Apparently reformed supervillains are the hot new subject matter for kids’ animated movies, so just a few months after Steve Carell voiced a bad guy whose heart was melted by a trio of little girls in Despicable Me, we’re getting Will Ferrell voicing a villain who finds himself becoming a hero in the similarly mediocre Megamind. Like Despicable Me, Megamind is uneasily balanced between action-adventure and family sentiment, although it also goes to some dark places that seem a little extreme for a lighthearted animated movie about a guy with a big blue head.
Megamind starts with Ferrell’s title character killing his arch-nemesis, the square-jawed superhero Metro Man (voiced by Brad Pitt in an amusing but all-too-brief role). Now the ruler of the city with no one to oppose him, Megamind discovers that his life is meaningless. So he sets out to create a new hero, only he accidentally empowers a self-centered jerk (voiced by Jonah Hill) who turns out to be far more villainous than Megamind ever was. So the bad guy must become a good guy, saving the city and getting the girl (Tina Fey as a Lois Lane-style reporter) along the way.
It’s all wrapped up in snazzy, brightly colored animation and loaded with pop-culture references in the familiar Dreamworks style. But there’s a weird pall that hangs over the whole story, even when Metro Man’s death turns out to be not quite what it seems. Carell’s Gru in Despicable Me was a lovable loser, but Megamind is more of a creep, and that makes him hard to root for. If the jokes were a little sharper or the plot a little less cobbled together from superhero clichés, that character complexity might be a strength. Instead it’s just another nagging loose end in a movie that looks fun on the surface but suffers from a serious identity crisis underneath.