The dilemma is unexpectedly and maturely clever: What happens when a person who bases his life on fighting the establishment becomes the establishment?

Megamind is informed by the archetypes of comic books — good and evil, brains and brawn, aliens from another world, a city and woman in peril (often at the same time) — and the language of their cinematic adaptations — big battles, massive destruction, interludes of wonder, dialogue that talks big without saying much of substance. It knows the blueprints and the materials; it’s seen the finished product again and again. Hence, the film knows the way to tear it down only to rebuild it upside-down, painted in bright colors and populated with jagged, cartoonish types.

Alan J. Schoolcraft and Brent Simons’s script imagines the same scenario that gave the planet Earth Superman, as a blue baby with a big cranium, later known as Megamind (voice of Will Ferrell, who is restrained and focused), is jettisoned from his home planet on the verge of destruction. Along the way, he encounters another escape pod housing another baby — a brawny humanoid who will be known as Metro Man (voice of a laid-back Brad Pitt). Baby Metro Man’s craft lands in a mansion to a couple who want a child, while Megamind crashes onto the grounds of a jail, where the inmates teach him with flashcards that cops are bad and robbers are good.

Their paths cross again at school (Megamind has the unfortunate habit of mispronunciation, so “school” for him is sibilant). Megamind looks different, so he is picked last for everything, develops a knack for inventions, gets into trouble, and has a lot of time outs in the corner. Metro Man is normal-looking, strong, and can fly, so he’s beloved by classmates — often saving them from the villain they helped to create through their cruelty.

They grow up, and the pattern continues: Megamind a super-villain and Metro Man a superhero, with a new museum opening in his honor. The blue guy longs for the also alliteratively named intrepid reporter Roxanne Ritchi (voice of Tina Fey), and kidnaps her repeatedly. This time, she’s bored with the whole exercise, pointing out every threat of torture Megamind has before he can say it himself. Long story short, Metro Man winds up out of the picture (in an amusingly macabre moment), and Megamind becomes the ruler of Metro City (which he pronounces as one word).

With great power comes great ennui and melancholy (a word he butchers beyond immediate recognition). He has no idea what to do with his new status as tyrant. The woman he adores wants even less to do with him now. Then there’s the existential problem of a villain without hero.

The screenplay is loaded with warped clichés and allusions. The verbal conflict between Megamind and Metro Man pushes metaphors of justice or the lack thereof to the absurd, moving from the properties of a metal to a microwave. Megamind’s gadgets range from the high-tech (an invisible car, a robotic suit for his talking-fish sidekick Minion (voice of David Cross), and a swarm of flying robots) to a low-rent memory-wiping device (a baton).

The continuing plot features Megamind attempting to get on Roxanne’s good side by pretending to be the curator of the Metro Man museum, which leads to a very funny sequence where he alternates between captor and captive on the fly, aiding in the destruction of his secret hideout (which has a welcome mat out front of the secret entrance). Then, just as circumstances helped to create his villainous nature, Megamind decides to make his own superhero using Metro Man’s DNA. His target, Roxanne’s loyal and infatuated cameraman (voice of Jonah Hill), has his own issues, though, and no matter how many times Megamind appears to the kid, now named Titan but spelled “Tighten,” as his “space dad” (a lisping, tall-haired Brando type), the new hero is too self-centered to actually be one. Under the impression that all he has to do is save Roxanne for her to fall in love him, Tighten takes her on a nighttime flight (a la Superman again) and repeatedly drops her.

As a superhero parody, Megamind is solid, smart, and quite funny, even if the major action sequences (a fight between yet another giant robot suit and Tighten, outrunning a collapsing tower) are underwhelming. Underneath the polish of the jokes and the look of the film, though, is a twisted realignment of the motivation (self-serving versus selfless) and origin (nature versus nurture) of the heroes and villains that energizes the comedy.

Mark Dujsik is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Online Film Critics Society. For more of his reviews, visit his website.

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