“Megamind” starts out like almost every Dreamworks animated feature, full of snarky humor, pop culture references, and plotted like a popcorn popper. A kid with the big blue head is jettisoned from an exploding planet, just as a kid with perfect hair and a Jay Leno chin is jettisoned from a nearby planet. One lands in the lap of luxury, one in a prison yard. One can fly, shoot lasers from his eyes, etc., and the other is simply brilliant, and good with gadgets. You can see where this is going. And that’s the point. This isn’t a movie about a hero and a supervillain; instead, it’s about how, from Day One, they are locked in a codependent relationship, and when one of them disappears, the other must compensate or adjust.
So when Megamind accidentally discovers his counterpart’s weakness, he suddenly finds himself the new mayor/master of Metro City (which he pronounces so that it rhymes with “atrocity”) and…well, not much to do. What the Joker said in “The Dark Knight” applies here: he’s a long a dog who actually caught the car he was chasing. Two things start to develop simultaneously – thanks to a handy gizmo on his watch that makes him look like a bookish type, he starts hanging out with the girl he usually kidnaps and suspends above alligator pits. Also, he starts developing a new superhero, one he can fight and be vanquished by happily ever after. This is the point where “Megamind” actually begins to feel more invested in than most Dreamworks animated features; the characters stop being vehicles for gags and punchlines and begin to take on dimension. Ironically, this is also the part where your kids are likely to squirm in their seats; the movie drags a bit in the middle, but only because it is being unusually meticulous about taking its characters along believable story arcs. Megamind doesn’t suddenly change from villain into hero; the layers are peeled back a little bit at a time. As a result, when the third act arrived, I found myself much more invested in the characters than, for example, in “Despicable Me,” a movie that follows a very similar arc but rides cliche and overdone sentiment all the way to the finish line.
Ferrell voices Megamind and David Cross steals scenes as his sycophantic minion named Minion; he’s a fish in a furry robot suit. Tina Fey plays the dashing, oft-kidnapped reporter around whom the whole story swirls. Dreamworks plays with superhero tropes in fun ways – when Fey finds the secret entrance to Ferrell’s hideout, it’s because there’s a welcome mat in front of it; “I kept forgetting where it was,” Cross explains – but doesn’t push it too far, letting the well-constructed plot do the heavy lifting. Brad Pitt plays Metro Man, and Jonah Hill is his replacement – think about that for a minute, and you might discover the key to understanding American cinema for the last five years or so. Pitt doesn’t seem terribly interested, and Jonah Hill is clearly improvising way too much, but Will Ferrell saves the day most of the time, giving Megamind just a touch of an English accent and an embarassing habit of mispronouncing words.
You’ve got to wonder when we’re going to run out of ways to deconstruct the superhero mythos. The list of films that do so is so long I’m not going to even attempt it — basically, if you’ve seen a (decent) superhero movie since 1978’s “Superman,” it’s been, in one way or another a deconstruction of that film, and all it represents. (It’s like Christopher Reeve and Richard Donner climbed Mt. Everest, and all the rest of us are left at base camp, talking about it.) So it comes as a mild surprise that “Megamind” finds an entertaining and engaging way to do the deconstruction disco one more time. This is the story of a supervillain becoming a superhero, and an intended hero becoming a villain. What, you’ve seen that one before? But wait, you should watch “Megamind” anyway. Because the difference here is that screenwriters Alan J. Schoolcraft and Brent Simons have really invested in their protagonist, taking him on a surprisingly convincing and emotionally resonant journey from cackling bad guy to grimacing good guy.