Super heroes have long been the centrepieces of action movies and comic book adaptations. But as anyone will tell you, it's the bad guys, the villains and the super villains who more often than not steal the show. Truth and justice are all well and good, but bad is better. Heath Ledger's now iconic turn as Batman's nemisis, The Joker, in The Dark Knight the ultimate example.
Two studios - Universal and Dreamworks - have seized on this idea, both using the super villain as the anti-hero of their major animation releases of 2010. Universal's Despicable Me had Gru, who tried to prove his evil genius with one wicked invention and scheme after another, culminating with the theft of the moon.
Paramount's Megamind, borrowing from Superman, sees its villain crash land on Earth the same time as another alien baby: one growing up to be Metro City's golden child super hero, Metro Man (voiced by Brad Pitt, no less), the other, with his blue skin and giant bulbous head (and voiced by Will Ferrell), inevitably cast in the role of arch nemesis.
Both Despicable Me and Megamind films follow a similar character trajectory: evil, to not-so-evil, to good and finally downright heroic, with the realisation that it's better to be loved than loathed. And both are rather chaotically structured, as schizophrenic as their protagonists. But they're fun in spite of their flaws, rather like the anti-heroes themselves.
Megamind has established a pattern over the years of escaping from prison, kidnapping TV news journalist, Roxanne Ritchie (Tina Fey), and waiting to have his plans foiled by Metro Man. But on this occasion things don't go according to plan, or rather, they do: Metro Man is killed and Megamind assumes control of the city.
But he soon discovers that life without a rival – no noble ying to his evil yang – makes for a dull old time. He also realises that he's in love with Roxanne and the only way to win her over, and get him out of his funk (his melonk-olly, if you will), is to create a new super hero to rival him.
The film goes off on some tangents here, involving Roxanne's cameraman (Jonah Hill) who, also secretly in love with her, becomes the focus of Megamind's plan and Titan is created. It's also where we witness one of the film's comic highlights, an hilarious take-off of Marlon Brando's role as Superman's father from the first Superman film. Titan, however, is not familiar with the superhero refrain, with great power comes great responsibility, and, well, chaos ensues before the inevitable showdown finale.
Creatively speaking, Megamind perhaps falls closer to DreamWorks' Madagascar and latter Shrek films, but with the very impressive early 2010 release, How To Train Your Dragon, they have shown they are making ground on their own arch nemesis, Pixar; the Metro Man (or Buzz Lightyear) to their own Megamind, if you will. Like the best rivalries, it can only encourage them to aim higher.