Will Ferrell is the voice of Megamind, center. David Cross is the voice of… (DreamWorks Animation )
A big blue head and an even bigger ego seem to suit Will Ferrell, who gives voice to the villainous star of the amusing new 3-D animated comedy "Megamind." DreamWorks' latest pop-culture manifesto is out to skewer celebrity, the cult of superhero fandom, media feeding frenzies and to suggest that perhaps what you really need to save the day is not a cape, but the love of a good woman.
The story takes the Superman mythology and then fractures it considerably. It begins for our two central characters, Megamind and Metro Man ( Brad Pitt) as it did for the legendary Clark Kent — dying planet, popped in a pod as a baby, landing on Earth, adopted by kind strangers. Luck is not with the blue boy, who lands at Metro City prison, where the inmates take him in; for Metro Man it's a nice house in the suburbs with a mom, a dad and all the amenities. How could they not grow up to be rivals?
FOR THE RECORD:
"Megamind" review: In the Nov. 5 Calendar section, a review of the film "Megamind," whose title character is voiced by actor Will Ferrell, said that one of the pleasures of the film "is that Megamind doesn't really sound like Ferrell." The article went on to say that "the filmmakers have walked away from Ferrell's comic talents." It should have said, "That doesn't mean the filmmakers have walked away from Ferrell's comic talents." —
But the larger question the filmmakers are soon onto is what happens to the bad guy when the good guy is out of the picture. What is the price of media adulation? Why do we always expect someone else to solve our problems? Well, it's complicated but so au courant.
Without going all biblical on you, apparently evil doesn't work so well without good, and, gulp, vice versa, and most of the film unfolds around Megamind trying to resolve that issue. It's a case of being careful what you wish for. The problem for our charming villain, besides his secret crush on Roxanne ( Tina Fey), is that as soon as he discovers that copper is Metro Man's kryptonite, poof (imagine an extended action scene here with lots of things, including L.A.'s iconic Griffith Observatory going up in flames), the good guy is gone and life is anything but what he expected.
Hopelessly infatuated with Roxanne, and hopelessly bored with being bad, Megamind conjures up a new nemesis and once again the battle roars to life, although there are a few surprises along the way.
Virtually all of the characters extend the Superman theme, though lightly roasted (think Friars Club) by Alan Schoolcraft and Brent Simons' script, their first to be produced. Pitt's Metro Man is muscle-bound perfection in white tights, the protector of Metro City, which looks very much like downtown L.A. Fey's Roxanne is a TV reporter who tracks the good-versus-evil goings-on around town; Jonah Hill is her nerdy cameraman Hal, before an accidental shot of superpowers turns him into a very tightly wound supersized mistake named Tighten.
Ben Stiller rounds things out as the studious Bernard, complete with glasses and a shoulder for Lois, um, I mean Roxanne, to lean on. The only thing missing is the phone booth. (Stiller and his partner Stuart Cornfeld are executive producers on the film.)
With Roxanne around, love is in the air, but there are no worries for parents: The subtexts here are of the more cerebral sort. Case in point is Minion (an excellent David Cross), essentially Megamind's personal assistant. The name is clever wordplay for grown-ups, the look is funny fish in need of serious dental work for kids. Though the film's subtleties don't always work, they do often enough. Plus, it's a relief not to have to explain away those dicey innuendos so often slipped into animated fare.
Director Tom McGrath, who has been behind DreamWorks' "Madagascar" successes, keeps the effects popping, but more impressive than the multi-dimensions is "Megamind's" minimalist, modernist look. It creates a crispness that feels more contemporary than retro, which not only is very aesthetically pleasing but makes it easier to savor the film's many sight gags.
Of course, central to the cachet of any animated flick now is lining up an A-list of high-wattage voice talent. So it comes as a surprise that one of the pleasures of "Megamind" is that Megamind doesn't really sound like Ferrell. It allows our villain an interesting character arc without the distraction of a voice so etched in the public consciousness that most of us could recognize it with our eyes closed (Buddy the Elf? Ron Burgundy?). Like the animation style, Ferrell goes minimalist, adopting a bit of a highbrow tone that he never loses even when he's badly mispronouncing words — the emphasis is always on the wrong syllable.
That doesn't mean the filmmakers have walked away from Ferrell's comic talents. A high-tech watch allows Megamind to suddenly morph into someone else, which opens the door for the comic to go crazy with impressions. The best is Brando, with a white shock of hair and a sly reference that "Superman" fans, at least, will appreciate.
Restraint works well for Ferrell and Cross, but over-the-top fits Hill's crazed Tighten, the nemesis Megamind finds he needs. In the rather bland middle is Fey and, sadly, Pitt, who is simply better in the flesh. Just as Megamind struggles to find his center, at times, so does the film. I guess it's just not easy being blue. Or was that green …