For anyone who ever bought into the idea that stories about superheroes and super villains make perfect foundations for metaphors, social allegory and commentaries on this ‘ere human condition, it was a glorious moment: in a resounding slice of gotcha-tainment the hero’s assistant in M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable (2000) reveals after much soul-searching that he has at last found his place in the world, his reason for being, his raison d’être. And it wasn’t to be the good guy.
“Now you know who you are, I know who I am. I’m not a mistake,” howled Elijah Price (Samuel J. Jackson) as David Dunn (Bruce Willis), his face a matt of shock and bewilderment, discovered blueprints, diagrams, photographs and evidence of all manners of nefarious cloak-and-dagger bomb-them-all behaviour. It took Price decades to find his purpose in life. His one true calling. To be the diabolical reclusive with a grudge against everybody.
Such revelations in good guy/bad guy fiction aren’t necessarily about characters who blur the line between good and bad, like a Clint Eastwood loner or Charles Bronson on an empty stomach.
The best ones are sorrowful existential realizations about where one belongs in the scheme of things, how one finds distinction from the other Smurfs in the village, and, in the context of superhero and crime genres, where one is positioned in the equilibrium of “good” and “bad.”
After emerging from drug rehab on TV’s Breaking Bad, Jesse Pinkman extols the virtues of self-acceptance, says that everybody needs to realise who they are. His answer: “I’m the bad guy.”
And who could forget a trailblazing Al Pacino, coked to the gills, stomping across the screen like a demon on ice in Scarface: “take a look at the bad guy. There’s a bad guy here.”
They’re baddies, and they know it.
So does Megamind (voice of Will Farrell), the bulbous blue-headed protagonist of Dreamwork’s bright and fiendishly clever riff on post-mod superhero fiction, helmed by director Tom McGrath.
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Like Superman, Megamind was put in a pod and hurtled to planet Earth, away from a collapsing planet. As the pod door closed, he heard his parents say “you are destined for..” and he never caught the last word. Greatness, perhaps? Evil, maybe?
Another alien pod sent to earth at the same time contained Metro Man (Brad Pitt) a true blue (minus the literal colour) hero of the Superman ilk who is sharper, smarter, faster, more powerful and more handsome. The two special students went to the same school. Megamind, unpopular, lonely and klutzy, eventually arrived at a grim but determined conclusion: if you can’t beat them, fight ‘em, and discovered his calling in villainy.
But here’s the rub: Megamind wins. He destroys Metro Man. The city, Metrocity, becomes his. At last, the bad guy prevails. He’s found and mastered his purpose. He knows who he is. He’s not a mistake.
But after the initial celebrations subside, something goes wrong. Or, more to the point, nothing goes wrong.
Megamind becomes bored and restless. This is where the second great epiphany hits him: that it’s more interesting to work passionately and fail then to win without effort. He becomes a believer that the means are more important than the ends.
In a deliciously weird twist, Megamind utilizes a transmogrifying watch to train a new hero in how to defeat him, while also studying with somebody else – the intrepid love interest reporter, no less – on how to, again, take himself down.
In this world, you can determine your own destiny – even if that means coaching others on how they can destroy you. Endless interpretations abound. Not bad intellectual fodder for a “kids” movie.
It’s easy to underestimate the shrewdness of Alan J. Schoolcraft and Brent Simons’ screenplay – particularly how the parameters distinguishing hero and villain swivel and contort; how the protag never cheats the central idea that he is the villain – if he becomes a hero, it’s because of selfishness – and how every character, from the egghead camera boy to the picture perfect pinup hero, is tinted with a sense of sorrow and sadness, a sense that everybody is trying to find their place in the world.
Howver, if you’re not in the mood for that sort of thinkin’ just sit back and enjoy the bright colours, glossy textures and zippy pace. Megamind is supercharged existential animation, but only if you want it to be.
Megamind’s Australian theatrical release date: December 2, 2010.