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Not Guilty: Megamind

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Jun 22, 2018, 6:02 PM EDT

In Not Guilty, we look at movies and TV shows that the general consensus tells us we should feel bad for liking, but that our hearts tell us we should give a second look — "guilty pleasures" we don't feel guilty about. This time around, we turn our attention to the superhero comedy Megamind, which has a 72% on Rotten Tomatoes yet a dismal reputation.

He's brilliant, blue, and can't pronounce "school" or "spider" to save his life. But in the fall of 2010, an unlikely hero charged into theaters with a ludicrously silly and surprisingly subversive parody of the superhero genre in Megamind. But much like his plans to defeat the hunky Metro Man, Megamind fumbled in theaters, earning disappointing box office totals and tepid reviews that dubbed it "generic" and "average." I can accept that this wild tale of a villain turned hero isn't for everyone, but suggesting this boldly bonkers movie is mediocre or forgettable is downright criminal.

A grave injustice has been dealt to Megamind, a comedy chock-full of laughs, stars, and clever twists on superhero movie tropes. Today, it will get the hero's welcome it's long deserved.

No, Megamind is not a Despicable Me rip-off.

This common misconception is part of the reason the former struggled at the box office. Despicable Me had the advantage of opening just four months before Megamind. Both animated movies offer a baddie-goes-good tale about a wacky inventor with funny-looking minions. However, though the loglines are similar, Despicable Me's Gru was a spoof of mad scientists and Bond villains, while Megamind toyed with superhero movie conventions. This genre distinction makes a big difference. You don't need to choose one or the other. Why not both?


This is a better Minion.

There's no contest. On one hand, you've got a bunch of yellow Tic-Tac looking goofballs who speak a mix of Spanish, gibberish, and screaming. On the other hand, you have Minion, an alien piranha who can talk and operate a gorilla-looking cyborg body. He's not just comic relief or a naked excuse for merchandising. Voiced by David Cross, Minion is Megamind's confidante, sidekick, cape designer, and source of tough love. And look at that face! He's odd and adorable, and a perfect partner to our eccentric anti-hero.  

Will Ferrell brought mad humor to Megamind.

Originally intended as a live-action vehicle for Ben Stiller, the movie's humor blossomed once the Saturday Night Live alum signed on. Not only did Ferrell turn the mirthful mispronunciation of simple words into a running joke, but also he was encouraged to improvise in the recording booth. It seems this could be the origin of weird and wonderful lines like, "I was talking to my mother's urn." And his casting was definitely the inspiration for a blink-and-you'll-miss-it Anchorman Easter Egg.

Megamind is a hero for misfits.

Narrated by its titular protagonist, Megamind reveals how circumstance cast him as the villain early on. Both he and Metro Man (voiced by Brad Pitt) were alien infants sent to Earth when their home planets were exploding. But where Metro Man was strong-jawed, handsome, and human looking, Megamind was bulbous-headed, bald, blue, and instantly coded as "other." Making matters worse, he turned up to his first day of school in a prison jumpsuit, the ominous uniform of his inauspicious home.

Instantly ostracized and always picked last, Megamind used his gift for inventing to try to win over the class with delicious sprays of popcorn as Metro Man had. But that plan goes up in smoke. Megamind can't compete and stops trying. He mixes chemicals for a prank that gets him booted from school. But notably, this explosion doesn't hurt his classmates, it turns them blue. It was a bit of childish revenge, but also a child's plea to make his classmates see he's not that different after all. And in the end, it'll be this outcast that will save the day for all those who dismissed him.

Being a hero is a choice.

Gifted a minion as a baby, raised in a prison, outcast from polite society in his youth, Megamind seemed fated to be a villain. And for the film's first act, he seems to relish the role, complete with convoluted evil schemes, a swarm of chomping robots, and plenty of cackling. But once Metro Man is gone, Megamind realizes evil is not what made him happy. He was always fighting back against his childhood bully. And with that bully gone, Megamind has to grow up and find a new purpose. He chooses to be a hero.

The rise of Titan means the city needs a champion. And though Metro Man is not actually dead and totally capable, he chooses to stay in seclusion with his guitar and comfort food in his fortress of selfishness. Metro Man was born to be a hero but rejects this role. And so it's up to Megamind, the infamous failure, and self-proclaimed supervillain, to face off against the terrible and powerful Titan.

Roxanne Ritchie is a hero in her own right.

Imagine Lois Lane, determined and brave reporter, but she's sick to death of being kidnapped every time a villain wants to upset the local superhero. Voiced by Tina Fey, Roxanne spits snark and withering wit when Megamind abducts her and threatens her with a barrage of pointy tools of torture. She's the story's love interest and damsel in distress, but the script by Alan Schoolcraft and Brent Simons is sure to lace in plenty of punchlines for this tenacious journalist, along with an arc that reveals her own skills and bravery.

It's Roxanne who figures out Megamind's plan to make a new superhero with Titan. It's her love and shining example that opens his eyes to the good he could do, and she who uncovers the in-hiding Metro Man. But that's not all. When both these super-powered aliens decide to sit out the fight, this human woman with no superpowers drives into the heart of Metro City to confront Titan herself. Ahead of a gonzo action sequence, it's a moment that's easy to overlook. But this reflects the movie's message that anyone can be a hero, fate or fortune or powers be damned. Like Roxanne says, you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but by its contents. And what the finale of this film shows is that we get to be the authors of our own books. We can be the heroes if we choose to be.

Megamind has fun with the showmanship of super battles.

Metro Man is like Superman crossed with Elvis. He's dashing and heroic with a hip-swinging swagger and a pristinely white costume accessorized with flowing fringe. He plays to the crowds who come to adore him, taking it to ludicrous extremes. He not only kisses babies but also juggles them. He walks on water. And he plays along with the romance narrative the public embraces that paints he and Roxanne as a couple. But showmanship is the one place where Megamind can best Metro Man.

When facing off against an unhinged Titan in the third act, Megamind schools this nefarious newb on a key element of super-villainy: presentation. This bold baddie knows the power of a spectacle and the right soundtrack. Throughout the movie, his sequences of destruction are accompanied by hard rock/heavy metal jams like "Highway to Hell," "Crazy Train," "Back in Black," and "Welcome To The Jungle." He dresses like a rock god, favoring black leather with blue accents and silver studs. He applies eyeliner to make sure those baby greens pop. His capes get elaborate names like the Black Mamba. And when it comes to superhero showdowns, he busts out gigantic battle bots, high-flying holograms, and a laser light show unlike the MCU or DCEU has ever seen.

Megamind's real villain is a Nice Guy.

We all know a Hal. He is the guy who fantasizes about a female friend/colleague so intensely that he feels entitled to her affections. He thinks he's a "Nice Guy," but he's not. It's not nice to sexually harass a co-worker, insult the guy you think she's dating, and try to trick her into a date complete with bouncy house and wedding photographer, just in case. His interest doesn't mean she owes him a damn thing. Hal is a creep who won't stop drooling all over Roxanne, no matter how firmly she tells him she's not interested. Megamind dares to imagine what would happen if a creep like this got superpowers.

After Megamind gives Hal a superhero makeover, this schlubby cameraman becomes the towering and tyrannical Titan. He uses his powers not to save the day, but to steal what he desires, like arcade games, cash, and Roxanne Ritchie, as if she is something he can just claim. He abducts her from her home, tosses her around like saving her life is a game, and ultimately decides to destroy her and her boyfriend Megamind.

Through Hal, Megamind exposes the myth of the Nice Guy. He wants you to think he's besotted and his story tragic, loving a woman who just doesn't appreciate him. But Hal is a selfish, lazy fool who accomplished nothing, yet felt owed a partner as accomplished, brave and charismatic as Roxanne. And when he doesn't get his way, he turns to terrorizing his community but blames her. It's a narrative we still see all too often in tragic news stories. But this children's movie called bullshit on it nearly 10 years ago. 

Megamind began as a pitch of "What if Lex Luthor won?" Then it evolved into a parody that challenged our conceptions of what it means to be a hero and a villain. It spoofed the spectacle of third-act showdowns while reveling in their absurdity, and gave us a colorful cast of characters while offering a biting criticism of so-called Nice Guys. And it did all this in a family-friendly and thoroughly funny adventure that's stuffed to the brim with laughs. It's gleefully goofy and slyly smart. And don't you forget it! 

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