A late-2010 picture delivered by the DreamWorks animation factory, Megamind can best be described as Pixar’s The Incredibles meets Despicable Me. See, Megamind is a clever dissection of superhero movie conventions which functions as a character study of the supervillain. In the realm of superhero movies, there is always one given: The hero always wins. This leaves the question of what would happen if the bad guy actually won and flat-out killed the hero by some miracle (and if a studio was actually audacious enough to let a narrative play out in such a way). Megamind tackles this particular concept, and examines the life of a supervillain after he has vanquished his nemesis, finding himself free to rule, terrorize and be evil without anyone around to stop him.
In a nod to 1978’s Superman, the movie begins as infant alien Megamind (Ferrell) is sent to Earth, but ends up landing in the confines of a prison where he is raised by the inmates and taught to hate good and practice evil. Meanwhile, another alien named Metro Man (Pitt) is sent to Earth, is adopted by a loving suburban family, and grows up to be the superhero to Megamind’s supervillain. By adulthood, Megamind has perfected the nemesis routine; constantly kidnapping news reporter Roxanne (Fey) and subsequently sparring with Metro Man. The routine becomes incredibly predictable . . . until the day Megamind actually succeeds and kills Metro Man, leaving the villainous blue-skinned alien without a do-gooder counterpart to lock horns with. Sinking into depression and finding that his life lacks purpose, Megamind eventually concocts a plan to create another superhero to do battle with, thus restoring balance to the madman’s life.
Megamind is pretty much what we have come to expect from fluffy DreamWorks animated flicks with stunt casting: It’s an amusing diversion. A satire of superhero conventions, the picture falls into the second-tier category of animation — it is not on par with the usual quality of Pixar’s output, nor is it as good as DreamWorks’ best animation efforts (Shrek, How to Train Your Dragon), but it remains a perfectly acceptable, serviceable family flick with a lively pace that can easily engage children and entertain adults. What separates Megamind from greatness is a lack of sophistication in the script. In general, the humor is effective but fails to be hilarious — the film perpetually seems to be on the hunt for belly-laughs that it unfortunately never finds. Instead, the comedy only provokes smiles or minor chuckles. Also, the picture cannot generate the type of emotional resonance which has become second nature to Pixar filmmakers, rendering Megamind fun in the moment but ultimately disposable. Credit where credit is due, though — the titular Megamind is a great character, and something clever almost always happens when he is on-screen (like a random word mispronunciation or a strange visual element).
Fortunately, Alan J. Schoolcraft and Brent Simons’ script doesn’t rush Megamind’s transformation from supervillain to pseudo-hero; it feels natural, and, in a weird way, we get to understand what this guy is all about. Along the way to the final destination, there are some great set-pieces to keep viewers engaged. Not to mention, the computer animation is delightful (though is that surprising at all?), with intricately detailed characters and sly visual nuances. The action scenes, of which there are plenty, are well-rendered and exciting. To help amplify the excitement of the action, acclaimed filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro was brought in to assist with the editing. Suffice it to say, his input evidently paid dividends. Director Tom McGrath (Madagascar) also deserves credit for keeping the picture moving at an impeccable pace, and never allowing the narrative to lull substantially. Even if things get a tad overblown in the third act, the film makes a full recovery by the very end; closing the story without sacrificing the charm of the characters or strength of the premise.
Thankfully, both Will Ferrell and Tina Fey submitted terrific voice performances as Megamind and Roxanne (respectively), with the roles seemingly tailor-made for the stars. In particular, there are times when one can catch a glimpse of Ferrell through the animation due to body language. At one stage, Ferrell was even given the chance to parody Marlon Brando’s role in Superman; a task he pulled off with hilarious results (only adults will understand the joke, but it doesn’t matter that kids won’t get it). Jonah Hill’s efforts are also commendable as Roxanne’s cameraman, but the rest of the big-name cast members — Brad Pitt, Ben Stiller and J.K. Simmons — seem to be a simple case of stunt casting: They were included to increase the budget and marketability without improving the movie’s actual quality.
The creators of Megamind do not reinvent the wheel in terms of formula, and the heart and dramatic undercurrents of Pixar’s typical output eludes them, but vivacious animation and some delightful set-pieces help to compensate for the movie’s blunders. Megamind is not destined to be a classic, but it is good entertainment for kids and adults alike.