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A visual narrative is inherently limited by what can be shown on the screen. Except, of course, that many successful films gain their effect by what they do not show. It may be a camera angle to prevent the viewer from seeing the approach of the man with a knife, or it may simply be darkness which hides everything from view until someone gets the torch working again. But in the main, we have cameras that point at people, animals and scenery and, as by magic, capture the view and replay it on screen in our local cinemas. Which brings us to the animated traditions. These are not capable of recreating reality. Whether we’re dealing with stop-motion, hand-drawn or computer-generated, we are entering a world of fantasy where cute animals talk and what are presented as humans may defy the laws of physics. This enables them to respond to physical impacts like the sudden arrival of an anvil from a great height with the rubberised aplomb of cartoon characters. Done well, this is highly entertaining. Everything else comes over with varying degrees of boredom. All of which bring us to Megamind.

However you look at this film, it’s a dog’s breakfast. Let’s start at the beginning with its riff on the Superman mythos. Two alien cultures, both about to be destroyed, send their baby boys off to Earth. The Blue One arrives in a prison. The Other One lands literally in the lap of wealth and luxury. So this is not about secret identities. From the word go, the world knows we have two alien babies living among us but, for the purposes of the plot, we are supposed to ignore the consequential mass media interest in following the lives of the boys as they grow up. No paparazzi photographers lurk in trees around the jail to take candid shots of the Blue One playing with the hardened criminals. The warden sees no need to call in child welfare services. Instead, when they are of an age for education, they meet again in a village-style schoolhouse claiming to be for gifted children. Perhaps it’s reasonable to have this next to a prison where the guards and support staff live and send their children. But it’s definitely not a school with expensive facilities and children from the right families that wealthy parents would entrust with their extraterrestrial adopted son.

Anyway, no matter how they arrive in the school, the Other One shows his parents’ class-based contempt for the blue oik by routinely humiliating the poor thing. So much for being a paragon of virtue. Even the Smallville block of wood, Tom Welling, manages more empathy in his little finger than this monster. Not unnaturally, being reared by hardened criminals (and sex offenders) and denied self-respect by the peer group of school bullies, the Blue One decides the only career choice open to him is to be bad (and he vows to be good at it). This is supposed to trigger an enduring battle with the Blue One acting as the Other’s nemesis. Except, of course, no-one in Metro City has any illusions about who these two are. The Blue One’s prison upbringing and poor school performance were the talk of the celebrity gossip columns. He’s so routinely defeated that no-one can have any fear of him, the majority viewing him with ridicule and contempt. Indeed, when the Other One has an existential moment, he recognises a life of total boredom (as have most of those still awake in the cinema). There’s no pleasure or satisfaction in protecting Metro City because, without a real villain like Heath Ledger’s Joker, there’s no credible threat to Metro City. Since he cannot commit suicide, the Other One fakes his own death and becomes a hermit. He’s not, you will understand, a people person. This is not a retreat into a quiet alternative identity, writing stories for a local newspaper. He’s self-absorbed and self-deluding in believing he can be a singer with prospects (even though he’s tricked everyone into thinking he’s dead — no, wait, faking your death is the best way to get a best seller).

Deprived of an opponent, the Blue One then discovers he has no interest in being bad for its own sake. The damage to Metro City is through neglect, i.e. the people respond to his hands-off rule by allowing the place to fill up with rubbish and get rundown. By this point, I was also feeling very rundown. The device of the Blue One injecting the Other One’s DNA into a human and producing another person with superpowers is a remarkable piece of science fiction. This is presumably why many governments want to restrict stem cell cloning, afraid everyone injected will suddenly turn back into babies. The use of Marlon Brando’s image as the teacher went on too long and the fight at the end was incomprehensible. How can a weedy alien who has thus-far only shown some brain power and an inability to pronounce everyday words like “Hello”, suddenly demonstrate physical superpowers? Have I missed something while struggling to stay awake? Rather than just creating an image, does this watch as a cloaking device also endow the wearer with the power of flight and the ability to cut a bus in half by standing in front of it? I was baffled and annoyed. It seems the writers are only interested in a random sequence of images for effect and not any kind of logic.

So, overall, this was a snooze fest of the first magnitude. The dialogue lacks wit. The script lacks invention. The characters were, with the possible exception of Tina Frey’s spunky girl reporter, all two-dimensional (despite paying the extra for 3D — yet another waste of money) and completely lacking in credibility. Not one of the characters emerges with any credit. The stand-in hero voiced by Jonah Hill, is a frat boy gone bad, the Other One voiced by Brad Pitt, is happiest on his own with a drink in his belly and a guitar in his hands, while the Blue One voiced by Will Ferrell, and his Minion voiced by David Cross, are shallow, toothless wonders.

If your children insist on seeing this film, send them in on their own with plenty of stuff to nibble. Exposing yourself to films like this as an adult may be bad for your health.

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