Earlier this year Despicable Me proved it: A story about a hapless villain, humanized, is good for a few laughs and a half-billion dollars worldwide. That figure would very likely be A-OK with the makers of the new DreamWorks animated feature Megamind, also about a hapless villain, humanized. This villain’s blue.
Moderately funny though immoderately derivative, the film is no How to Train Your Dragon or Kung Fu Panda, DreamWorks’ recent high points, and it’s more about attitude than it is about jokes. Welcome to the early 21st century. Somewhere around the time Monsters vs. Aliens became a huge success, “wit,” in quotes, became wittier than wit, without the quotes.
Will Ferrell is the voice of Megamind; Brad Pitt, less crucial to the story, offers up the voice (and the supernaturally attractive aura) of Metro Man, defender of Metro City, slightly smug in his fabulousness.
Like all sorts of comics-derived material before it, Megamind concerns the insecurities and doubts of those who aren’t expected to have such things. An immigrant from another galaxy, raised by hardened criminals, Megamind wages attempt after attempt to take over Metro City with the aid of his minion, Minion (a fish-like critter in a space helmet, voiced rather sweetly by David Cross). When he appears to defeat Metro Man, everything changes. Like Scar in The Lion King, Megamind turns his homeland into a dump.
Trying to get the old adversarial magic back, he trains a new rival ( Jonah Hill voicing Hal, a TV cameraman moony over the on-air reporter voiced by Tina Fey). Megamind’s new rival acquires superpowers but uses them for uncontrollable evil, rather than controllable evil. Bits and pieces come and go, either vaguely or directly inspired by The Dark Knight (an attack on City Hall); The Incredibles (hopeless nerd becomes destructive, tantrum-prone dastard); the Richard Donner Superman (Ferrell disguises himself as Marlon Brando playing Jor-El); and various other uncredited sources.
You have seen all this before. Screenwriters Alan Schoolcraft and Brent Simons do a few things right, starting with the decision to make the Megamind/ Minion relationship genuinely affectionate. That helps you through the saggy middle section, and later, when the action sequences start sitting on the plot. Then again, my son would’ve preferred more of those (the action scenes, that is). He also would’ve preferred chase sequences in which, now and then, whomever’s being chased by whatever down a city street simply makes a sharp right turn. “This is the thing I hate about a lot of movies,” he told me on the way out. “Why don’t they just turn?” Perhaps someday we’ll see it: an animated feature ruled by ruthless logic and ironclad plausibility, whatever the villain’s color.