Megamind (review)

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Smart Political Dumbshow

You know those trailers that give away the whole film? I hate them too… and it seems as if every trailer is that spoileriffic these days. Which is why I wasn’t so keen on Megamind, the new DreamWorks animated flick. Because I figured the trailer was pretty much the whole film, and what’s in the trailer is less than rousing: Big-blue-headed alien villain Megamind has had it with his superduper square-jawed hero nemesis, Metro Man, who really is pretty obnoxious in his handsome goody-two-shoes-ness. There’s a lot of obvious jokey stuff about the clichés of muscly meathead caped crusaders and moohahahaha comic-book villainy, and it doesn’t look like there’s much of anywhere interesting to go with it that an inventive and superhero-addled five-year-old mightn’t have thought up all on his own. Which might be fine for the five-year-old superhero-addled demographic, but not so good for the rest of us. Cuz hey, I’m a grownup, and I like superhero stories, but I like even better superhero stories that play with the tropes… and if such a story can take us to new places within a genre that seems like it must be totally played out by now, even better still.
It turns out that Megamind is, in fact, just that kind of movie.

Imagine my surprise when it transpires that everything that’s in the trailer is dispensed with in the first 10 minutes or so of the actual film: the trailer didn’t spoil the whole movie! The clichés — Megamind ain’t quite evil, or he wouldn’t be if only people weren’t so mean to him because he’s different — and the obviousness — Metro Man is prone to spouting lunkheaded would-be chestnuts such as “Justice is a metal that can’t be melted” — are but the introduction to a smarter, sharper, funnier, wiser story than I ever could have expected. It’s all played up and then sent over the top precisely because it needs to contrast with what’s to come: it would be cruel of me to reveal too much more about what actually happens in this hilarious, surprising tale, but suffice to say that it reinforces what we love about superheroes and why we embrace them — they inspire the best in us, remind us of the value of public service and the importance of an adherence to the ideals of justice — while also taking a subtly serious look at the pathos of the superhero, how his selflessness can take its toll on him.

And yes, still, Megamind really is all about the villain. I’ve been hot and cold on Will Ferrell (The Other Guys, Land of the Lost), but when he’s on, he finds a groove that melds tragedy and comedy in a downright classical way — and he’s on here as the voice of Megamind in such a way that he even won me over to the antigift the blue-headed knucklehead has for mispronouncing random words — he makes “Metro City” rhyme with “atrocity,” for one — for no real reason except that it is very mildly amusing but mostly because it is required for plot convenience later on. (I hate to chide first-time screenwriters Alan J. Schoolcraft and Brent Simons for what seems like a bit of laziness here, because the rest of their script really is very clever and well-written. But that only makes this misstep stand out even more glaringly.) It’s so sly that it won’t distract the kiddies one bit, but through Megamind’s ongoing clashes with Metro Man (the voice of Brad Pitt [Inglourious Basterds, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button], who’s very funny here), there emerges a sort of deconstruction of the theater of the superhero/supervillain dynamic… and a crafty connection of it to all public battles in which justice and rightness and morality are claimed as motivations. Is it all just role-playing by far more complicated people than their public personas let on?

Of course it is. In much the same way that director Tom McGrath showed us that the relationships between, oddly enough, zoo animals can work as a metaphor for the joys and civil benefits of modern urban living in Madagascar, this weirdly wonderful movie zeroes in on the political puppet show of superhero stories and lays it bare in a way that suggests that, ahem, truth, justice, and the American way are, well, just a slogan. Simple propaganda. It’s almost elegant enough to make me overlook the fact that, yet again, the only woman in the superhero story is totally sidelined as the “love interest,” because Tina Fey’s (Date Night, The Invention of Lying) TV news reporter, Roxanne Ritchi, is merely performing her own ritual role in the dumbshow.


Watch Megamind online using LOVEFiLM’s streaming service.

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