Megamind is going to suffer for being the second animated superhero movie. In fact, it follows a long line of Dreamworks being second to Pixar (fish, monsters although they did beat them to insects). I’m not saying it’s The Incredibles, but Megamind is the best Dreamworks animated movie and certainly the best animated movie this year.
This is a complex story with very sophisticated forward momentum. There are five and a half characters involved with heroics, villainry, romance and training. It’s about what makes people a hero or villain, and the answer is not just simply one is bullied and the other is revered. Many characters play alternate identities because they feel their original selves are inadequate. These are deep themes for any movie, let alone a genre movie, let alone a mass appeal movie.
Both sent to earth from the same planet Megamind (Will Ferrell) lands in a prison and grows up to be a villain, while Metroman (Brad Pitt) lands with rich folks and grows up to be a popular superhero. They take turns kidnapping and rescuing reporter Roxanne Ritchi (Tina Fey), but things start to break formula about 20 minutes in. Ritchi’s cameraman Hal (Jonah Hill) becomes much more than the generic Jimmy Olsen and Megamind’s Minion (David Cross) has a character arc too.
The film begins with irreverence for the tropes of superhero genre. Ferrell and Fey definitely contribute some knowledge of the genre, and Ferrell’s desperation is so engaging he has fun with the villain monologues. It has something to say about hero worship, from children to grown-up society, even before it messes with the genre further. There’s some pop culture reference but it’s the smartest possible reference and it’s not the crutch of the movie’s humor.
The trailers are already giving away too much, so I don’t want to ruin it, but Megamind asks questions that have never been asked in a superhero movie before. What does a villain do if he actually gets to be in charge? The answer isn’t a simplistic life lesson. It just sends the film in another deeper direction.
Ritchi, Hal and Megamind face real relationship issues, albeit with vague kid-friendly language. Ritchi may say she doesn’t want to “be with you” but the grown-ups know what she’s really talking about. These feel like real characters, not caricatures with one-liners.
The classic rock soundtrack makes the movie feel relatable to our world. These are artists we’ve heard of, not cover versions or pop songs created just for the soundtrack. And it rocks, much better than the “Move It Move It” song from Madagascar.