Mind over matter

Bye-bye, crazy talking animals. Scatterbrained scientists and superheroes with issues have become the go-to characters in the latest breed of CGI movies.

It’s a logical step. After all, not much separates the Spider-Man and Iron Man franchises from, say, Shrek and Madagascar — just a turbo-powered computer or two. Besides, superheroes and scientists are more complex than a talking turtle, and more human. A skewed view of that humanity fuels the latest CGI superhero movie, Megamind, a typically overstuffed candy shop of sights, sounds, and inflated egos from the same animation studio that brought you Shrek, Monsters vs. Aliens, and Kung Fu Panda.

Megamind (Will Ferrell) and Metro Man (Brad Pitt) take sides on Earth after they flee their own tumultuous planets: Metro Man plays the hero, Megamind is the villain (his space pod crash-lands in a prison courtyard, where he’s raised by convicts). Over the years, Megamind and Metro Man become bitter rivals, with Metro Man always getting the upper hand, whether in schoolyard games or in grownup fights above Metro City. On the same day the city is dedicating a new museum to Metro Man, Megamind escapes from prison (again), kidnaps TV reporter Roxanne (Tina Fey), and fights Metro Man, apparently to the death this time.

After declaring himself “Evil Overlord” of Metro City and taking over the entire region, Megamind spends his days bored and depressed, chatting with his fish-like Minion (David Cross). “What’s the point in being bad when there’s no one good to stop you?” he asks. With no one to fight, Megamind decides to shape TV cameraman Hal (Jonah Hill) into a new nemesis, Tighten.

But Tighten has no interest in playing the good guy and turns out to be a more evil villain than Megamind, who’s now faced with a crisis: does he join forces with his out-of-control creation? Or does he switch sides and become a superhero who saves the day? You probably already know the answer.

Megamind keeps its story centered without cramming in too many throwaway scenes or juvenile jokes. Ferrell injects Megamind with his usual mix of clueless confidence (he mispronounces words) and undeserving arrogance (he’s his own biggest fan). There are plenty of little winks at recent superhero movies, as well as several pop-culture nudges along the way.

Still, Megamind can’t resist playing by the rules much of the time. There’s nothing groundbreaking here, and even the movie’s best scenes — the city-demolishing battles, Megamind’s awkward relationships, the story arc — are cribbed from other CGI hits. Megamind’s greatest strength is corralling all of them into a movie that isn’t all that super, but it is an occasionally funny good time. •

Dir. Tom McGrath; writ. Alan Schoolcraft, Brent Simons; feat. Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Jonah Hill, Brad Pitt (PG)