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This computer-animated feature film is a superhero comedy having a few laughs at the expense of the deluge of live-action superhero movies flooding cinemas. Centering on the titular Megamind (voiced by Will Ferrell), it follows a familiar story arc, that of Superman. Well, some of it. Little Megamind is jettisoned from his home planet as an infant as it is destroyed and sent to Earth where his powers are enhanced. But just before his father closes the capsule door to send his baby into space, he tells his son he is “Destined for–”. What? We don’t know. Neither does Megamind. He’s cut off and Megamind never knows what he is meant to achieve. At the same time, another baby on a nearby planet is getting the same send off and they escape the death of their worlds together though a rivalry is established right away.
When they arrive on our planet, they end up on different paths, with Megamind landing in a prison for criminal geniuses and the other, who eventually becomes Metro Man (voiced by Brad Pitt), in a lavish wealthy home. He is given all the good things in life while Megamind learns the bad. In school, they are opposites and it soon becomes clear for Megamind what his true calling is–he is a villain.
Directed by Tom McGrath, Megamind is not so much a parody, even though it takes plenty of clever shots at the genre. Instead, it’s a well-made morality tale that isn’t too hard to predict and stays true to the timeless heavy-handed message of many children’s films: Believe in yourself and kindness wins. Still, it’s an often very funny story with some bright, colorful animation that keeps it fun (despite the catastrophic death toll the city endures at the hands of the main characters, perhaps giving the okay to other live-action films to do the same). The voice acting is spot-on, with Ferrell really embracing the hapless Megamind who just wants to be bad . . . but also loved. That love (at least on his end) comes in the form of TV reporter Roxanne Ritchie (voiced by Tina Fey), whom he regularly kidnaps.
While the film has plenty of great moments, especially in the earlier build-up, let’s focus on a meeting between Megamind and a new ‘hero’ in town, a man given one job but seeing an opportunity for another.
Some quick setup. As villains go, Megamind is pretty inept. Still, he’s just villainous enough to keep the city in panic even though they are saved at every turn by the more impressive Metro Man, whom the city holds as their celebrated savior. He and Megamind are at constant odds with the good guy always winning and Megamind forced to dream up new and more elaborate methods of causing mayhem.
One of those schemes sees, once again, Roxanne kidnapped and Metro Man flying in for a routine rescue. This time however, Megaman has captured his nemesis in a bubble of pure copper, and it turns out to be Metro Man’s one weakness. What follows seems to be his end, as a laser blast explodes over Metro Man and only his skeleton remains. At long last, Megaman has won. Now what?
After taking over the city as supreme ruler, he eventually grows bored and realizes that he actually misses Metro Man. He misses the banter and the squabbles and the chasing and the fun of it all. Megamind hatches a plan to create a new hero to battle, one that he controls so that he can still fight but this time, always win. As mentioned, Roxanne is the pretty journalist who has caught Megamind’s eye. Her cameraman, Hal Stewart, a frumpy but energetic young man (voiced by Jonah Hill) is madly in love with her. He’s about to get a lot more energetic. The formula Megamind created to make a new enemy gets accidentally injected into Hal, turing him into a superhero. Now Megamind’s got to make sure Hal knows his place.
Disguising himself as “Space Dad” (and brilliantly poking fun at Marlon Brando‘s take as Superman’s father), Megamind begins to teach his new disciple the ways of the hero and how the two will be secret partners to give the city a real show. What he doesn’t know is that Hal, now called Tighten (though Hal misspells it Titan), is hoping to use his powers to win Roxanne’s heart. Megamind even inadvertently tells him, thinking he was talking about a different girl, that if you save her, she will be yours. Tighten doesn’t quite get the meaning of this and when he ‘rescues’ Roxanne in all the wrong ways, she rejects him. Worse, he sees Roxanne having dinner with another man (who is actually Megamind in disguise). It has profound effect on the new hero.
The next day, after Tighten doesn’t show for his debut fight, Megamind–crushed by his own rejection from Roxanne after she discovers his trickery at dinner–rushes to Tighten’s apartment for a talk. And it’s here that all things become unglued and Megamind realizes the depth of all his miscalculations.
Tighten is sitting on his sofa playing a video game. He’s still in his Tighten costume. Beside him are stacks of cash and other assorted treasures. Perplexed, Megamind inquires and Tighten explains that the whole point of being a hero was to get Roxanne and now that he lost that chance, he’s not interested in playing nice. Besides, it’s too much work. Stealing is better.
Megamind, dumbfounded by his confession that Roxanne is the girl of his dreams, seems to understand the immediate, pressing issue. A sense of dread falls on his face while Tighten suggests the two team up to be supervillains who conquer Metro City, even drawing up some plans for costume changes.
Megamind balks, horrified at Tighten’s transformation. He angrily denounces Tighten for squandering his incredible powers for his own personal gains. Tighten thinks Megamind has nailed the whole point, but Megamind still thinks he can turn it around. He confesses that he is the one that made him, that he’s actually Space Dad, and worse, he was the man Tighten saw kissing Roxanne. It works, and Tighten takes after Megamind, who is happy to be battling what he thinks is a new hero who can finally replace Metro Man. But, when it’s over, Titan reveals himself to be an even worse (better?) villain than Megamind and intends to cause terrible chaos.
This moment is crucial in revealing to Megamind, a ‘villain’ who is good at his job but never so bad as to be a monster, that his scheming has actually, finally, done something even worse than his defeat of Metro Man, something that itself he has trouble believing he did. And that’s the take away here, that while we know Megamind is placed in the villain role, it’s altogether ambiguous, hinted at from the start when he father’s last words were cut off. This is the path that he has chosen, but it has always been one for the fun of it. It’s never been self-serving, as he points out to Tighten. He’s never wasted his powers to actually harm the people or financially gain from them. It’s been about the epic battles with Metro Man for “control” of the city.
This is clearly meant to reflect the classic relationships in comics and film (and also in certain spy stories) where superheroes consistently duel an arch nemesis. The classic encounters of Batman and the Joker are perhaps the most notable of these players, but there are many others. With Megamind and Metro Man, the back and forth is the name of the game and it serves to create the balance of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ for the people of the city. With Tighten selfishly denying this and seeing his role as one of absolutes, where he rules and Megamind dies, he categorically misunderstands the point of villains and heroes, and this is what shocks his maker.
But what of Hal? Before the transformation, he is a stereotypical dimwit, a video game-playing, chubby, anti-social dweeb with a crush on a beautiful girl he can never have. Interestingly, he’s not shy about it and is even seen confessing that love though it goes unheard as she is, as often happens, kidnapped while he’s talking. But he offers clues to his selfishness, despite his lovable exterior. He tells Roxanne that if he were Metro Man, he’d watch over her like a Dingo watches a human baby. Creepy. He makes another desperate attempt for a date later and again goes overboard, inviting her to his house for a party with a Bouncy House and a wedding photographer. He’s clearly obsessed.
These traits are amplified in the form of Tighten and become the core of his villainy. Megamind, in hoping to create a ‘safe’ hero in which to do battle, accidentally makes one that truly is evil. Perhaps we must be a little sympathetic to Hal, for he never asked to be the bad guy. But the point is, we are what path we choose. Megamind felt his path was dark, but the goodness within him never let him truly be as bad he could have been. His was a life of playing into expectations. With Tighten, we see how the same DNA can be turned evil by choose. Thus, the real bad guys is revealed.
Alan Schoolcraft, Brent Simons
Will Ferrell, Jonah Hill, Brad Pitt, Tina Fey, David Cross, Ben Stiller, J. K. Simmons