Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5
It isn’t easy being blue. So finds the supervillain Megamind (voiced by Will Ferrell), a highly imaginative dome-headed alien handy with the gadgets and evil plans.
Things would be a lot easier for him, so he thinks, if he didn’t have to contend with another alien life form, the goody-two-shoes superhero Metro Man (Brad Pitt), who has thwarted every single scheme that the blue man has ever come up with.
The adage of “be careful what you wish for” comes into play when Megamind’s latest scheme stunningly goes to plan. There is no trademark last-gasp escape as Metro Man appears to have been destroyed by a death ray of Megamind’s design.
Without the constant challenge of trying to conquer Metro City, the metropolis that the two aliens have long tussled over, Megamind slips into depression after the initial thrill wears off.
He finds himself, like Gru, the other midlife-crisis-ridden supervillain to have hit our screens in 3D this year via Despicable Me, all alone, without a loved one (who is human) or a purpose in life. One can only imagine if this year has been cathartic for the mid-life screenwriters responsible for these two animated stories.
While both films exhibited a certain technical competency that has become commonplace for CGI animated features, Megamind is flawed in much the same way Despicable Me was: both films play it too safe, without enough character or story development beyond the superficial.
Films by other studios – we shan’t name names – have proven that animated features can be made with richly drawn characters and absorbing storylines. Megamind does not fall into this category, even if it manages to mastermind a few hearty laughs.
With Ferrell’s background in sketch comedy – he and Tina Fey were both cast members of Saturday Night Live – one can’t help but think that Megamind, the character, could have been perfect for a skit. (In fact, a similar concept was done before, in a famous 1977 Saturday Night Live skit that featured an alien family of Coneheads, led by patriarch Dan Aykroyd.)
As such, this film feels like a skit stretched out into feature length – it frequently threatens to be funny and interesting, but there just isn’t enough story or enough jokes to go around.
The film seems to have been inspired greatly by the origin story of Superman, with Metro Man and Megamind the subject of a light discussion on nature versus nurture, as well as the eternal struggle of good versus evil – one cannot exist without the other.
As the story goes, Megamind could have turned out to have been a useful member of society, if he hadn’t been ostracised and bullied at school. Realising that he was good at being bad, he turned to a life of crime – or should I say attempted crime, since Metro Man was there to stop him at every turn.
After Megamind’s unwitting triumph, he starts to woo a Lois Lane-like TV reporter (Fey), whom he had repeatedly kidnapped before to bait Metro Man, under a clean-cut disguise. He also attempts, with otherworldly technology, to create a new superhero from Metro Man’s DNA – see Superman 4 for reference – to be his nemesis.
Needless to say, things do not go exactly to plan on both counts, and Megamind is forced to re-examine his priorities in life and discover his true destiny.
Apart from having a rather predictable plot, this film suffers from an acute laugh deficit. Many of the cultural references will fly way over the heads of the younger ones, while the adults are seldom prompted to laugh out loud more than perhaps once or twice.
The only joke that really worked for me was not Megamind’s inexplicable and inconsistently poor diction, or his weakly written fishbowl-dwelling sidekick suitably named Minion (David Cross). In the end, it was a hardly groundbreaking Marlon Brando impression that came off with surprising aplomb.
By and large, the characters, including Jonah Hill’s creepy, petty cameraman, are too distant and underwritten to warrant much attention or attachment. Oftentimes, between a mediocre joke or a moment to develop the character, the former was chosen.
The filmmakers needed to have paid more mind to what’s important: story and character. At the end of this film, there was no inkling of a sequel, nor a desire for one. These are not supervillains or superheroes you would want to see again, even if one of them does a great Brando schtick.
Yong Shu Chiang, otherwise known as SC, is a freelance editor and writer. He reviewed movies for Juice magazine when he was in college, and was the resident film reviewer for Today Newspaper from 2003 to 2005. He has also reviewed movies for Prime Time Morning on Channel NewsAsia.