Note : Spoilers ahead!Megamind is Dreamworks' latest animated release, a tongue-in-cheek superhero comedy. Much like Pixar's 2004 hit "The Incredibles", the movie puts a twist on the traditional superhero flick by humanizing its characters, giving them realistic flaws and foibles. Dreamworks' innovation, wielded to hilarious, heartwarming effect, is to tell the movie from the villain's perspective - a villain who turns out not to be evil at all. Or not very much so, at any rate.
The movie starts out with a seemingly standard set up. Metroman is a handsome Superman type, a flying frat boy with super strength and numerous other powers. Megamind is the wicked blue genius who menaces Metro City with his technological creations. They are good and evil, fighting for the soul of the city.
Except that they're not. They are just overgrown children engaging in an elaborate emotional charade. Megamind has no intention of killing Metroman, and no idea of what he would do with Metro City once he's conquered it. Metroman understands this as well, and battles Megamind out of pure ego, a need for the adulation of the masses that he ultimately finds empty and unfulfilling. They need each other to give their lives meaning. Neither of them is consciously aware of any of this - it is the subconscious engine driving their behavior.
The film has plenty of eye candy. Metro City is beautifully rendered, a city bigger, more gleaming, and more colorful than any real life metropolis. But only somewhat. It's not overdone or exaggerated to the point of caricature. It still feels like a city that could actually exist. Like a more awesome New York City.
The movie's visuals are generally characterized by such balance. The flying sequences make your head spin, but just enough. The action sequences are fast, but not so over the top as to be off putting. Also, Roxanne Ritchi, the reporter who is Megamind's love interest, is a bona fide hottie (if you're into animated women.)
Much like its spiritual predecessor "The Incredibles", the real strength of this movie is in its subversion of the superhero genre. Superman and Batman, no matter what psychology or motivations are written for them, still feel like essentially perfect heros, their dedication and heroism unattainable for the average person. They're called "super" for a reason.
By contrast, the characters who populate Megamind's small pantheon are flawed, real. It is easy to imagine ourselves in their shoes, because they feel what we feel, or they at least remind us of people that we know.
MetroMan is a douchebag. A complete and total tool, vain and preening, the only thing he's missing is a popped collar for his costume. As an alien child possessing superpowers on Earth a la Superman, he was the jock that was adored by all the other kids.
Megamind hails from similar origins, except without all the advantages. He can't fly, can't shoot lasers from his eyes, and doesn't have great hair. He uses his immense intellect to build shiny wonder gadgets to impress the other kids, but they wind up backfiring, wrecking the classroom and frightening everyone. The teacher hates him, Metroman picks on him.
And so one day he decides that if can't be the good guy, he'll be the best bad guy the world has ever seen. Not because he's evil, but because it's what he's good at.
Thus the roles of Metroman and Megamind were cast from childhood, a psychodrama that they continued to act out as adults. They settled into these roles and were more or less satisfied, at least outwardly.
Until Megamind, to everyone's surprise, including his own, succeeds in killing Metroman. His victory inaugurates an emotional crisis for himself and ultimately unleashes a truly evil villain on Metro City. Without Metro Man to save the day, Megamind must grow out of the villainous role he's crafted for himself and become the hero that he could be.
Megamind's predicament is funny and endearing. It brilliantly captures what it's like to be caught at a crossroads, unsure of what one wants out of life. Megamind feels himself pulled by multiple and conflicting possibilities. So rather than make intelligent decisions, he pursues contradictory, mutually defeating goals. Who hasn't been there?
It's heartwarming because Megamind is really a good guy, even though he's a "bad" guy. That in itself is engaging, but it's even more interesting because he actually was a little bad.
He was animated by envy and resentment (and Dreamworks, haha!) Even if it was a game between him and Metro Man, he still terrorized the city. And while he never really killed anyone, he turned Metro City into a dump when he finally had a hold of it.
Megamind does all of this with the innocent joy of child's play. His bad deeds are easily obscured by the movie's feel-goodery, and only stand out if you step back and think about it. How much villainy can we tolerate in our heros? Apparently quite a bit, as long as nobody really gets hurt and it's of the juvenile sort.
Of course, that never happens in real life - somebody always gets hurt, the bad good guy's hands are never so clean. But that's real life, and that's why we go to the movies.
The other truly interesting character in this story is Hal, the nerdy loser who ultimately morphs into the movie's bad guy, the villain Tighten.
He starts out as cameraman to Roxanne. A socially inept underachiever who is smitten with Roxanne, he seems to be exactly the type of loveable loser whom audiences love to cheer for.
The writers cleverly set up that expectation only to subvert it. Hal's always hitting on Roxanne in ways that are creepy, possessive, and impositional. The audience feels sorry for him even though he's a bit of a creep.
That's when he's a dweeb. His real colors burst out after he acquires superpowers. Enraged by Roxanne's continued rejection, he becomes a truly frightening, murderous villain.
Everyone has experienced the sort of rejection that Hal goes through, has had the rage driven revenge fantasies that he acts out. We sympathize even though we detest his character. He has no redeeming characteristics, no conscience. On the other hand, if you had experienced a lifetime of rejection and were suddenly given unrestrained power, accountable to no-one, wouldn't you be tempted to act out? Even just a teensy bit?
The movie features a star studded cast. The actors were generally so well immersed in their parts that I managed to forget that the film contained such big names as Will Ferrell and Tina Fey. David Cross still sounds like himself, so it's hard to listen to his character Minion without thinking of his role in Arrested Development. But that's OK - it just makes Minion funnier.
In the end, both Megamind and Metroman find peace and redemption, finally escaping the confinement of their lifelong roles. Even as a good guy, Megamind is a self-involved narcissist. Much like Metroman, except somewhat less douchey. But, the audience forgives him that. For, as the movie makes clear, even supervillains are human.