It’s hard to shake the nerdiness hovering over this new DreamWorks film. It begins with the movie’s obvious message, which is thick and rich with ambivalence about outcasts. Megamind himself—voiced sweetly by Will Ferrell—repeatedly invokes the childhood paradoxes of being the smartest kid in school. At one level, even the teachers hate you. And Megamind dwells almost obsessively on the rewards and punishments routinely due to dweebs who try to rise above. Getting a shot at redemption, our anti-hero must use an even bigger geek as surrogate villain. Though no worse than Megamind, Tighten (voiced by Jonah Hill), like Syndrome in The Incredibles, goes drunk with power and quickly becomes selfish and destructive. With great authority, apparently, comes inappropriate behavior.
It’s even geekier, however, that director Tom McGrath (Ren & Stimpy) is so derivative. Everything can be traced to better films. Besides The Incredibles, a brilliant hymn to differences, Megamind steals from Despicable Me, Monsters vs. Aliens, and the lame attempt at in-joke dialogue found in Shrek. It’s almost as if DreamWorks forgot how great they can be. (Remember Kung Fu Panda and How to Train Your Dragon?) Of course superhero movies are box-office gold and immediately iconic, but this satire drawn from Superman feels super-thin—more like a fan-boy lament than a meditation on vigilante justice.
On the other hand, we also know there is something undeniably cool about geeks, and that’s their way around computers. If there’s any real reason to see this movie besides mollifying the kids, it’s the beautiful forms and surfaces of the complex animation. The character Minion, a sweet wise-ass alien fish in a bowl, looks out a window in one scene, and we see a hall of mirrors of gorgeous reflections. It’s a true use of three dimensions, teasing us into this semi-fantastic creation, remarkable due to its insanely realistic rendering of shadows and light. It’s a believable world that doesn’t, that couldn’t, exist, and one that makes us say, “Hooray for nerds” in the end.