with 3-D in mind from inception, and while some of the gags and shots would have been impressive in 3-D, there’s nothing that doesn’t play without that third dimension. Voice acting is a bit of a mixed bag. Will Ferrell is certainly trying really hard as Megamind, and his efforts do elevate the uninspired screenplay a bit. Tina Fey is quite winning as Roxanne Ritchi, so it’s even more of a disappointment that she’s relegated to the love interest or the damsel in distress tossing off an occasional bon mot. Why isn’t someone this obviously smart and brave the hero (or, even more interestingly, the villain)? Brad Pitt as Metro Man is celebrity stunt casting at its worst, since the character gets so little screen time and fails to make any use of Pitt’s magnetic screen presence when he’s at his best. Jonah Hill as Hal demonstrates that some character actors must be content at playing the same role repeatedly, and if nothing else Jonah Hill is getting quite good at playing the Jonah Hill character in these movies. The only real bright spot in the cast is David Cross as Minion, a fish in a bowl mounted on a robotic gorilla body that is Megamind’s only friend. He is usually the one who generates what few chuckles the movie can manage to muster.

It's all about PRESENTATION!The Megamind dual-pack DVD presents the movie well. By now, the anamorphic video and suitably impressive 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack are par for the course for DreamWorks home video presentations. The movie disc includes a lively commentary track with the director, producers, and writers, which provides more entertainment value than you’d think since they point out the little Easter Eggs that make watching the movie more interesting. It’s a nice touch that the commentary track includes subtitles of its own, but none of the speakers are identified in it, which makes it much harder to identify who’s who (except for the two producers, since both are women and one has a British accent). Other bonuses on this disc include a “Meet the Cast” featurette, one deleted scene (which the filmmakers describe as hilarious in the commentary track and which turns out to be puzzlingly limp in reality), and a batch of trailers and ads. Disc 2 contains the new short film “Megamind: The Button of Doom,” which is an excuse for some more tame laughs and mayhem, centering on Megamind and Minion trying to clear out the evil lair through a yard sale. The Venture Bros. did it better. There are 3 more behind-the-scenes featurettes: “Visit Megamind’s Lair” chronicles the design of the lair; “Experience AnimatorMan” is surprisingly interesting, since it reveals some of the reference video shot by the animators while making the movie; and “Learn to Draw Megamind” makes an exercise in drawing the title character into an excessively drawn-out process that will probably lose all but the most dedicated after a few minutes.

Megamind‘s biggest disappointment is that so much time, money, energy, and effort was clearly expended on its production and it has so very little to show for it. DreamWorks may not have the same manic creativity that comes from Pixar, but Kung Fu Panda and How to Train Your Dragon demonstrated that it could at least execute a genre story entertainingly. Megamind feels like a notable step back from the heights of those movies and a throwback to the lesser comedies like Shark Tale or both Madagascar movies. It never makes an observation more interesting than “Spider-Man should be shooting webs out of his butt.” You’ll get far more entertainment value from almost anything else I’ve mentioned in this review.

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