Wednesday, December 01, 2010


What happens when bad becomes boring? This is one of many questions related to good and evil raised in DreamWorks animated movie Megamind. The tagline gives the viewer fair warning: “A superhero movie with a mind of its own.”
Without telling you any more than is revealed in the trailer, the movie is about an evil villain with a large mind and “the hue of a popular primary color.” Megamind is bad, he wants to be bad, it’s his destiny. He just isn’t very good at it. Metro Man is the superhero who saves the city, is loved by all, and who relishes his pop star status as, well, a pop star. And the damsel in distress, news reporter Roxanne Ritchi, just isn’t in distress, much to the consternation of the evil Megamind.
Megamind not only plays with the problem of badness gone banal, but also with questions such as what causes someone to be bad, and whether or not a bad good guy is worse than a good bad guy. These questions are explored in a cartoon reality that spoofs the super hero genre with wit and compassion, compassion for the bad guy, for the good guy, for the girl who refuses to be a victim, and even compassion for the bad good guy whom the good bad guy creates to be good, which his evil assistant, Minion, insists will be bad for bad, but who turns out to be good for bad, but not in the way that the good bad guy expects. Got it?
Super hero movies work because human beings tend to absolutize moral good and evil. We categorize good and bad in convenient ways that ignore how we too participate in bad and emphasize how others participate in bad, or at least in what we prefer to call bad. And once we have acquitted ourselves of much badness, we reduce the matter further by assigning certain symbols and symbolic actions to badness, and then even further to stereotypes and finally badness by association. The good guys always wear the white hats, or in Metro City, the white capes, don’t they? How is this much different from the good guys always wearing NATO insignia or Allied uniforms, or carrying police badges while the bad guys wear turbans, or SS uniforms or sport gangland tattoos? The messy reality of our common human predicament is just too much for most of us. It’s so much easier to stereotype, to scapegoat.
But we are only fooling ourselves. The mess is ours and we are all culpable. In a fallen world, good and bad are very slippery commodities. If, as the Scripture says, “none are good, no not one” and “no one is good but God alone”; then probably the good guy versus bad guy myth is not very helpful. And in as much as Megamind tweaks that myth, I recommend it. It is also pretty entertaining, “G rated” (although it carries a “PG”), witty and leaves you feeling both feeling good (oops, there’s that word again) and thoughtful.

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