Monday, September 5, 2011

Surprisingly Funny, Megamind Actually Holds Up Over Multiple Viewings!

The Good: Unpredictable plot moments, Funny, Engaging characters, Amazing animation
The Bad: Moments when Will Ferrell's voice slips out of character, Moments of plot or character simplicity.
The Basics: Megamind is actually a funny and heartfelt animated superhero film that entertains adults quite well.

My wife and I have some very different tastes in movies and with the library being closed for the Labor Day holiday, I knew we would not be able to get anything out tomorrow. So, yesterday I picked up two movies: one for me, one for her. For her, I picked out Megamind because my wife loves the works of Will Ferrell and You're Welcome America: A Final Night With George W. Bush (reviewed here!) left her truly disappointed. I had little interest in Megamind, despite liking the similar animated film, Despicable Me (reviewed here!). But as a cinephile and a lover of graphic novels, it is almost unsurprising that Megamind actually won me over.

Unlike whatever my preconceived notions of the film were, Megamind is not a banal children's comedy, but rather a surprising and surprisingly insightful super hero film. In fact, one of the few problems with the movie was that it tries to conform to kid's animated movie conceits by being shorter than it had to. As I write this, my wife and I are rewatching the film with the commentary track on and the producers keep referencing things cut out of the film in order to keep it at ninety minutes. For a change, my wife is grumbling, "Why didn't they just make it longer?!" I agree with her. As it is, Megamind misses out on some of the gags in order to keep the film a tighter, character-driven animated film.

Flashing back from him falling to his death, a blue alien recalls how he came to his predicament. Megamind, born on a distant planet, is sent to Earth at the same time as a more human-looking extraterrestrial. The human is raised by loving humans and becomes the hero of Metro City, while the little blue alien is raised by prison inmates and becomes a villain. Annoyed at how Metro Man thwarts him at every opportunity, Megamind once again abducts the reporter Roxanne Ritchie and plans to kill Metro Man. It is only when he actually succeeds at killing Metro Man that everyone is truly upset and surprised.

Taking over Metro City is more than Megamind bargained for, though. Having gotten everything he truly wanted, Megamind finds himself bored and unsure what to do with himself. So, he uses a sample of Metro Man's DNA to create a new super hero that will put him away. Unfortunately, the sample is used on Roxanne's assistant, Hal Stewart, and soon Megamind realizes that he is an unsuitable hero. As Hal as Titan begins tearing up Metro City, Megamind must rise up to protect the city he once terrorized.

Megamind works because it does what the best writers of the character of Lex Luthor have been doing for years: creating an alternative perspective to the old good vs. evil dynamic. Writers like Brian Azzarella have been doing this for years in books like Luthor (reviewed here!), but Alan J. Schoolcraft and Brent Simons take a comedic turn on it by focusing on the nurture aspect of a superhero/supervillain upbringing. So Roxanne is comedically bored by Megamind's initial abduction of her because she knows that Metro Man will rescue her and Metro Man - being popular and super powered - feels an obligation to be a hero. Megamind, far from being truly evil at the outset, seems like a guy who was just put in one bad situation after another and simply did as he was "programmed."

But the film takes a real turn for the smart when Metro Man is destroyed and Megamind gets bored with being a villain. In creating Titan, Megamind does not try to do something evil, he attempts to restore balance, unwittingly using someone so damaged by society and his own shyness that he creates actual evil. The irony is that Megamind is bored with being evil and Titan is too bored to do good. The hope for Megamind's redemption, then, is built right in and the film delivers in some reasonably surprising ways.

What is arguably the most surprising aspect of Megamind is that the film delivers a character-driven story with no real camp quality. Director Tom McGrath manages to keep the film engaging and funny without ever appearing to be a parody of itself. For sure, the film takes shots at most every major superhero franchise - most notably Superman - but when it commits to an idea, it sticks with it in a serious exploration of it. So, Roxanne is legitimately surprised when Megamind defeats Metro Man and when Megamind is lost as a result, his frustration pushes away even his longtime friend, Minion. The result is a very serious character evolution that unfolds organically.

Utterly unsurprising for a film from Dreamworks is how amazing the animation is. In fact, the animation is so good that it almost undoes the movie from the start. Megamind is given such emotion in the eyes and body language in the opening sequence that it is virtually impossible to consider him a villain. Moreover, the scene where Roxanne rejects him in the rain is actually heartbreaking, in no small part due to the pain that the animators infuse into Megamind's eyes. That level of expressiveness is incredible and the fact that it is so well detailed that it still comes across on screens smaller than the big screen is awesome.

The voice acting is almost homogeneously exceptional. Jonah Hill, Tina Fey, Brad Pitt and David Cross bring in consistent and great performances. Will Ferrell is 95% on and what I noticed during You're Welcome America reared its ugly head in Megamind. Ferrell has an amazing ability to create a character with a unique voice and accent as long as he is kept in a normal speaking voice. Whenever Ferrell has to raise his voice and yell, he loses his character's persona. So, for example, it is Will Ferrell we hear when Megamind is fighting "Bernard" when Roxanne infiltrates his lair early on in the film. Outside one or two slips like that, though, Ferrell is exceptional.

On DVD, Megamind comes with a deleted scene and a commentary track with producers that is remarkably entertaining and informative. The writers and creators of the film discuss how the movie was made and a vast number of gags that were cut, as well as the evolution of the film. The commentary track is easily as entertaining as the film proper and gives additional value to the set.

Ultimately, Megamind is for comic book and super hero movie fans what Galaxy Quest is for Trekkers: an opportunity to explore the conceits of something we love, lampoon it and not feel insulted. The film respects the audience and entertains them, which is so much more than I expected from the outset.

For other works with Jonah Hill please visit my reviews of:
How To Train Your Dragon
Forgetting Sarah Marshall


For other film reviews, please be sure to visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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