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"Megamind": Mind Over Mediocrity

by on November 10, 2010

An altogether enjoyable family film, Dreamworks Animation’s Megamind is a self-aware and affectionate parody of superheroics rather than a deconstruction and a satire in the way that Shrek lampooned fairy tale tropes. When a galactic cataclysm strikes a distant solar system, two planets in the vicinity send a single child away to Earth. One ends up at the doorstep of a well-to-do family living in the fictional Metro City, another lands in the local prison to be inexplicably raised by the local inmates. Thus a lifelong rivalry is born. The fortunate child becomes the mighty “Metro Man” and is practically Superman as a caricature, a man who seemingly delights in his perfection and the praise he always received for his deeds. The other is a blue-skinned fellow armed only with intellect proportional to his oversized noggin and his sidekick Minion, who resembles a talking pirahana. Despite his childhood attempts to win approval with fantastic inventions he’s overshadowed by the youthful Metro Man, ostracized by his peers, and constantly getting into trouble. Eventually he embraces his designated status as the “bad boy” and becomes the supervillain “Megamind,” dedicating himself to bringing down a grown Metro Man with his wacky machinery and a multitude of grandiose plans that never quite work out. When we join the festivities, it’s all a routine. Lois Lane knockoff Roxanne Ritchi gets kidnapped, Metro Man reliably saves the day, Megamind is sent to prison and finds a way to come back for more trouble. When Megamind pulls his latest caper Roxanne is bored by the experience and Metro Man declares “We all know how this ends!”

This time though, Metro Man is destroyed thanks to Megamind inadvertently exploiting his one weakness, an event that some have compared to Lex Luthor getting to beat Superman. It really is not. In the aftermath of this unexpected victory Megamind and Minion make a despondent Metro City their playground, but ere long Megamind realizes that he has no nefarious ambitions to speak of, no great purpose to aspire to. It was the ongoing battle against Metro Man that he enjoyed so much, the opportunity to be the best bad guy that he could be. “What’s the point of being bad,” he laments, “if there’s no good to stop you?” Thanks to a chance meeting with Roxanne behind a holographic disguise, however, he hits on a solution to his problem: he can use the remnants of Metro Man’s DNA to create a brand new superhero for him to fight against.

It is this plot that forms the core of the movie, and inevitably things don’t go as planned. Megamind’s concocted super serum ends up being injected into the hapless Hal, a portly cameraman infatuated with a very uninterested Roxanne. Megamind also carries on his charade as Metro Man Museum curator Bernard to start a relationship with Roxanne, as the two hit it off thanks to their mutual regret over Metro Man’s demise and “Bernard” coming to help Roxanne after she infiltrates Megamind’s secret base on her own. In another guise he trains Hal to be a hero, preparing him for the ultimate confrontation between good and evil.

For better or worse the film’s events are predictable, albeit with one significant exception. Megamind doing not-so-evil things for Roxanne’s sake is character development that’s satisfying even if it is cliched, and it’s a foregone conclusion that Megamind’s many deceptions will cost him dearly–after all, the movie starts things off showing the hapless villain falling to his apparent doom before backing up to show us how things got to this point. The thinly characterized Hal merely ends up using his powers for his own self-gratification, shocking the genre-savvy Megamind with his immaturity and his refusal to play by the same heroic rules that Metro Man always did.

What Megamind lacks in innovation and suspense, however, it makes up for in execution. Will Ferrell’s performance as Megamind is spot-on, at times appropriately nuanced and outrageously boisterous elsewhere when Megamind is fully engaged in crazy genius mode. Megamind’s many overwrought inventions are the film at its most imaginative, decisively proving the protagonist’s declaration that “presentation!” is what makes a supervillain. Robot minions, death rays, assorted devices, a building-sized mech, it’s all here. When it comes to action though the creative team also deserves credit for not being content with a bigger-is-better philosophy, as Megamind’s intellect is also key in certain situations for both good and ill.

Megamind offers no commentary or satire to the same extent or of the same type as what’s communicated by The Incredibles, but it does carry some worthwhile messages nevertheless. The contrast between Hal and Megamind and Hal and Metro Man ably demonstrate that what makes a hero is far more than what he can or can’t do, and Megamind overcomes the circumstances of his upbringing and his supposed “destiny” as a misfit and a bad guy in order to deal with the monster he unwittingly creates. Children will benefit from observing this and enjoy the adventure along the way; adults will smile and chuckle and then carry on for the most part. Megamind is not deep enough or possessing quite enough panache to sit on the top shelf next to The Incredibles or Dreamworks’ own Kung Fu Panda, but it’s an energetic and fun-loving romp that will not waste your time.

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