“Megamind” (2010): We Always Have a Choice
Megamind is an animated children’s film released in 2010 by Dreamworks Animation studios – and it’s easily one of their top ten best animated films.
If it weren’t for the Shrek franchise (and possibly The Prince of Egypt), I believe Megamind would be my favorite Dreamworks film. What’s not to love? It’s hilarious, it has great voice actors, it’s nice to look at (great animation), and it has a story with a valuable lesson.
I would also love to give the film points for originality, but the entire universe of Megamind is based loosely on the Superman mythos. Because I’m a huge geek and I love the Superman universe, I was actually thrilled about this. At the same time, however, it would be nice if more filmmakers would try to do something original every once in a while, you know? I can only be entertained with the same crap for so many years.
The film opens with Megamind (Will Ferrell) detailing the early years of his life. He was given up by his parents, who couldn’t keep him because his planet was exploding (or something). The second he reaches Earth, his tiny spaceship lands in a prison, and these are the people he is raised by.
It’s like Megamind didn’t have a chance. He was raised by literal criminals who told him that bad was good and good was bad. What’s more, the few people around him who weren’t criminals still treated him like crap.
The warden (J.K. Simmons), for instance, seemed to irrationally despise Megamind the second he appeared in the prison. You could say, “Well, at least the warden didn’t turn him over to the FBI to have him dissected!” but really, keeping Megamind in a prison and treating him (a baby!) like scum isn’t much better. They had Megamind in an orange jumpsuit and shackles when he was eight!
Children need love, no matter what color they are. The warden could not see past Megamind’s skin color to recognize that he was a person, and so he treated Megamind as less than a person.
On Earth, we call this racism.
At one point in the film, the warden tells Megamind that he’s evil and he will always be in the prison. It’s obvious that this is something he’s been telling Megamind since he was a child, and without stopping to realize it, Megamind believed him.
When we’re children, we are vulnerable to believing whatever we are told. If our parents keep telling us we’re losers all our lives, we’ll believe it. What’s happening is, the child’s brain is being programmed to believe something awful. This is emotional abuse and it’s terrible to do to a child.
The warden was such a crappy guy. In fact, the entire escape sequence in the opening of the film relied on him being a crappy guy: if he hadn’t put the watch on to mock Megamind, Megamind wouldn’t have escaped.
Megamind turned the warden’s own pettiness against him.
Megamind didn’t even have friends at school.
Even just having one friend might have helped him realize his self-worth, and maybe he wouldn’t have grown into a super villain. As children, we measure our self-worth on the way others treat us because we don’t know any better. This naturally has an effect for our emotional development. So having parents who treat you like crap, for instance, will screw you up as an adult.
Megamind was ostracized by the other children and spent all his time alone, inventing things. So on top of being emotionally abused, he was also completely isolated, with no one who loved him and accepted him or ever saw any good in him. And because he was abused in this fashion all his life, he grew up to be exactly what people told him to be: a super villain.
Now, this isn’t to say that Megamind is completely absolved of personal responsibility. Having a bad childhood isn’t an excuse to be a bad person later.
Everyone is responsible for their own behavior, regardless of upbringing, regardless of how terrible society is. When you’re a child, you don’t know any better and you’re vulnerable to brainwashing. But once you’re an adult, you are old enough to learn better, to make the choice to be better than whatever script was handed to you.
We always have a choice. That’s the entire point of the film. Though Megamind was brainwashed as a child, he still made the choice as an adult to be bad.
After the opening sequence regarding his backstory and childhood, Megamind can be seen escaping from prison with his sidekick, Minion(David Cross), a fish controlling a robotic gorilla (because why the hell not?). He then kidnaps Roxanne Ritchi (Tiny Fey)aka “Lois Lane,” the local reporter and Metro Man’s supposed love interest.
Metro Man (Brad Pitt) is the local super hero. A weird baby-tossing cross between Elvis and Superman, he has been at odds with Megamind since they both crash-landed on Earth as children.
Somehow over the years, Megamind and Metro Man have developed a sort of odd frenemy-ship, one where they pretend to battle each other for Metro City in a game of wits versus strength.
It’s my theory that Metro Man actually liked Megamind and was simply humoring him because he pitied him. In essence, Metro Man was Megamind’s only friend, the only person willing to “play” with him and spend time with him in any way. But Megamind was so obsessed with being the ultimate bad guy, he couldn’t see it.
We are also introduced to Hal (Jonah Hill), Roxanne Ritchi’s camera man.
It’s presented in a fairly obvious way that Hal has a crush on Roxanne, but he’s really creepy and weird about it. He is also completely oblivious to his own creepiness, so he doesn’t understand why Roxanne avoids him outside of work.
When Megamind defeats Metro Man, he goes on an evil crime spree and takes over Metro City. I always saw this as an act of revenge, him getting back at all the people who treated him like crap since the first day he arrived on Earth.
It’s a vengeance that seems to go on for a quite a while as he literally paints the town, covering the walls in graffiti, defacing public property, robbing the bank, trashing the park, and emptying the museum.
Eventually, Megamind becomes bored and depressed without a super hero to battle. He realizes that his entire life revolved around escaping prison just to battle Metro Man.
But instead of, I dunno, taking up a new hobby or learning a new skill, Megamind choses to create a new playmate. It doesn’t even occur to him that he doesn’t have to be a super villain. The notion that he’s evil is so deeply ingrained in his psyche that he’s completely ready to carry on in the same fake role – even after winning his freedom by defeating Metro Man.
Megamind creates an elixir from Metro Man’s DNA (dandruff found on his cape) and asks himself who should become the next super hero to battle him.
The obvious answer was Roxanne Ritchi.
Roxanne had a strong sense of justice, was daring, brave, and willing to risk her life to stop Megamind. What’s more, she had a strong dislike of the super villain and wanted to see him behind bars. She was also the only person in Metro City who didn’t seem to fear Megamind. Her comments while she was reporting the news were blatantly critical of him – despite the fact that she’d been kidnapped by him several times, and if he was as evil as she thought, he could have easily killed her.
Of course, the thought never crosses Megamind’s . . . mind. Before he can actually come to a decision, the elixir is accidentally given to Hal, Roxanne’s creepy nacho-loving camera man.
You may be asking how and why Hal is creepy. After all, before his transformation, he seems like a harmless fat guy, right? The creepiest guys always seem harmless.
First off, Hal is trying way too hard to get Roxanne back to his apartment alone. This is a coworker who barely knows him and who has continuously maintained a professional distance. But he continues crossing her boundaries in an effort to get her to come to his apartment alone and “hang out with him.”
You don’t hang out alone in someone’s apartment on a first date. Not unless you’re a) trying to get casual s** or b) one of you is a serial killer. I’d wager Hal is a little of Column A, a little of Column B.
Both columns dehumanize Roxanne.
Megamind disguises himself as Hal’s “space dad” (an obvious and lighthearted mockery of Marlon Brando’s depiction of Jor-el) and trains him to become a great super hero. After an awesome montage (“Mr. Blue”), during which Hal uses his powers to creepily spy on Roxanne in her apartment, we are treated to a scene where Hal appears on her balcony one night in a bungling attempt to seduce her. Instead, he terrifies her by tossing her around in the air at alarming heights, until her hair is standing on end.
Without pausing to ask how Roxanne feels or what she wants, Hal just assumes she loves him. He is told by Megamind that saving her life means endorphins will kick in and then she’ll fall in love with him. So he . . . throws her off a building? Apparently, it doesn’t occur to him that putting her life in danger in the first place is completely psycho.
Let’s take a moment to acknowledge that Hal also loves playing video games, which would have also taught him to dehumanize women in the same way (with their constant theme of saving grateful damsels in distress who then reward the player with s**ual favors).
Yes, young people are susceptible to the media they consume, and most video games are targeted at people whose brains haven’t fully developed (which would be anyone under twenty-five. Hal was twenty-eight. That’s young enough to have already been influenced). So please, male gamers, do not flock to the comments section to rant at me about how video games are “not” sexist. Anyone with two brain cells can see that they are.
Hal is essentially a caricature of the entitled, narcissistic male gamer, who thinks that women are robots who fall in love after the correct actions and words are said and done in proper sequence – rather than, you know, fully autonomous human beings with preferences and sexualities all our own.
Hal is someone who has been told by society over and over that women are prizes. So when his dreams finally come true and he becomes the buff super hero he always played in video games, he fully expects “the girl” to say yes – just like in video games!
Instead, the girl says no.
Hal is crushed and flies away, abandoning Roxanne at the top of a really tall skyscraper.
It’s okay that Hal was hurt by a woman’s rejection. What wasn’t okay was mistreating her because she rejected him. Everyone has the right to say no. Roxanne didn’t deserve to be abandoned on the top of a skyscraper like that.
After Roxanne rejects him, Hal returns to his apartment – and returns to his video games. Being a super hero wasn’t what he thought, so now he’s content to go back to pretending to be one. At least in the video games, he can get the girl.
He’s also started using his super powers to steal. When an indignant Megamind shows up (after hours of waiting for Hal to battle him), he is furious to discover that Hal has decided to be evil.
This was a choice Hal made. He even takes it a step further and invites Megamind to join him!
It immediately becomes clear that Hal was only training to fight crime because he thought Roxanne would love him. The second he realized she wasn’t a pixel robot that had been programmed to feel the same, he chose to be evil.
Someone who was truly good would have kept fighting crime.
I know what you’re thinking: Megamind did the same thing. The second Roxanne dumped him, he stopped trying to be good and went back to being evil, and he only went back to being good again when Roxanne was in danger.
But the difference between Megamind and Hal is, Megamind eventually made the choice to be a better person, with or without Roxanne’s love and approval, while Hal’s goodness depended entirely on whether or not he could use it to impress Roxanne. When Megamind went to rescue Roxanne, there was no promise that she would date him later. He saved her because he cared about her, whether or not she felt the same way.
Hal’s desire to be a good person was never sincere, nor were his feelings for Roxanne.
For Hal, fighting Megamind wasn’t about fighting crime or fighting evil. It was about getting even with Megamind and Roxanne.
Unlike Megamind, once Hal has control of the city, he uses his powers to physically harm people. The people of Metro City, after witnessing Hal’s battle with Megamind, assume that he is their new hero. Instead, Hal flicks the mayor away with his finger – a flick that could have killed the man as he went spiraling off like a pebble.
After that, Hal sets about tearing Metro City apart and terrorizing its citizens in a way Megamind never did.
Meanwhile, Megamind has been using his wristwatch doohickey to trick not only Hal but also Roxanne. Posing as Bernard (Ben Stiller), an unenthusiastic man who works in the Metro Man Museum, Megamind has been wooing Roxanne by pretending to fight . . . Well, himself.
As a result of this, Roxanne falls in love.
The interesting thing is that Hal knew Roxanne well enough to know that fighting Megamind – fighting evil -- would possibly make her admire him. But he didn’t understand that nothing could make her love him. Love was not something that could happen simply as a result of Roxanne’s personal morality.
True love has no reason. It just is. If you know why you love someone, you aren’t in love.
Roxanne started out admiring “Bernard” because Megamind tricked her into believing that he was an ordinary citizen willing to fight for justice. Eventually, however, Roxanne fell in love with “Bernard” on her own and through no personal choice.
It just happened.
And because Megamind was in disguise as “Bernard,” he found it easier to allow another person to get to know him. He let down his guard and opened up to Roxanne in ways he probably never would have to anyone. Knowing Megamind’s past and the reason why he was evil likely made it easier for Roxanne to forgive him later.
In turn, Roxanne was open to Megamind in ways she never would have been had she known it was him. She told Megamind about the park she loved and the art she loved in the museum. She let him see who she was beyond the snarky reporter who hated him.
This vulnerability allowed them to be intimate, and this intimacy allowed them to fall in love.
Of course, like all lies, Megamind’s charade as “Bernard” eventually fell apart, and Roxanne discovered the truth. She dumped Megamind in the rain, demanding to know why he was so evil – demanding to know why he chose to be so evil.
And what Megamind did to Roxanne was evil. Stringing someone along while pretending to be someone else is pretty selfish and messed up (not to mention rapey).
Megamind behaved in a way that was no better than Hal. He didn’t care that he was lying to someone and misleading them. He only cared that he was finally getting the love and acceptance he was denied as a child. He wanted love and it didn’t matter if it came at Roxanne’s expense.
Roxanne’s personhood is dismissed again and again by the characters in this film. But at least the writers give her a way to express her anger at Megamind (“Ow! My giant blue head!”), rather than her just immediately forgiving him (like so many vapidly written female characters before her).
Roxanne is a good example of a Strong Female Character. It’s just a shame she’s the only remotely important female character in the entire film.
The difference between Megamind and Hal is that Megamind decides to change and become a better person, while Hal is entirely convinced he’s some kind of “victim” and that his evil is, therefore, “justified.”
This kind of thinking is typical in a child.
If you listen to Hal’s many rants at Roxanne, his immaturity is apparent. He goes on and on about how Roxanne did him some great personal wrong by not falling in love with him because he thought he was being so nice. He’s not even emotionally mature enough to take responsibility for his own actions. He is the center of the world and only his feelings matter. Everything is Roxanne’s fault. How dare she not love him!
With Hal out to destroy the city, Megamind and Roxanne grudgingly unite in search of Metro Man’s home. Megamind believes that the key to defeating Hal lies in finding Metro Man’s weakness, which would be whatever he died of. They hop in Roxanne’s news van and drive out to the old school house, Metro Man’s “Fortress of Solitude.”
It turns out Metro Man is hiding there, alive and well. Roxanne throws a hilarious tantrum, harmlessly bouncing and breaking guitars off Metro Man’s face, while Megamind stands there in a baffled stupor.
Eventually, Metro Man explains that he hated being a super hero. He hated being pegged into a false role and forced to be someone he wasn’t, while playing out the same “charade” day after day.
By using the word “charade,” Metro Man makes it clear that he was never really a super hero --even if he had the powers of one – and Megamind was never really a villain. They were playing out a script that had been handed to them by the people of Metro City, nothing more.
Metro Man decided that he wanted to choose for himself who he wanted to be. So he faked his own death.
Even after listening to Metro Man’s story and receiving his encouragement, it still doesn’t sink in for Megamind that he doesn’t have to be a villain, that he can choose to be good. Instead of strapping on a hover pack and heading out to battle . . . Megamind returns to prison.
It is the standard moment of self-doubt and defeat in the typical Hero’s Journey.
While Megamind has given up and is sitting in prison, Roxanne decides to take matters into her own hands. She bravely attempts to talk Hal down, appealing to the good in him.
Hal is still narcissistically focused on his own anger and rage. He doesn’t care about anyone else. Roxanne’s pleas are ignored. She is tied to a pole and used as bait for Megamind.
Hal only cares about one thing now: revenge. He still sees himself as a victim of Megamind and Roxanne. To him, they are the ones who are evil and should be punished: Megamind for trying to make him a hero (in an admittedly deceptive way) and Roxanne for not falling in love with him.
After a falling out, Megamind and Minion team up to take down Tighten (Hal hilariously misunderstood and thought that was his name when Megamind actually meant “Titan”). Megamind uses his wristwatch disguise . . . thingy . . . to pose as Metro Man and intimidate Hal into leaving.
The one invention that kept getting him into trouble, and yet he thought he could successfully use it against Tighten?
Having repeated the same mistake for a third time, Megamind is out of luck. Tighten sees through his tricks and attacks him. After viciously attempting to kill Roxanne by hurling a skyscraper at her (yikes! Someone is emotionally unbalanced), he physically beats Megamind to the ground, while screaming that it’s the last time Megamind will make a fool out of him.
Megamind insults Hal by telling him he did “the fool thing” all by himself. Megamind isn’t truly out to hurt Hal’s feelings: he’s tricking Hal into punching him far enough so that he can reach the diffuser gun. As Hal pulls back his fist to punch, there’s a split second where he looks truly hurt and outraged by the insult, and you’re left to wonder why he cares so much what Megamind thinks of him.
It’s because Hal is a person who places all his self-worth in the perceptions of others. If he truly loved himself, what other people thought wouldn’t matter. In this light, it becomes obvious why Hal is so deeply hurt and enraged by Roxanne’s rejection and Megamind’s insults: rather than deciding for himself who he is, he allows others to dictate his value: if Roxanne doesn’t want to be with him, then he must be worthless; if Megamind doesn’t want to team up with him, then he must be worthless.
Yeah. The next time I’m tempted to be hurt by someone else’s opinion of me, I’ll think of Hal and how ridiculous he looked, ranting on in an emotional rage because Roxanne rejected him and Megamind called him a fool.
Again, it makes you want to scream, “WHY DO YOU EVEN CARE?”
It’s because deep down, Hal believes he’s a loser. Everything he says to Megamind, he’s actually saying to himself. This is apparent in the scene where Hal unsuccessfully tries to woo Roxanne. She calls him Hal and he screams, “Not Hal! Tighten!” before taking off into the sky.
Hal hates himself.
Hal continues beating Megamind and insulting him as a “loser” who can’t ever win, even when he’s on the good side. For the first time in his life, Megamind has come to the place where Hal so desperately needs to be: he has realized that he’s not a loser, that he doesn’t have to be evil, and that other people don’t define him. When Tighten calls him a loser, he replies,
“There’s a benefit to losing: you get to learn from your mistakes.”
Then, after being tossed in the air and nearly killed, Megamind redeems himself by driving the diffuser gun up Tighten’s nose and turning him back into fat, creepy Hal.
The film ends with the city thanking Megamind and welcoming him as their new hero. Megamind dances on stage to applause, Roxanne kisses him, and then the credits roll.
It’s a wonderfully hilarious film with a great message: other people don’t get to decide who we are. People are always going to misunderstand us, judge us, see us through the filter of their racism or sexism. But it doesn’t have to change who we are. It doesn’t have to influence us at all.
We can’t control how we’re born, we can’t control how others treat us, but we can control what we do.
It’s a lesson they really should teach in school.
© 2020 Ash