So I watched a great movie the other night, and I loved this movie so much I borrowed it and watched it three times afterwards with different friends. I had never heard of it before, but apparently it was a mainstream Pixar film with some pretty famous people doing voice acting. Surprisingly, it has a depth and complexity I would only expect from an indie film! Megamind follows the life of an evil super villain named -- you guessed it -- Megamind. Before his parents perish in an apocalyptic scenario, they tell him he is destined for something- but he never finds out what! We find his childhood experiences as an outsider and unintentional trouble-maker with a knack for science lead him to realize his true calling is to be evil! Of course, Metro Man is always right around the corner to defeat him, and as they grow up their conflict continues to threaten and save Metrocity.
The typical super villain should arouse your disgust and fear, right? Despite the fact that Megamind stay true to the super villain archetype, as a viewer I was pulled in by his character, even charmed by it. Perhaps this was because I understood why he become what he did, but I think the more likely reason why is because he did his work with such animation a gusto! Seeing behind the scenes of his super villainous shenanigans, you could tell Megamind wasn't driven by a deep hate or pain, but merely by the joy of being seen as evil. What was really going on was that super villain and superhero were engaged in a process of mutual recognition à la Hegel: they needed each other to see each other as what they were to define each other.
But then, one day, Metro Man (spoiler alert!) realizes that he is tired of his identity, and makes a Sartrean choice not to keep playing this game: he fakes his own death, thus escaping his identity and his obligation to society! It is when Metro Man explains his feelings of entrapment that we see that he is the most powerful man in the city, and yet the most powerless, because he is a slave to their expectations and values. Being oppressed by the masses and their expectations is a popular theme in existentialism, but here I would prefer to use Nietzsche's ideas on "the herd", as the film is very consistent with Nietzsche's views. Nietzsche would take a moment to point out that here the herd takes the most powerful "overman" of society and pulls him down with the weight of their values, but Metro Man has freed himself from their expectations and is now truly an overman.
Meanwhile, Megamind has taken charge of the city. At first he is excited and celebrates his victory, but soon he realizes that in killing off Metro Man he has killed off any meaning he formerly had, and has killed off his identity. This moment is comparable to the moment when Nietzsche said, "God is dead"; Megamind realizes he can no longer rely on some external source (i.e. Metro Man) to define his values and to give his life meaning, and so he must re-create value and rebuild his life.
You can tie me up and make evil expressions at me all day -- I'm still not going out next Saturday.
Fortunately, this is where Roxanne Ritchie, the movie's "female-prop", comes in. After being kidnapped and rescued and reporting on the story, this woman gets to serve another purpose in the film by being the girl Megamind falls in love with and dates in disguise. Somehow Pixar manages to make this not seem creepy. She gives Megamind a means of distracting himself from his existential agony and also serves as a moral compass. The only thing we know about her life and interests that isn't about Megamind is that she has a creepy stalker coworker who is gross. To the film's feminist credit, they take the time to clearly demonstrate that not all macho-men (like Metro Man) get the girl, and some men (like Hal the creep) don't deserve her and should listen when the ladies say no.
But Roxanne is only a temporary distraction for Megamind, as he has another plan to re-instate meaning into his life. He is going to create a superhero to fight and then continue the former balance of recognition he had with Metro Man. Long story short, he accidentally turns Hal into a superhero named Titan, and finds out Hal isn't so "super" but actually still the same self-interested sloth but with super abilities.
Here we find an interesting distinction that connects with Nietzsche's "Beyond Good and Evil". Metro City would say that Metro Man was good, and that Megamind is evil, and that Hal was supposed to be good but ended up evil, but for Nietzsche, and as we find out, also for Megamind, there is a different meaning of the word "good" which might better correspond with "great". Metro Man and Megamind were "great" in that they were passionate about their work and devoted themselves entirely to it. When Metro Man realized he wasn't passionate about his work, he stopped being "good" but kept being "great" at living his own life. Titan, however, started out "good" then went "bad", but was never "great" because he didn't do his work out of passion and care for his own work, but merely for other reasons (at first to win Roxanne's affections, then to gain material goods and exercise power). It isn't until this point that we realize Megamind's true "destiny" was to be "great" -- not necessarily "good" or "bad" by anyone's external standard but to be truly devoted to his own life. Like Metro Man, Megamind frees himself from the morality of the common people and does what he feels is right to the best of his ability.
I thought this movie was amazing, especially considering it was a Pixar film. Pixar is known for their fantastic animation, which was no exception here, but the depth of this film was very unexpected. There were a few points I would have liked to correct, however, that would have probably made the film less marketable overall. For example, Megamind's evil schemes are never depicted as causing harm to civilians, only as playful games, whereas Titan's destruction is presented as much more threatening. I realize it would have made the concept of the film more difficult to tease out, but to show the grey ethics of the overman's world would have been more realistic. Also, the only reason Roxanne Ritchie was made female was so she could be used as a plot device. It would have been better if one of the heroes had been female or if there had at least been one other female character that did not play a role as a sex object to propel the plot. Overall, however, I applaud Pixar for their brilliant demonstration of Nietzschean ethics. I never really felt like I understood the overman until I saw him in giant blue face of an evil genius.