Thursday, April 28, 2011

Megamind and Metro Man: Destiny, Choice and a Really Great Costume

    The titular character of the film Megamind and his nemesis Metro Man appear to be polar opposites throughout most of the movie, yet by the story’s end we the audience come to see that the two characters are two sides of the same coin.

    Megamind is obviously an alien. He’s about five feet tall, his body is slender as a toothpick but his hairless head is exaggeratedly large and shaped like an inverted teardrop. His skin is cerulean blue , his green eyes are large and round, and his chin is very pointy, sporting a carefully groomed and properly villainous black goatee. His costumes of choice are usually shiny and black, featuring steel studs, high bat-like collars and flowing capes, reminiscent of the borderline fetish-wear favored by innumerable super-villains in movie history. Megamind has no inhuman powers or pieces of seemingly-magical technology from his homeworld, only his brilliant mind, just like any human. The only thing he has from his planet is his friend the pint-sized Minion, a piscine creature who lives in a liquid-filled glass sphere. Minion loves Megamind unconditionally, and the two are inseparable, from Megamind’s school years through his rise to supervillainry and countless attempts to vanquish Metro Man and rule over Metro City.

    Conversely, Metro Man looks perfectly human, bearing a remarkable resemblance to Superman crossed with Elvis Presley. However, unlike Megamind, his unearthly heritage imbues him with superpowers including invulnerability, super-strength and flying, which he uses to assist or defend others. He is at least six feet tall and heavily muscled with dark hair, blue eyes and clean-shaven square jaw, wearing elaborate fringed and sparkly costumes in whites, creams, golds and bronzes as he performs his heroic deeds. Though he is named ‘Protector of Metro City’ and the adoring citizens build a museum in his honor, the film depicts him as a man apart, without any real friends.
    When Metro Man and Megamind are just days old, their parents send them away from their respective dying planets, and the two babies crash in Metro City on Earth. Megamind’s escape pod bounces right in the city’s prison, where he is subsequently raised by the community of super-smart criminals who teach the already-clever blue child everything they know. One could say he was destined to be a villain from the moment he landed in the prison yard., and naturally Megamind  grows up with an aptitude for technologically-fueled mayhem, which he takes with him to his first school.
    On the other hand, Metro Man’s pod glides right into the palatial home of an affluent couple. Though kind, they seem to relate to him as an adorable fancy toy who can fly and literally bounce off the walls without suffering injury, as opposed to a real person. His adoptive parents do realize that flight is an unusual trait in a youngster, so they send him to a school for gifted children, where he meets young Megamind. Metro Man soon begins his career as a hero, using his special abilities to protect his schoolmates from errant dodge balls, burning explosions of unexpected popcorn and other sundry accidents caused by the scientifically-inclined Megamind’s experiments. His motivations appear to be part showing off, part decent human behavior, both fueled by the desire to be liked and admired.
    Similarly, Megamind begins his school days wanting friendship with the other children, but the devices he invents in attempts to imitate the feats that endeared Metro Man to the schoolchildren (such as popping popcorn with a laser gaze) never quite work the way he thinks they will, his inventions almost injuring the children. Subsequently he is excluded from normal childhood fun and games, and subjected to bullying. With Minion as his friend, sidekick and willing test subject, Megamind puts together increasingly effective anti-bullying devices and finally decides to stop trying to be liked and start indulging his penchant for trouble. He ends his school days with one last act of deliberate mischief, setting off a small explosion of blue paint powder in the schoolroom. The gleeful expression on his face as he rides away on the prison bus says it all; he has found something he loves to do, something he is good at doing, and something he’ll do for years to come.
    As Megamind spends the next ten or so years hatching villainous plots (such as trying to render all of Metro City illiterate using a special ray gun), Metro Man feels obliged to be the one to step up and stop him. He is, after all a decent man whose gifts make him unusually suited to the task, and so whether or not Metro Man would have chosen a life of public service if Megamind didn’t insist upon playing the villain, the hero knows that as long as evil is around, good must rise up against it.
    The two aliens seem at opposite ends of the spectrum of good and evil, as different as black and white, but a new picture begins to emerge once the movie viewer examines the pair, and realizes that the basic character elements and motivations that the superhero and supervillain have in common far outweigh their superficial differences.
        Metro Man and Megamind are both orphans from alien planets, each with a liking for putting on a show in their costumes and actions, and each
character’s behavior stems from the same desire to be liked and accepted. They both have something from his lost homeworld: Megamind has Minion, and Metro Man has his otherworldly powers. The hero and the villain feel mostly or completely alone in the world, and though Metro Man enjoys helping people and Megamind relishes the elaborate dance of nefarious plotting, each feels forced into his role as hero or villain to a certain extent, and has questions about choosing one’s own path which he has been subconsciously mulling over his entire life. When school-aged Megamind comes to the erroneous conclusion that his only talent is causing chaos, he thinks that troublemaking is his destiny, so he embraces it.
Metro Man has been protecting Metro City ever since his and Megamind’s school days, so the hero thinks he has never had a choice.
    By the movie’s end, each character has discovered that he does have a choice, and so he makes one. Metro Man realizes he has a choice just like any other person, and chooses to retire from being a superhero in favor of pursuing music, and Megamind has discovered that people judge him based on his actions, that he doesn’t love being evil so much as he loves putting on a show of good vs. evil--and chooses to become the new defender of Metro City. Ultimately we see that Megamind and Metro Man have more similarities than differences at the core, and the movie plays out the same ideas in the two characters. Each one forms half a yin-yang which when completed, gives a full picture of the movie’s themes of destiny, choice, finding one’s true calling--and the value of a really great costume.

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