3 December 2010

Never Mind- MEGAMIND Review

This year, Dreamworks has pumped out three animated films. Of Shrek Forever After, there's really nothing more to say than how samey it was, but the real triumph has been How To Train Your Dragon. The first outright excellent film to come from the company since Shrek, it probably would have won the Best Animated Picture Oscar away from Pixar if it had only come out in the year where they offered Cars 2 instead of the superb Toy Story 3. Somewhere in between Shrek and the dragons, falls Megamind.

The titular blue-bonced supervillain comes from the Superman origin story, jettisoned from an exploding galaxy to Earth by loving parents when he was just a baby. The same applies to his arch-nemesis Metroman, with whom he engages in elaborate battles. He never wins, except for the day that he accidentally does. With Metroman dead, Megamind reevaluates his career in evil and realises that something has to be done to restore the old status quo.

When the origin of your main character is a reference to Superman, you know you're probably in the vicinity of a Dreamworks film. Let's be very clear in stating that the chief difference between the superb How To Train Your Dragon and this more middling effort is that the former was a film made by Dreamworks, and the latter is a Dreamworks film. All of the studio's old tropes are back, and en masse. That same bloody expression with the cocked eyebrow, celebrity voice talents and a faux-Disney "it's what's inside that counts" moral message.

More than that, if you're Dreamworks, it's not the best choice to make a film about the politics of superpowered rivalry, post-Incredibles. Especially when your protagonist is constantly trying to measure up to an enemy who's similar in method and origin and always falls short of beating them. It would seem like a manifestation of the studio's short man syndrome with the almighty Pixar, doing "superheroes" as a theme with more bombast and bravado, but with none of the subtlety or resonance of The Incredibles. It's like making Shark Tale after Finding Nemo. Oh, hang about...

All of this said though, Megamind is far from a waste of time. In the year when Hiccup and Toothless flying through the skies made jaws drop, this one has some incredible action spectacle that really uses the medium to its fullest advantage. There are genuinely creative battles and disasters on show here that would be impossible to realise in live action, even with the greatest special effects available at the moment. You wouldn't want to see them in live-action either, because that's how things like 2012 happen. But in animation, the real highlights of this film are in visual delights such as a huge skyscraper crashing down a street after two characters like an unstoppable locomotive.

I predicted a while back that this film and Despicable Me would turn out as proportionately the exact same story. I was wrong, but the films did level out at around the same level of quality. Both films had fun playing with the technological innovations their hyper-intelligent antiheroes could muster, but both films ended up borrowing a lot from other sources. In the case of Megamind, aside from the Superman allegory that peaks with Will Ferrell doing a killer impression of Marlon Brando as Jor-El, there are a ton of oblique references that go over kids' heads and won't impress adults that much. The post-modern superhero film has actually become hackneyed in itself, over the last year or so, especially when it was clearly done best by Brad Bird, in 2004.

As to the script, it could have used some work. Even without the compulsively spoilerish trailers and clips that have been floating around, the plot is astonishingly predictable. More than that, it's not really that funny. If the film's meant to be a comedy, and it's certainly been marketed as such, it should have made me laugh more. As it was, I found the teaser trailer for Kung Fu Panda 2 to be a funnier watch, before the main feature began. It's more diverting than it is humourous, which is fine if you don't go in expecting a comedy.

On balance, Megamind is more of the same from Dreamworks, and such a mechanical feature that I could probably tell you exactly what the plot of Megamind 2 will be if the numbers add up correctly for Jeffrey Katzenberg to greenlight a sequel. With some promising creative developments at the studio, hopefully this film and next year's trifecta of sequels will be the last of their kind before Dreamworks goes into a period of renaissance. Maybe they'll learn how to animate new facial expressions along the way. But crucially, they just might inject some sense of fun that's sorely been lacking in their last few similar efforts.

Megamind is now showing in 2D and 3D, at cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen Megamind, why not share your comments below? If you're wondering what next year's trifecta is, it's Kung Fu Panda 2, Madagascar 3 and Puss In Boots. And all Pixar is offering up is Cars 2. Boy, next year is gonna suck. Except Kung Fu Panda, natch.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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