Rating: ★★★★☆

One of the year’s biggest surprises – both in regards to entertainment value and intelligence – Megamind is a refreshing and well-cast stab at the superhero genre, distinguished from the good-but-ultimately-shallow Despicable Me with an imaginatively postmodern retooling of the typical superhero/villain mythos that stands as one of the very best animated films of 2010.

Blue-skinned, bulbous-headed alien Megamind (Will Ferrell) is just such a super-villain; dementedly inventive but woefully inept, his attempts to rule Metro City are curbed at every turn by his perennial foe Metro Man (Brad Pitt). However, when Megamind miraculously manages to eliminate his foil, he finds himself curiously bored by his unchallenged supremacy. Keen to return the spark back to his life – in forging a new yin-and-yang hero-villain dichotomy – Megamind ventures to find a new enemy, while having to consider his feelings for a nosy reporter, Roxanne Ritchi (Tina Fey).

Megamind is a blast precisely because it takes everything stale about the superhero film – clean-cut heroes, arrogant villains and cheesy love stories – and turns them on their head. The subversion is clear from near enough minute one; Megamind’s origin story is at first curiously similar to that of Superman’s – sent from a dying planet by loving parents moments before disaster – yet, from the moment Megamind crash-lands in a prison rather than the Kent farm, it is clear that this is no bout of lazy writing. If that doesn’t sway you, then the fact that Megamind, the film’s baddie, essentially wins half-way through the first reel probably will – the film segues from here to become an offbeat existential comedy, with a man who pretty much has it all trying to free himself from the mire of ennui. Straying from a predictable, easily defined structure, Megamind instead serves up consistent surprises, challenging audience expectations and engaging the mind as well as tickling the funny bone.

The strength of the concept is matched by the fine work of the cast; Will Ferrell and Brad Pitt are especially well-placed in the lead roles, for Ferrell’s near-typecast slacker goofball personality transposes perfectly onto his despondent villain here, while Pitt is brilliantly charismatic as a chisel-jawed, Herculean model of perfection not unlike himself. Also fun is David Cross as Megamind’s fish-robot minion (aptly, if unimaginatively named Minion), and Tina Fey is fine as Roxanne, though frankly her character’s lack of personality makes it difficult to discern that the voice we hear is even her…

Though doing little to challenge the visual sophistication of Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, Megamind’s animation work is certainly rock-solid, accentuated by Tom McGrath’s sumptuous, knowing direction, which makes the film as thrilling and dynamic as any straight-talking superhero pic (the opening shot of Megamind falling through the air is stunning). Simply, the characters are expressive and the palette is vibrant, though the lukewarm 3D adds little fun, coming off as another crass, studio-sanctioned exercise in money-making, causing the experience to often feel like going to the cinema while wearing a pair of sunglasses for absolutely no reason at all…

Still, it is a film that commands attention and deserves to do well because it is thoughtfully considered and brilliantly executed. The smartness of the concept and the time devoted to it impacts on the laugh quotient somewhat, but given the film’s considerable ambition and regard for character, it is a permissible concession. Earning its marked sentiment with thorough, unmanipulative characterisation, this is a warm-hearted animated film with a brain as uncommonly large as its protagonist’s.

Megamind puts the year’s other super-villain animated flick to certain shame, not to mention the comparably infantile The Incredibles (though many will disagree).

Megamind is in cinema’s now.

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This article was first posted on December 6, 2010