Monday, November 08, 2010

Matter Over Mind

At the end of Megamind (2010, directed by Tom McGrath), there is a scene that gave me a bit of deja vu in which our protagonist, the titular supervillain, begins to dance to Michael Jackson's "Bad." No reason this shouldn't give me deja vu, since almost the same scene occurs in Despicable Me. Hell, this film is more or less the same damned movie with better production values. Or, rather, slicker production values. It has the same depopulated feeling, in which there are one or two crowd scenes in a city that otherwise seems uninhabited most of the time. Weird. Both films are built around the same high concept of a bumbling supervillian voiced by a "name" comedian (Steve Carrell and Will Farrell, respectively) who finds his inner hero at the end of the movie. Both films paint their characters as misunderstood outsiders who are the way they are because they were bullied children. Both movies give their heroes a man-Friday sidekick and a swarm of minions (Megamind names the sidekick "minion"). Basically, these two films are symptomatic of the bankrupt Hollywood idea pool. Megamind at least remembers that arch-villains have superhero nemeses, which makes it distinctive, I guess. Both of these movies seem like the degenerate offspring of The Incredibles, the supernova wellspring of this little sub-genre, and represent the form drifting toward heat death.

Anyway, the story here follows the titular supervillain from his birth to the present. At the opening of the film, he is falling to his death after one of his schemes goes horribly, horribly wrong. He narrates the story in the moments before he becomes street pizza. Megamind is a strange visitor from another planet, whose path to glory on Earth is a superhero version of The Life of Brian, in which his escape rocket from his doomed homeworld is knocked off course by the escape rocket of his nemesis, who lands in the lap of luxury on Earth. Megamind comes to rest in a prison, where he learns different family values. Metro Man is the golden boy all through life, while Megamind languishes in his shadow, resentful. His latest scheme to dispatch his enemy once again involves kidnapping intrepid reporter Roxie Richter, trapping Metro Man in an observatory, and nuking him with an orbital death ray. Only this time, it works. He defeats his enemy and suddenly has Metro City to himself (he pronounces Metro City "metrocity," like it rhymes with "atrocity"). In an odd turn of events, he winds up romancing Roxie and missing his battles with Metro Man, so he endeavors to create a new hero to define and test him. That, unfortunately, doesn't go so well. Roxie's slacker cameraman accidentally becomes the beneficiary of Megamind's scheme and ends up with the godlike powers of Metro Man. Spurned by Roxie, blaming Megamind, he goes on a rampage through the city.

Some random opinions:

Tighten's (sic) rampage reminds me a bit of Kid Miracleman's rampage through London in Alan Moore's Miracleman (the similarity in names--particularly the alliterative "M's--is also telling). Yes, I realize exactly how obscure and geeky this association is. So sue me.

This film could learn a bit from Pixar when it comes to avoiding the valley of the uncanny. While Metro Man's design is nicely absurd, with his peninsular chin, the other human characters could use a little bit of distance from reality. They're kind of creepy as is. This is particularly true of Roxie Richter. I think the filmmakers make a serious mistake when they try to match the cartoon versions of Jonah Hill and Tina Fey to their real life actors. It creates kind of a distraction. Also, at least two characters have a stylized macrocephaly that shades into the grotesque given the film's lip service to realism.

The absence of Metro Man from great whacks of the film is a flaw. The parody of superheroic virtue in his scenes is the highlight of the movie. I like how his entrance is scored with Elvis's "A Little Less Conversation." It's a nice touch.

Will Farrell's mush-mouthed vocal tics annoy me. This is a long-standing complaint of mine, dating back to his Saturday Night Live days. Brad Pitt, on the other hand, needs to do more voice work.

Finally, this is yet ANOTHER 3-D movie that left me with a splitting headache. This wasn't playing anywhere in my vicinity in a 2-d version, and believe me, if it had been, I would have happily forgone the dubious pleasure of the 3-D up-charge at the box office. Still, the headache may have been induced by the fact that this film takes no chances with its material and doesn't really do anything with what it has except give the audience something it has already seen before. Hollywood does a lot of that these days.

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