“Megamind” walks the line between being an easy-to-absorb movie for kids and a skillfully crafted critique of the “superhero” film itself.

Megamind

At Quality 16 and Rave
DreamWorks Animation

Much like this summer’s “Despicable Me,” “Megamind” (directed by Tom McGrath, who co-directed “Madagascar”) introduces a protagonist who claims to be — and takes pride in being — a villain. Granted, Megamind (voiced by Will Ferrell, “The Other Guys”) is not that successful at being a villain, at least not as successful as Metro City’s main superhero, Metro Man (Brad Pitt, “Inglourious Basterds”). But Megamind never stops scheming evil plans to bring him the glory and power that have eluded him all his life.

This somewhat unoriginal premise produces more than a sympathetic antihero-with-heart. The movie provides two philosophical questions that it explores and tries to answer during its 96 minutes on screen.

First, where do villains come from?

As far as Megamind’s life informs us, villains can literally come from the same place as heroes, since both he and Metro Man were (like Superman) sent to Earth from faraway planets that were on the brink of destruction. The trouble is that once Metro Man and Megamind showed up on Earth, the similarities between their lives ended.

Megamind, a self-proclaimed villain, grew up an outcast. He had no friends in school. He got picked last at recess. He was the only kid with blue skin. He was bullied, incidentally, by Metro Man, and was made to feel inferior. So he decided to become evil because it seemed like the only thing he’d ever been good at.

While this might feel like a childish way to get an audience rooting for Megamind, it is also a valuable observation of our society. Yes, some people we consider “bad” seem too crazy for our sympathy, but a lot of the time people who resort to being “bad” are desperate for the love and recognition they never received but always knew they deserved.

While this first question intrigues us, it does little more than create an aura of sympathy around Megamind’s character. Even if we feel sorry for him, his actions still resemble those of a pure villain.

But the second, much more difficult, question does: Where do real heroes come from?

While this film doesn’t initially define what a hero has to look like or be able to do to warrant that title, we’re explicitly shown what a real hero is not.

A hero is not someone with superhuman strength, speed or physical abilities. A hero is not someone pursuing selfish ends through their powers. And a hero definitely doesn’t threaten the life of a lady like Roxanne Ritchi (Tina Fey, “Date Night”).

Megamind tries to answer this hero question directly, but his plans (again) blow up in his face. By trying to create a “hero” he merely empowers an average person with more power and responsibility than they can handle. It is only when Megamind realizes that there are no pre-determined, inescapable circumstances that make someone inherently “good” or “bad” that he can become the hero we all want him to be.

Megamind’s transformation provides us our most inspiring axiom about heroes, because it allows any one of us to become a hero in our own way: Real heroes are defined by the good they do, not the bad they come from.

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