If the chatter during Dreamworks' Megamind panel was any indication, their upcoming animated superhero flick is going to be 90 minutes of blistering Mel Gibson mockery. Unfortunately, the 5 minutes of footage director Tom McGrath brought for us suggests that the film might do away with that approach, instead choosing to involve traditional elements such as plot, characters, and unrelenting Dreamworks face.
Megamind is the story of... Megamind (voiced by Will Ferrell). By which I mean that the film's most intriguing idea is that it's not the story of an evil villain dueling his stoic and chin-heavy arch-nemesis (Brad Pitt), but rather the story of an evil villain defeating his do-gooding rival. What does an evil villain do with his beautifully bland Metropolis (er... Metro City) and its terrified townsfolk once he's finally conquered that pesky hero? It's a neat idea, and its perfectly cast lead actors (Ferrell, Tina Fey, Jonah Hill, and a cardboard cut-out of Brad Pitt) were all on hand to stir the excitement. The banter on stage was top notch, but as for the film itself... there were a few promising moments, and a few moments that made me miss how Pixar & Brad Bird mined this miliieu with The Incredibles.
So here are 6 bits from the panel that gave this good citizen hope, and 4 things that made me think Dreamworks is better off training their dragons.
THE GOOD STUFF:
1. The premise. There is just miles of material to mine from this thing, and a few bits of footage showing Mastermind trying his best to whip up some havoc on the empty city streets suggests that if this movie fails, it will only be because some serious opportunities were missed.
2. The cast. More importantly, the great dynamic shared between the cast. The panel was absolutely hilarious - Ferrell (in full, face-burning Megamind costume), Fey, and Hill were bouncing genuinely funny barbs and gags off one another from the moment they hit the stage, and if McGrath was able to capture even a fraction of that energy in the film, then the movie is going to be able to get by on laughs alone. Also, Tina Fey busting out an Admiral Ackbar reference just confirms that she's every bit as awesome as you think.
3. The 3-D. McGrath said that he was happy to work with 3-D now that its use has transcended the gimmickry of objects being thrown at the screen, saying that he's committed to "Using the technology to bring people into the world of the film." And the footage suggests that he wasn't just running his mouth. The 3-D was crisp, bright, and used to tremendous effect, particularly in the flying scenes, where McGrath allows the audience to ride along with Metro Man as he zips about the deliberately bland skyscrapers. McGrath also mentioned that the 3-D was "Fun to work with," which was a nice attitude to hear given how much of an ugly obstacle it's been for some recent directors to accommodate.
4. McGrath is a dead ringer for Michael Keaton. I'm not sure how this bodes well for Megamind, but it does.
5. It's pioneering new material from the hallowed ruins of stories we love. Megamind wrings a lot of its humor (for better and worse) from respectfully playing off and tweaking the most time-honored of superhero traditions. But when Megamind defeats Metro Man (presumably in the first act), McGrath's movie takes a detour in a new direction where familiar tropes can be trounced and pummeled by new twists.
6. Will Ferrell kept reverting back to the film's "without evil there can't be good" approach. When it wasn't making me think about Moby Dick, it was making me think that the movie has a grounded focus and I'm intrigued to see how it's take on balance resolves itself via the plot - it should make for an interesting 3rd Act.
THE BAD STUFF:
1. When the funniest bit of your sizzle reel is an Obama "Hope" poster with Megamind's face on it above the words "No You Can't," your movie might be in trouble. Dreamworks films desperately need to prove that they're willing to brew their own laughs rather than just pilfering giggles from cheap cultural references, and Megamind seems like the perfect place to do it (given all the rich cultural references the premise implicitly provides). But no. Also, the reel ended with a Marlon Brando Jor-El gag that falls flat and takes its sweet time doing so. The little moments and affectations that aroused some laughter don't seem to be particularly character-driven so much as they're just baldly exploiting the genre of awkward humor that seems inescapable these days.
2. The design of Megamind himself is distractingly generic. I mentioned above that the look of Metro City is boxy and clean so as to better echo Metropolis, but Superman's villains were never this off-putting to look at it (not even Gene Hackman). There's a tossed-off feel to some of this stuff that keeps the movie from getting into your bones and becoming a treasured film... I look at the Megamind character and I see the perfect way of distracting my fictional kids for 90 minutes, and nothing more.
3. The cast brought breakfast, but not enough to share. It was a bit of a running gag, as Tina Fey had 6 mini-donuts from 7-Eleven only to find a room of 6,000 nerds waiting for her... but seriously, those are 6,000 ridiculously hungry nerds. Finding a good meal here is like finding a compelling argument as to why people flipped for Kick-Ass... it just ain't happening. So that was just mean. Even if it was also a great and greatly contrived excuse for me to register my complete dismissal of Kick-Ass.
4. SO. MUCH. DREAMWORKS FACE.
Megamind hits theaters on November, 5.