It may have been just a fleeting thought, but any fan of superhero films is bound to have pondered precisely what Lex Luthor planned to do with all his power had he actually accomplished the unthinkable and defeated the Man of Steel. Screenwriters Alan Schoolcraft and Brent Simons certainly did, and they have plenty of fun toying with the possibilities in Megamind, an animated adventure comedy that plays just as well to grown-up movie geeks as it does to their wide-eyed minions.
Megamind (voice of Will Ferrell) was only an infant when his parents loaded him into an emergency escape pod and jettisoned him into space just as their planet was being sucked into a black hole. His destination: planet Earth. Meanwhile, another slightly more wholesome baby sets out on the same trajectory. But while the latter will ultimately land in the home of a wealthy couple and grow up to become Metro Man (voice of Brad Pitt), hero of Metro City, poor Megamind finds his fate taking the opposite course when his pod crashes in a prison yard, leaving him to be raised by convicts. Later, in grade school, the kids all flock to Metro Man, leaving a frustrated Megamind to embrace a life of diabolical misdeeds. As the years go by, Metro Man and Megamind develop an intense adversarial relationship that pits them in battle over Metro City time and again. Undeterred by his unbroken losing streak, Megamind hatches an ingenious scheme to finally destroy Metro Man by kidnapping pretty reporter Roxanne Ritchi (voice of Tina Fey), and luring the predictable hero into a deadly trap. Then something unexpected happens -- Megamind's plan actually works. Now, with Metro Man out of the picture, Megamind and his Minion (voice of David Cross) stake their claim on Metro City. But what good is ultimate power when you don't even have to fight for it? Realizing that life is simply out of balance without Metro Man to be the hero, Megamind creates a new foe who will be just as righteous and powerful as his fallen adversary. Unfortunately, Megamind's schemes usually have a way of backfiring, and when Metro City's newest savior proves even more evil than Megamind, the blue-hued antihero finds himself forced into battle with an opponent who doesn't play by the rules.
Great heroes and great villains go hand in hand; every caped crusader needs an arch nemesis to fight high above the crowded city streets, and no scoundrel is worth his weight in tears without a debonair do-gooder to scheme against. When that careful balance of power is upset, the entire comic-book universe goes supernova. Megamind screenwriters Schoolcraft and Simons have studied their superhero lore well, and in addition to understanding what makes places like Gotham City tick, they also know that the villain is often a far more compelling character than the hero. By creating the character of Megamind and then placing him in a vacuum of power, the screenwriters grant themselves license to subvert conventions in a way that's entertaining for older viewers weaned on DC and Marvel and highly enjoyable for the next crop of comic geeks, thanks to some clever references and memorable twists. Deconstruction can be tricky business, but much like one needn't have ever seen a slasher film to enjoy Wes Craven's Scream, Megamind works just as well as a playful postmodern jab as it does a fast-paced antihero comedy that's fun for viewers of all ages.
Given Ferrell's unique vocal range and his penchant for going over the top, it's a bit of a surprise that his voice-over credits are somewhat few and far between. His manic delivery helps to give the character of Megamind a certain confidence that's easily crippled, a trait that makes him increasingly endearing as he gradually becomes the reluctant savior of Metro City. Brad Pitt, on the other hand, is essentially wasted in the role of Metro Man, though supporting players Fey, Cross, and Jonah Hill all seem to be having a blast behind the mic.
Megamind is a movie designed primarily to entertain, not educate. Given the prominent use of AC/DC's "Highway to Hell" in the trailers and commercials for the film, it should be obvious to parents that the focus of Megamind is more on the action and comedy than it is on the titular character learning any important life lessons. So, while the storyline is constructed around a positive concept about taking control of your own fate and realizing when you've inadvertently taken mischief a bit too far, it's the thrilling battle scenes and clever riffing on comic-book conventions that truly resonate. Between Megamind and Despicable Me, it's beginning to look like Hollywood has finally embraced the antihero in children's films. It should make for some intriguing discussions after the movie, and it will be interesting to trace the evolution of superhero stories once the latest crop of kids grow up and start penning their own screenplays.