Film Review: Megamind

Rollickingly funny superhero comedy of manners about a poor, misunderstood supervillain may not be 'The Incredibles,' but it's still incredible.

Superheroes have been deconstructed before. Superheroes have been parodied before. And superheroic fiction has been satirized before. But all three at once in a movie comedy of manners? That feels new, and while Megamind may not be an animated classic on par with The Incredibles—which is essentially a family drama and not a comedy, and not really comparable despite outward similarities—this feature by the Madagascar films' director exhibits a droll wit that's rare enough in any mainstream entertainment.

With all-ages action and humor, a confident, knowing tone and even a plethora of in-jokes for comics aficionados—a much nicer word than "geeks"—Megamind is a mildly magnificent movie mélange of mayhem and mirth. Aw, dammit! Stan Lee "Bullpen Bulletins" alliteration! Guess I've just outed myself as an, um, aficionado.

Originally titled Oobermind, with Robert Downey, Jr. voicing the title role, the film opens with flashback narration by the titular, blue-domed supervillain, whose essential naiveté Will Farrell captures impeccably. In a play on the Superman archetype, two babies are rocketed from dying planets. The silver-spooned child who will become the white-caped Metro Man (Brad Pitt) lands at a mansion, where he's adopted by rich parents. Poor little Megamind lands at the Prison for the Criminally Gifted. His eventual rivalry with the patronizing Metro Man starts in grade school and continues through countless headlines of diabolical plans being thwarted in the gleaming metropolis called Metro City.

There's a female reporter, of course—Roxanne Ritchi (Tina Fey) of KMPC News 8—who's accompanied by red-haired, freckle-faced cameraman Hal Stewart (Jonah Hill). He's no Jimmy Olsen, however, but a stalkerish creep with a thing for her. As the two cover the opening of the Metro Man Museum, Megamind abducts the blasé Ritchi for the umpteenth time ("Could someone stamp my frequent kidnapping card?" she jibes), but, like the Coyote capturing the Road Runner, Metro Man appears to die in this latest trap.

Now Megamind and his guardian/sidekick Minion (David Cross) are free to rule the city. When that gets old, Megamind tries creating a new superhero, Titan, to be yin to his yang. That disastrously doesn't work out, and between that and falling in love under a disguise, our villain has to become our hero.

With marvelously offhand delivery and polite if loud exchanges of social niceties, Megamind has, for all its knockabout physical comedy, the dry-witted soul of Noel Coward; a set of dueling ripostes involving warranties is particularly hilarious. Some of the humor is sublimely subtle, and the in-jokes nearly unfathomable ("without fathom," as Megamind explains). The look of Minion—a robot/gorilla body with a fishbowl head—may be an obvious homage to the title character of the 1953 grade-Z 3D movie Robot Monster, but horrid Hal Stewart apparently takes his name from the first two modern-day Green Lanterns: Hal Jordan and John Stewart. And perhaps it's coincidence, but museum curator Bernard (Justin Theroux) is a dead ringer for the legendary Bill Everett, creator of one of the first superheroes, the Sub-Mariner.

Clearly, there's something for everyone in this redemption tale, romantic comedy and affectionate tribute to pop-cultural tropes. To which we can only add: "Excelsior!"