One of the underlying ideas of the Superman story is this: without Superman, Lex Luthor might not have turned out so evil. Luthor might have channeled his megalomania and genius into helping people had Superman not shown up on Earth, flaunting his superiority over the still human scientist. This is the remarkably ambitious postmodern idea that drives Megamind. While the film can’t quite commit to its more sophisticated ideas, it is still ninety minutes of solid, well-animated fun.
For most of his life, genius supervillain Megamind (Will Ferrell) has been trying to destroy the superpowered champion of justice Metro Man (Brad Pitt). Megamind has never been successful, but he always manages to escape prison and start the process all over again. But much to his surprise, one of his evil plots actually works, and Megamind stands triumphant over his eternal nemesis. With no one standing in his way, Megamind takes control of Metro City. But he soon discovers that without a hero to fight, he doesn’t have any purpose. So he sets out to create a new hero that can replace his rival. But the plan soon backfires, and Megamind finds himself in the strange position of having to save the city that he conquered.
The film quickly deconstructs the superhero-villain relationship, presenting as a form of theater. A hero is nothing without his villain, and vice versa. Their eternal struggle gives their lives meaning and purpose, the lack of the other inevitably causing some sort of existential crisis. This might strike some as pretty heady stuff for an animated film, but the film strikes a somewhat uneasy balance by mostly following a predictable plot path. At times, the film feels like it’s just trying to get from one point to the other, the plot moving faster than the characters can justify. The comedy doesn’t really aim much higher than the occasional reference or slapstick gag. One of the film’s most belabored gags has the titular villain mispronouncing words, despite being a super genius. Though the film aims high, it occasionally runs low.
There’s a real dissonance between the film’s ambitions and the way it ends up telling its story. But as a whole, the film is snappy and fun enough to keep things entertaining. Great visuals really help the film’s case. The 3D in this film is good enough that you might forget that the film is in 3D. This might seem counterintuitive, but the point is that the 3D is really doing what it’s supposed to be doing: immersing the audience in the experience. 3D can be a distraction, but this film is smart enough to simply let the technology enhance the experience.
It is no surprise that the voicework is pretty good. This film assembles a pretty strong cast composed of some of today’s most reliable comedic stars. Will Ferrell’s maniacal laugh is always a pleasure to hear. But it is his character’s softer moments where his talent really shines. He imbues the supervillain with a compelling vulnerability, adding layers to the film’s more dramatic scenes. I’m not sure how Tina Fey conveys pluckiness through her voice, but whatever she’s doing, it’s all right by me. Jonah Hill and David Cross use their natural comedic timing to pretty great effect.
Megamind feels like a film that doesn’t quite know what it wants to do. There are bits of it that simply abandon the kids in the audience, throwing them headlong into scenes filled with references that will definitely go over their heads. And there are bits of it that are a little too simple, the story abandoning the pretense of its premise and simply going through the motions of children’s entertainment. A better film might have made all of this seamless, but on average, Megamind still ends up being plenty of fun, no matter what you’re looking for in the film.