Megamind is a fast, fun riff on the Superman mythology that we all know and love. I’m sure that more knowledgeable comic book fans than I am can attest to the fact that a Superman riff isn’t the most original idea under the sun, but neither is a hamburger, and those are pretty good when they’re done well, too.
The set-up, really quick: A dying planet sends its last son to Earth, where the boy grows up with amazing powers and earns the adoration of his adopted homeworld. That’s Metro Man (voiced by Brad Pitt). But there’s also another last son, from another dead planet, who has much worse luck. That’s the guy in the title, voiced by Will Ferrell. He ends up in the same schoolhouse as Metro Boy, and gets used to living in his shadow. Then he discovers the joy of evil, and uses his tremendous mental powers to constantly bedevil Metro City and its caped champion.
The credits to Megamind have a lot of interesting things going on: Among others, it was produced by Ben Stiller and his production partner Stuart Cornfeld, which I imagine is why, in addition to credited writers Alan Schoolcraft and Brent Simons, there’s a story consultant credit for Justin Theroux, who wrote Tropic Thunder and Iron Man 2. There’s also a story consultant credit for Guillermo Del Toro, whose specific contribution I would love to know more about. The point, obviously, is that Megamind was dreamed up by people who know their superheroics and their satire. We may have seen Superman take-offs before, but this one felt to me to be particularly knowing, and loving.
The voice cast, too, shows the influence of the new wave in comedy: Aside from Brad Pitt and a small role for the great J.K. Simmons (as the warden who routinely imprisons the evil genius), the main cast features Ferrell, Tina Fey (as the perpetually endangered reporter Roxanne Ritchi), Jonah Hill (as Roxanne’s adoring cameraman), and David Cross as Megamind’s strangely adorable sidekick, Minion. Seriously, if you guys think I’m going to speak a single ill word of a movie that features an alien piranha who rides around in a fishbowl mounted on a giant robotic gorilla body, then you clearly don’t know me very well.
That’s Megamind: It’s familiar, but really fun. There are enough clever and unexpected twists that even a jaded movie-or-two-a-day cinemaniac like me couldn’t predict it from the outset, and it passed the kid test too. The pop-culture references aren’t so specific or protracted that they distract from a kid’s enjoyment of the story, as proved by the reaction of my niece and every other kid in the theater. I love the fact that there was a quick animated shout-out to Pat Morita, and the briefly-glimpsed Shepard Fairey take-off (as seen below) was a cute idea. The one grown-up reference that threw me was a moment where a “Marlon Brando as Jor-El from the 1978 Superman” representation appeared for an extended cameo – but that was only jarring because to me the caricature looked a whole lot more like Ted Kennedy. (Ask your folks.)
Megamind also has some fairly spectacular moments in the spirit of the best superhero comics, such as one setpiece when an entire building is hurled at an escaping adversary. (Even the non-superhero-loving moms in the audience let out some “Wow”s during that scene.) The animation is really strong, both in the believable world that the movie creates, and in the endearing character design and acting. I spent a good amount of time recently complimenting the wizardry of the artists at Pixar, but the fact that we’re seeing something in the same ballpark out of a competing studio (Dreamworks) suggests that we’re in a golden age for animation, the same way we’re in a golden age for comedy. The fact that there are people who will insist that there is a better animated movie this year than Megamind is quite a positive statement on the state of modern animated movies, and I don’t think it should be taken for granted.