Sunday, November 7, 2010

Super Bad: MEGAMIND

These days, as long as an animated production has a large supply of studio money flowing in, the movie will at the very least look amazing. That’s the case with Megamind, the latest disappointment from Dreamworks Animation, which is nonetheless blest with bright primary colors and detailed designs. Director Todd McGrath, who previously co-directed the two lame Madagascars, and screenwriters Alan J. Schoolcraft and Brent Simons bring little of interest to the story, which is little more than warmed-over scraps from better animation studios’ far superior efforts. It’s takes the superhero comedy of Pixar’s The Incredibles and the inept supervillain plot of Illumination Entertainment’s Despicable Me and then drains them of wit, speed, and likability.

In fact, it’s hard not to think of the creatively underachieving Dreamworks Animation as Megamind begins with two alien infants fleeing a cataclysmic event, essentially flying through a parody of Superman’s first act on their way to Earth. One is a handsome little tyke for whom it’s all smooth sailing, landing gently under a wealthy couple’s Christmas tree. The other is a blue boy with a bulbous head who has a rocket that clatters through an asteroid field and lands in a prison. They grow up to be superpowered nemeses with the charmed life of hero Metroman (Brad Pitt) being a source of envy for the clumsily diabolical Megamind (Will Ferrell) who constantly wonders how that guy sails effortlessly to acclaim while he has to stew in the shadows. It’s easy to think that the creative team at Dreamworks would have reason to sympathize with Megamind, since their films are so critically underwhelming while their closest rival Pixar puts out films that are consistently acclaimed.

I would have been only too happy to praise Dreamworks latest film. In fact, earlier this year their How to Train Your Dragon was a film that was pleasantly surprising, great fun and the best film they’ve ever produced. (Though maybe the credit should mostly go to Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois, who definitely left their auteuerist mark on the project.) Megamind, on the other hand, is basically indefensible. It’s sluggish and grating with flat, uninspired vocal performances that sometimes inspire stiff animation. It’s also a film with thin characterization and a deeply uninteresting plot that does little to encourage an atmosphere of fun. It plays like a creation from people who know all the notes to hit when creating a family film but they can’t for the life of them actually figure out how to play the song.

Despite its visually precise and often lovely to regard locations and textures - I especially liked a moment when thousands of flying robots form a face in the sky - this is a nearly unfathomably uninvolving movie. It plays out in fits and starts of clich├ęs and halfhearted jokes. The main battle-of-good-and-evil plot gets off to a fairly promising start with a sequence that finds Megamind, along with his talking fish (David Cross), finally besting Metroman and reacting like a dog that has for once actually caught the car he was chasing. He has no idea what to do next. The filmmakers are right there with him.

Early promise is squandered on a squirmy love-triangle between a disguised Megamind and a sloppy cameraman (Jonah Hill) battling for the affections of a local news reporter (Tina Fey). This plotline then becomes needlessly convoluted with a wholly unconvincing attempt to jump-start the superpowered conflicts. The characters are simply not defined enough to feel convincing. The stakes aren’t imbued with any real sense of danger. Even when the big climax comes and characters are literally swinging buildings around, I found it of some small visual interest but entirely empty of emotion.

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