Silver Screen: Megamind ***1/2
If you feel like you've already seen Megamind, the new Will Ferrell-voiced computer-animated comedy about a loveably loathsome supervillain, that's understandable. The story is almost impossible to differentiate from that of Despicable Me, which hit theaters earlier this year. Both films follow a bumbling baddie who sports a horde of faithful, brainless underlings; both characters are pitched as underdogs from birth who were raised to be evil, but who have tired of their dastardly ways and are in the process of being charmed away from villainy. Both movies are unnecessarily presented in 3D.
Despite the similarities, and despite the fact that Despicable Me was first in the release-date race, it's Megamind that feels fresher. It's certainly funnier, too, with superior gags and a more fully realized story, even if it does turn to pop-culture pastiche a little too often.
Ferrell's blue, bulb-domed Megamind is sent on a rocket ride by his loving parents, who ship him off just as their dying planet is destroyed. Not only is it a familiar story, it's a parallel one; just as Megamind is launched Earthward, so too is another baby launched into space. This baby grows up to be Metro Man (voiced by Brad Pitt), the smug, strong-chinned superguy who becomes the protector of Metro City. While Metro Man is raised by rich, doting parents, Megamind is adopted by a group of prison inmates who wean him on schemes and bad behavior.
The rivalry is such a dominant factor in Megamind's life that when he kills Metro Man with a death ray, he loses his raison d'evil. Distraught, he and his faithful minion, Minion (David Cross), use some of Metro Man's DNA to create a new superhero enemy. When the misguided supergenius bestows the powers on a petty goofball (Jonah Hill), he learns the difference between good and evil, and must decide which side he's really on.
Megamind is slick, commercial, and frivolous even for a kids' movie, but its brisk pace and joke-dense script, not to mention some stellar voicework, make it a breeze to watch. It's essentially a Superman parody with a perspective shift, but it breathes enough new life into the concept to feel something like unique.
When the movie does turn toward direct references and showbiz goofs, they're pretty good ones: Jonah Hill's Jimmy Olson-gone-wrong taking Lois Lane stand-in Roxanne Ritchie (Tina Fey) on a warped version of the Christopher Reeve/Margo Kidder nighttime flight, Megamind posing as Marlon Brando to convince his new apprentice rival he's from another galaxy. At its best, Megamind nicely sends up the notion of Superman himself, positing that anyone so preternaturally blessed would be pretty annoying. Perhaps the best and weirdest pop-culture reference isn't even taken from comic-book mythology, but it's a great nerd joke anyway: Cross's Minion is a hideous talking fish, but for mobility he wears a weird mechanized gorilla suit with a fishbowl for a head, a kind of semi-practical update of the creature from the infamously awful Robot Monster.
Yeah, all this pop-culture riffing is a little aimless, but as diversions go Megamind is an excellent one. The genuinely exciting battle at the film's conclusion even makes for an interesting argument that perhaps the actual Superman movies would be better off as computer-animated cartoons rather than computer-enhanced live-action.