Monday, November 8, 2010

Movie Review: Megamind

Megamind is a fine movie; nothing more, nothing less.  To put it in perspective, it is at best the sixth best superhero comedy film which does not feature characters from the Marvel or DC Universe, coming in behind The Incredibles, Sky High, Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-long Blog, The Mask, and Mystery Men.  If we to consider Marvel and DC properties, Megamind also falls behind the direct-to-DVD comedies Wonder Woman and Hulk Vs.  If television programs are included, Megamind is likewise bested by The Powerpuff Girls, both iterations of The Tick, Batman: Brave and the Bold, and Word Girl.
That's off the top of our heads.  There are certainly others.

This list is not intended to put down Megamind, merely to illustrate the reality that this isn't exactly unexplored territory.  The filmmakers at Dreamworks Animation can take some solace in knowing that they have indeed produced a film superior to My Super Ex-Girlfriend.

At any rate, beside Despicable Me (a film we'll most likely get around to watching eventually), the most obvious film Megamind needs to be compared against is The Incredibles, and there is a sense of symmetry here that is profoundly significant.  Back in the 1960's, when Marvel emerged as the industry leader in terms of innovation - not to mention sales - there was a period where DC attempted to replicate their success by duplicating their formula.  While this sometimes resulted in good comics, they never came close to their rivals.

So it is with Megamind.

Oh, there's plenty in this movie to entertain us.  The three lead characters are likable and most of the jokes are solid.  With the exception of a prolonged Marlon Brando rift, none of the gags were grating, and even that was tolerable.

The main problem with Megamind was a lack of commitment.  The movie either needed to have some gravitas or it needed to set aside moralizing and play up the dark humor.

For a few brief moments at the beginning, when Megamind is breaking out of prison, unveiling massive devices, destroying property, and just having fun, the movie is at the top of its game.  But we didn't really expected this to last, and indeed, he quickly has a predictable change of heart.

There's nothing wrong with that, either.  When he first realizes the how utterly meaningless his existence is without adversity, there are some fascinating parallels with Wanted (the comic, not the movie).  This "twist" closes the door on darkhearted fun, but offers an opportunity for some actual drama.  Pity they squandered it, opting instead for slapstick.

Watching The Incredibles, it's obvious that Brad Bird appreciates the humor intrinsic to comic book heroes, but he also has a deep respect and understanding of his source material.  The same can be said of every other film listed in the first paragraph of this review.  But not Megamind.  At least not on the same level.

It's clear the writers of Megamind find superheroes funny on a superficial level.  Yes, they wear capes and tights.  Yes, their cities have names like Metropolis.  And, to the writers' credit, they were able to churn out some funny gags.  However, naming the city "Metrocity" only invites comparison to Townsville and The City - two better uses of the exact same joke - and Megamind just can't compete.

The odd thing is that there was room to develop the story into something more effective.  The title character and his best friend, Minion, were fantastic characters, as was the obligatory intrepid reporter.  But there was only one moment in the movie that had any real weight: when Megamind was told off by said reporter, and was asked, quite simply, what he'd expected.  Everything else felt by-the-book.

The character's back story was more cartoon than comic book.  The initial premise - Megamind was the last son of his dying world, rocketed towards Earth to seek out his destiny, only to get shown up by the last son of a neighboring dying world also being sent to Earth - was actually quite inspired.

But as soon as they reach Earth, the premise was merely played for laughs.  It's not hard to imagine why: it is, fundamentally, a parody of Superman's origin.  And it is funny.  Just not for long.

This is a common error among those trying to parody superhero back stories.  While straight absurdity may amuse most audiences, it makes actual fans of comics cringe, not because they're making fun of Superman, but because they have no idea what they're making fun of.

The fact remains, the silver age back story of Lex and Clark in Smallville is significantly more ridiculous and absurd than any superheroes-in-school jokes the makers of Megamind can cobble together.

In place of motivation, Megamind's youth is a montage of slapstick.  He fares better than his nemesis, however, who is grossly inconsistent.  Is Metroman a showboating jackass out for the glory, a self-obsessed idiot who kept saving the day until he grew bored, or a benevolent genius, who perceives more than he seems to?  Any of these could have worked.  Instead, we're left with a character whose entire personality, intellect, and powers are rewritten around each scene.

And yet, despite all of these flaws, the movie works.  This is a solid three star movie against The Incredibles's five.  This is ultimately worth seeing.

The problem is that there are so many other superhero movies and television shows that you should see first.

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