The colossal success of Marvel Studios has paved the way for almost a standalone comic book industry, which seems to be churning out small screen and cinematic adventures at a rate of one or two every few weeks or so. Ironically, many of these titles are rarely accessible from a content point of view to the very demographic originally intended for the humble comic book. Children’s superhero movies, particularly for the pre-teen market, are not easy to come by. Of course, the glowing example in this field would be Pixar’s domesticated defenders of good, The Incredibles, with both the 2004 original and last year’s belated sequel solid proof that a young audience are equally happy to see some spandex crime-fighting. But there’s another computer-animated superhero comedy from almost a decade back which also had fun with the formula and humorously riffed on a past origin tale and cinematic trajectory of that ultimate defender of truth justice and the American way.
The twist in DreamWorks Animation’s superhero spoof with a difference Megamind is that the focus is given instead to the devious villain and not the bright-shining, incorruptible hero. Voiced by Will Ferrell, Megamind is an evil genius with a sky-blue skin tone which would make James Cameron’s Pandora natives green with envy, and a bulb-shaped head to cope with his huge, overstimulated brain. He is forever battling for control of Metro City from the lantern-jawed defender Metro Man (Brad Pitt doing Brad Pitt), a muscle-bound do-gooders cut from the same heroic cloth as Superman. After accidentally disposing of the city’s hero in a cleverly staged trap early on in proceeding, Megamind soon hits on the idea of creating another superhero to fill the gap left by Metro Man and also finds himself falling for the Lois Lane-like reporter Roxanne Ritchi (30 Rock’s Tina Fey) who he initially used as bait in trapping Metro Man.
Okay, so it might not take someone with a superhuman grasp of film plotting to hazard a guess how the titular character evolves as the film goes on, but leaving that predictability aside, Megamind is a fun and breezy kid’s flick, which contains the usual fun visual pop culture references which cater for an older, knowing crowd. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the film also contains a number of humorous homages to the Man of Steel himself. In a beautifully-constructed flashback prologue, we see Megamind as a baby escaping the destruction of his home planet (à la Krypton), only for the well-known myth to be hilariously turned on its head when his pod crash lands in a concrete prison yard. The nods to Superman don’t end there. Megamind’s construction of a new superhero – achieved by using DNA left over from Metro Man – strongly echoes the plot for that much-maligned 4th entry in the Christopher Reeves series. A disguise Megamind adopts to mentor his new creation also bears more than a passing resemblance to Marlon Brando’s character in the first Superman movie, complete with that silver Mr Whippy-style quiff.
It’s this light-hearted parody of the fabled DC character which could act as the perfect entry point for younger children into the live-action superhero world with Richard Donner’s Superman. Although that film has undoubtedly aged in the 40 year+ time period since it first knocked the socks off a big-screen audience, but it’s also the kind of cheery, cynicism-free Hollywood spectacle that parents might favour their young children watching over last year’s overwhelmingly bleak and haunting Infinity Wars – a superhero film which saw a merciless villain commit genocide on a level never seen before in cinema. Why hurriedly introduce a young child to the messy and violent Marvel universe when you have the likes of Megamind to help ease them into the genre, and also act as a reminder to the kind of lighter and innocent titles which first drew parents into these worlds?