Saturday, November 13, 2010

Megamind: A New Blue Superhero

Dreamworks has become the studio of the anti-hero cartoon – witness the Shrek movies, about a disgusting Ogre who instead of the bad guy in the story, becomes the hero, saving the princess and living happily ever after…sort of. With Megamind, the studio continues the trend, this time envisioning the evil genius (read: Lex Luthor character from the Superman franchise) as the potential hero and ultimate savior of Mega City (or megocity, as he pronounces it).

Megamind (voiced by an unusually human-seeming Will Farrell) is the narrator and big-blue-headed host of this romp through comic book irony. His nemesis, Metro Man (or “Mr. Goody Two-Shoes”), is the nominal “hero” – the big muscled, white, square jawed superhero who receives the adulation of the city. Voiced by Brad Pitt but seemingly inspired by John Hamm’s character on "Mad Men" (or Steve Reeve’s Superman, if one goes back to the proper Fifties stereotype), Metro Man is a paragon of masculine rectitude, until, that is, he decides to chuck it all and explore life as an indie guitar player.

The movie opens by making clear that the good-guy destiny of Metro Man and bad-guy destiny of Megamind are determined as much by circumstance as genetics. Metro Man grows up in the sultry, comfy expansiveness of great wealth, while Megamind is raised by criminals in a penitentiary. This isn’t the only clue in the film about a kind of ethnic coding (there’s also a fun comic riff on the Obama poster – “No, You Can’t” – that Megamind hangs on the dome of the capital once Metro Man deserts his post leaving Megaind to control the city). Megamind, the movie, seems to be commenting then on the decline of white power and the rise of ethnic power (blue, in this case, but you get the picture) in terms of social changes gripping our country, proving a cautionary fable for kids of both stripes. There are plenty of “Highway to Hell” rock songs to punctuate Megamind’s evil attitude, including Michael Jackson’s “I’m Bad” – and Megamind rolls, shimmies, dances, and moonwalks joyously through the movie. It’s clear he’s got the soul that Metro Man so disastrously lacks (Metro Man’s attempt at rock singing is awful).

If only the movie could make more sense out of this, as Dreamworks once did with the Shrek story. There are plenty of great one-liners and a huge amount of talent scribbling out comic designs. But only a few rare moments of pure comic joy (such as Megamind locking a car door after it's been ripped off its hinges). Perhaps where the story goes most astray is in introducing a third superhero - a genetic experiment gone haywire in the form of Tighten (lovely credits parody of what sounds like "Titan" in the movie), a sycophantic camera-boy who's genetically altered  into a kind of evil acned / slacker version of Metro Man. Tighten goes around wrecking the city and setting Megamind up for his big character arch into hero, but it all feels too slipshody-violent for young kids and an unfullfilling detour from the main self-consciously pseudo-sociological hi jinx (the parodies of Marlon Brando's Superman performance are especially lame). One can feel the movie taking a big, uncertain pause as it finishes a shimmy down the second act and turns and slips almost ad hoc into its third.

I was more interested in the Hitch-like exploration of a superhero wanting to back out of the job, or a bad guy who has better friendships than the the nominal good (Megamind's friendship with his loyal sidekick, a talking fish, is the best thing going in the movie), than this Tighten muffle at the end. But these early ideas get totally dropped. So while it gets off to a promising start, and the blue guy can dance, this Megamind seems to have other things on its big noggin than giving us a really great story.

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