DreamWorks latest animated outing Megamind infuses the rote battles of serial film superheroes with a heaping of existential malaise. In this fun, fart-joke-free kids' flick, a supercriminal vanquishes his foe...and loses his reason to wake up in the morning.
Megamind wears its pastiche on its sleeve. The titular supervillain (Will Ferrell) and his foe-for-life Metro Man (Brad Pitt) are both the last survivors of planets that got sucked into a black hole. Whereas the baby Metro Man's escape pod is discovered by a wealthy couple, Megamind's capsule crashes into Metro City's prison, where he's raised by inmates. The blue-skinned macrocephalic Megamind later attends elementary school (on furlough) with Metro Man, where soon realizes that his superior intellect and oddball appearance make him a social outcast.
Spurned by his peers, Megamind settles on a life of villainy, and he spends his adulthood trying to conquer Metro Man and Metro City (which the villain mispronounces as "Metrosity"). It's a back-and-forth that Megamind relishes — that is, until he accidentally kills Metro Man in the film's opening minutes.
Megamind and Metro Man live in a world of light-touch, Adam West-style superheroics. Nobody is killed by Megamind's plots, the city prison is woefully easy to escape from, and reporter Roxanne Ritchi (Tina Fey) is bored of being perpetually kidnapped. Metro City's plazas and elaborate columns wouldn't be out of place in Max Fleischer's Superman cartoons, and his aptly named sidekick Minion (David Cross) is a fish in a cyborg gorilla rig who has a penchant for carrying a boombox like Bob in the first Batman film.
It's never explained why Minion is an ichthyoroboprimate, but this riffing on superhero clichés makes the film a breezy watch. For example, Megamind and Minion spend way too much time designing the villain's cape ("The Black Mamba"), and at one point, Megamind uses a holographic device to pose as "Space Dad," a mash-up of Marlon Brando from Superman and The Godfather.
When Metro Man kicks it, Megamind's routine is thrown akimbo, and (MINOR SPOILERS) he creates a new hero to get rid of his boredom. But this new hero is all power, no responsibility, and doesn't play by Megamind's rules. I'm not sure if the movie was trying to be a stealth commentary on superhero comics, but the introduction of this rogue hero illuminates that amount of disbelief comics require us to suspend (and not just with regards to flight or heat vision). In a world of earthbound gods, would the Joker reside in a prison or an unmarked grave just across the Gotham county line? Deconstructing superheroes is standard fare in comics these days, but you don't expect to see it in a PG-rated kids' movie.
That said, Megamind isn't perfect. The idea of heroes and villains codifying superheroic clichés isn't new, too many characters have the "DreamWorks face," and thanks to a federal law passed sometime after the release of Shrek, every children's movie now must end with an aggravating pop dance number. But hey, the previews for this movie were Yogi the Bear and a Justin Bieber documentary...both in 3D. The youth deserve better, and Megamind is an off-kilter kids' flick that's high on weirdness and low on pandering. With gags about torture rooms filled with crocodiles and disco balls and the inspired use of Minnie Riperton, it's a movie those of us over 12 won't mind sitting through either.