The superhero genre has almost been utterly exhausted in Hollywood. For that matter, so has the sub-genre of deconstructing the superhero genre, its mythos, and its clichés. Kick Ass and Watchmen did it in their own unique ways, as did Dr. Horrible on the Internet. But this year, a sub-sub genre of deconstructing super villains has emerged in animation. Despicable Me softened a super villain via orphans, and now Megamind does so by giving a bad guy his greatest wish – and then making him regret it.
Super babies Megamind and Metro Man were each destined for great things, but due to their differing crash sites, they turned out quite differently. Naturally, the evil Megamind keeps failing to defeat Metro Man and destroy Metro City – so much so that even reporter/hostage Roxanne Richie is bored with the whole thing. Yet in their latest super battle, Megamind becomes the first super villain to actually win. But control of the city, and having no hero to fight, makes him utterly miserable – so he creates a hero of his own out of Roxanne’s pathetic, nerdy camera man. But when that backfires, and when Megamind starts falling for Roxanne, he starts to rethink his evil path.
Megamind turns out to be a big victim of timing, since it is the second animated super villain parody of the year. In fact, they even both have minions named Minion, although Despicable Me has a whole yellow army of them. Yet that movie was more madcap and inventive, whereas Megamind struggles to find inspiration after its inspired premise plays out.
Things start out promisingly enough, as they play around with the traditional origins story – and how environments can form both heroes and villains. The film has particular fan spoofing the damsel in distress cliché, with Roxanne serving as the audience surrogate/straight man. And when Megamind becomes bored with victory, it shows how the journey is better than the destination, even for villains. But after establishing its superhero/villain satire, and their tweaking of genre staples, the movie still has an hour left to go.
After that, Megamind‘s satirical ideas become less inspired, as they resort to creating a new hero – or rather villain – and have the villain fall for his kidnapped victim. In fact, much of the film’s ideas first came from Internet musical Dr. Horrible, showing that even superhero parodies are getting as cliched as their targets.
Dreamworks movies are almost dismissed out of hand, since Pixar has set the bar too high. But since Dreamworks has raised their own bar with films like Kung Fu Panda and How To Train Your Dragon, a promising but ultimately mediocre effort like Megamind is even more of a missed opportiny. Dreamworks can produce high flying films, yet their soul is divided between ambitious fare like Panda and Dragon, and their more standard formula. Megamind appears to be the former for a while, but trends more towards the latter by the end.
Another hit and miss Dreamworks standard is having high powered celebrity voices lend a hand. In this case, however, it helps bail Megamind out more than a few times. Will Ferrell got back into fans’ good graces with The Other Guys, and his manic style fits right in here as well. Steve Carrell got an accent and more of an actually wicked character in Despicable Me, but Ferrell is just as important in keeping things afloat, even when things get less promising.
However, Tina Fey is as much of a highlight, if not more so, as her typical smart, snarky persona bounces quite well with Ferrell. As for Brad Pitt, he lends a deal of fun while mocking the superhero image – and perhaps a bit of his own as well. Jonah Hill lends his typical persona to the camera man turned super man, but when his character turns bad, he doesn’t have the evil chops to make the switch fully work.
If Megamind was made a few years ago – or in any other year besides this one – it might have seemed like more of a fresh idea. Even in spite of that, it had the potential to put a solid spin on superheroism and villainy, but it spends most of its good ideas on the setup. For fans of Ferrell and Fey, there is still a good deal of banter to enjoy, yet for comic book devotes, they may hope for a better answer to these “what if?” questions. As for Dreamworks fans, it may seem like one of the studio’s more frustrating missed opportunities, since they can do a lot more these days.