It’s hard for Pixar‘s competition to keep up, but if anyone has been able to give them a run for their money lately it’s DreamWorks Animation. Earlier this year, the studio scored a critical and commercial hit with “How To Train Your Dragon,” last year they had the hit “Monsters Vs. Aliens” and with “Madagascar” and “Kung Fu Panda” they have two solid franchises (and that’s not counting the “Shrek” series). Sure, they may not all get the plaudits that Pixar’s films generate but audiences love them and moreover, they’ve done it largely without seeming to ride the coattails of other films or trends. Until now.
Arriving frontloaded with talent, the starry cast of “Megamind” can’t save a film that expends so much energy to achieve so little entertainment value. But perhaps worse, it feels like a pale mishmash of some prominent films that have come before it. Like “Despicable Me” earlier this summer, this film also centers on a master villain who has a change of heart and though the storylines aren’t at all similar, audiences will still likely draw comparisons to Pixar’s “The Incredibles” (the film at the very least cribs its flame haired villain) which remains the gold standard for animated superhero flicks.
The story follows the evil blue alien Megamind (Will Ferrell) and the handsome hero Metro Man (Brad Pitt). Both were orphans from distant planets who were sent to Earth as children (hello, Superman) when their home planets were being sucked into a black hole. Metro Man landed with a loving family and was raised to be a “good guy,” while Megamind landed in prison where the inmates taught him how to excel at evil. Fast forward a few years, and as grown men, the two remain foes. Metro Man is the savior of Metro City, foiling Megamind’s complex plans to defeat him. But one day, Megamind’s plan actually works and he seemingly destroys Metro Man and Metro City is now his with no one to stop him.
At first, Megamind is thrilled to have the run of the city. Along with his sidekick, Minion (David Cross), he has a blast being unstoppable but soon misses having the competition. His solution is to create a hero to fight and due to a random freak accident, a TV news cameraman gets injected with the serum Megamind has developed to create his foil, and Tighten (Jonah Hill) is born. But it isn’t long before news reporter Roxanne Ritchi (Tina Fey) figures out what is going and aims to put a stop to it.
And while it may sound like we’re giving too much plot away, don’t worry, because it’s nothing you wouldn’t have figured out within the first half hour of the film. The problem with the script by Alan J. Schoolcraft and Brent Simons is that its playfulness with the conventions of the superhero genre aren’t particularly new or compelling. But perhaps worse, it never creates an articulate mythology or set of rules in which these characters exist. Both Megamind and Metro Man are a series of quirks (particularly the former who has a vague accent and mispronounces words) or clichés and the film is never quite sure if it’s embracing or subverting them and more often tries to have it both ways with middling success. Worse, the plot is entirely and dully predictable. There are no real thrills here and no real stakes; the outcomes and twists are telegraphed a mile out and it’s really a waiting game as the plot creakily turns its gears.
Sure, this is all stuff kids will kindly overlook and only film critics will dissect, but it can’t be denied that huge swaths of the film are just plain boring. Thankfully, the voice talent gives it their all with Hill and Cross being particular standouts, but they are really livening up a script that at times feel like a draft or a number of plots from different films, piecemealed together. The film whips by quickly but never pauses for anything deeper than allowing plot points to be staked out before moving on to the next bit. The screening we were at was packed with kids who were mostly silent for much of the film, but seemed to wake up for the final action-packed climax.
For those expecting the Ferrell versus Pitt showdown marketed heavily in the ad campaigns for the film, they will be sorely disappointed as that’s probably the most dishonest marketing we’ve seen for a film in a while. Pitt is easily a supporting character at best, and the two leads here are Ferrell and Fey. And bummer to the whoever put together the soundtrack to the film and excluded the strong mix of rock songs, including AC/DC‘s “Highway To Hell” and “Back In Black,” Ozzy Osbourne‘s “Crazy Train” and Guns ‘n Roses‘ “Welcome To The Jungle” (though it seems wildly out of place in the film).
“Megamind” strives to create a new mythology but struggles to free itself from the overbearing influence of its predecessors. The filmmakers can’t find an interesting variation or fresh approach to a genre that is already flooded with adaptations and sardonic takes on familiar material. As you might notice, we haven’t mentioned the 3D yet simply because it was barely memorable; it’s certainly nothing to convince us that a 2D approach wouldn’t have been just as good. Like Megamind’s elaborate plans for domination, the film constructs one hell of a scheme but can’t seem to pull it off. [C]