There’s an old joke that asks why dogs chase cars. What do they think they’ll do with one if they finally catch it? We might also ask ourselves why supervillains try to take over cities. If somehow they were to beat the superhero in any lasting sense, what then?
Of course, this has been lampooned in passing before, but Megamind dares to tackle the genre’s existential dilemma head-on: why do supervillains do what they do, if not to define themselves in opposition to superheroes? And if that polarizing focus is taken away, how is one to derive meaning and purpose in a random, amoral universe?
The basic story is well-known: two dying planets are being sucked into a black hole or some other such cosmic cataclysm. Each sends off a baby in a rocket ship, in the hopes that they will survive the deaths of their respective homeworlds. Both land on earth, one into a luxurious, caring family in Metro City, and the other into a maximum-security penitentiary just outside. As they grow up, they come into conflict again and again, settling into their respective roles of Metro Man (Brad Pitt), the hero, and Megamind (Will Ferrell), the villain.
By the present day, they’ve established a comfortable pattern. Megamind, with the help of his fishy sidekick Minion (David Cross), breaks free from prison and kidnaps Metro City reporter Roxanne Ritchi (Tina Fey) so Metro Man will have to come to her rescue. Of course the plans always go awry, and Metro Man foils Megamind’s repetitious plans again. But on the day that a giant museum dedicated to Metro Man’s exploits is to open, the plans go awry in the worst possible way: they work. Megamind gains the control over Metro City he’s always sought, but to what end?
Voice-over work in an animated feature seems to agree with Will Ferrell. His cartoonish excesses fit in for once, and it helps that he has a strong opposing lead in Tina Fey. The script does borrow heavily from both the superhero and the animated genres, but it’s tight and — as expected from a Dreamworks production — contains plenty of oblique references to keep parents entertained along with their kids. I kept wondering, though, if they skewed a bit old for the current childbearing generation. Electric Light Orchestra doesn’t have the retro cachet that AC/DC does, and it didn’t feel like people really picked up on Ferrell’s Brando-as-Jor-El impression. But it’s not like the main target audience is going to know the difference anyway.
The 3D effects were used sparingly, and mostly as a diorama rather than to throw things at the audience at the slightest provocation. It may turn out that there’s a future in the technology after all; as seen here it’s best applied judiciously and kept to cartoons like this one, Toy Story 3, and Avatar.
Worth it: it could go either way. If you’re a big Dreamworks fan, you’ll probably enjoy it fine. If you’re not and you don’t have kids who are, you could easily skip it.
Bechdel test: fail.