REVIEW: Megamind

The superhero narrative is traditionally founded upon a conflict of moral absolutes, a battle staged between characters defined by virtue or villainy. It’s this struggle that has provided some of popular culture’s most enduring rivalries: Superman and Lex Luthor, Batman and the Joker, and Spider-man and the Green Goblin. But as the canon of superhero fiction has evolved, once concrete distinctions between good and evil have become increasingly tenuous.

The Dark Knight is a good case in point. Christopher Nolan’s film demonstrated that beneath the masked exterior of the superhero lurks a curious psychopathology; a ceaseless desire for violence that mirrors the hero and the villain. No longer merely opposites, the crime-fighter and his antagonist are gradually transforming into one and the same. As the Joker reminds his Gotham City adversary, “You’re just a freak like me”.

This perpetual conflict between rivals, performed under the auspices of eradicating the other and reclaiming one’s former self is ultimately futile however, since neither identity (hero or foe) can truly exist independently. It’s no wonder then that Nolan’s Joker leaves Batman with the parting shot, “I think you and I are destined to do this forever”.

Megamind, the latest animation from Dreamworks similarly explores the interdependency of the super-villain and superhero, albeit in a light-hearted manner. Rocketed to Earth from outer space in their infancy and raised in contrasting environments (one in jail, the other in wealthy comfort), Megamind and Metro Man are the respective criminal and crime-fighting symbols of Metro City.

And as with all good arch-rivalries, Megamind and Metro Man have a long, and in the case of the latter, distinguished history of confrontations. That is until one of Megamind’s dastardly plans unexpectedly succeeds, robbing Metro City of their beloved protector. The elation of his evil victory however, soon gives way to existential malaise. Left to ponder a life without an arch-nemesis, Megamind resolves to create and train a new super hero with whom he can battle.

Beyond the appealing premise, the pleasure of Megamind owes much to Alan J. Schoolcraft and Brent Simons’ witty screenplay and the punchy direction of Tom McGrath (whose previous credits include the first two Madagascar films). Exploiting Megamind’s skewed upbringing for laughs, the script derives much of its dry humour from word plays, mispronunciations and literalising turns of phrase. Like the film’s subtext on the deceptiveness of super-appearances, Megamind frequently plays on the discrepancy between the visual signifier and its action or articulation.

For instance, when Megamind recalls with a degree of sadness his early infancy, relating how he came from a “broken home”, a flashback depicts his space pod departing an exploding planet. Not surprisingly, given that specific reference, Richard Donner’s Superman (1978) serves as a prominent source of parody throughout the film. But Megamind revisits other earlier forms of popular culture from Donkey Kong and The Karate Kid to music by AC/DC and Guns N’ Roses. Such allusions may be lost on many children, but as with Toy Story 3, this element of nostalgia parallels the lead character’s yearning for a simpler past.

Visually at least, the film is still likely to appeal to younger audiences. Given the developments in the field of computer-generated imagery, it seems almost redundant nowadays to comment on the quality of the animation. That said, a sequence in which Megamind illustrates with a degree of flair ‘the difference between a villain and a super-villain’, is a standing reminder of the imaginative potential of animation and the advancements made within the last decade.

Declaring Megamind to be the definitive genre-busting experience that its tagline implies (“The Superhero Movie Will Never be the Same”) may be overstating things slightly. And yet, taken in respect of its various generic deviations, particularly the film’s play on the interchangeable nature of good and evil, Megamind is a noteworthy entry in the contemporary superhero canon.

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2 Responses to “REVIEW: Megamind”

  1. Very cool movie. Watched this with my nephew last night and it was almost as good as The Incredibles

  2. Josh Nelson says:

    It’s a lot of fun, isn’t it? Definitely one of the more intelligent animated films of recent times.

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