Megamind and Metro Man: The eyebrows have it.

If you’ve seen the 1978 Superman movie, with Marlon Brando as Jor-El, then a good part of this movie will give you déjà vu. Will Farrell doesn’t do a very good Marlon Brando impression, but then, it isn’t really supposed to be all that good. I don’t think so, anyway. Will Farrell was actually quite bearable, that’s the point.

To start with, the galaxy is destroyed. Well, some portion of some galaxy gets destroyed, at least. Two sets of desperate parents each save their son by putting him into a fancy escape pod and sending him out into the depths of space. That’s never seemed like a very good idea to me, but it’s part of the mythos now, so you just have to roll with it. One baby is blue, hapless, and confused; the other one seems to have everything all under control as he’s hurtling into nowhere. He even looks good while doing that.

One baby lands in the middle of a wealthy, childless couple’s house and is an instant hit. The other baby lands in… well, let’s just say that this kid looks out at the world through bars other than those on a crib. Guess which one is voiced by Brad Pitt (Ocean’s Thirteen) when he grows up, and which by Will Farrell (The Other Guys)? The rivalry is instant at school — no surprise, really. Handsome Brad Pitt Little Boy has already made everyone his friends by doing tricks with his Superman powers, and poor Big-Headed Blue Will Farrell Little Boy has to jump in at the middle of the semester and be the smart kid who’s no good at sports. You know, if I was just better at building death rays, I would’ve become a supervillain myself. I had no idea how close I came. Good thing I’m not blue or bald.

Anyway, if they have other names, we don’t get to hear them. They’re Metro Man and Megamind, and proud of it — even though neither one is all that likable, really. Metro Man, guardian of Metro City, juggles babies and calls the citizens helpless, yet they love him. Not that Megamind is any better. He and his faithful minion, Minion (David Cross), a talking fish with a really bad underbite, spend all their time robbing banks, trying to take over the city, and kidnapping reporter Roxanne Ritchi (Tina Fey), who should not be confused with Lois Lane even when she’s being scooped up from her balcony for a nice flight around the city.

Then Metro Man is no longer around to protect the helpless Metro Citians, and just in time, too. The whole walking on water thing was getting pretty old. Megamind takes over City Hall while everybody watches — helplessly, of course — and evil wins the day!

That isn’t the entire movie, though. I wouldn’t tell you the whole plot. That’s just where the movie takes a weird turn. The whole good-evil thing gets kinda fuzzy, first of all, and Roxanne’s love life gets a little complicated when Titan (Jonah Hill) arrives on the scene. Or maybe I mean Tighten. I assumed it was Titan, since that’s a good code name, but when I looked at the credits on imdb and the official web site, it was spelled Tighten. The character spells it Tighten, but I wasn’t sure if that counted since he wasn’t supposed to be the brightest bulb on the tree. It may be a copyright issue.

Then there’s the invisible car, the warden (J.K. Simmons, Spider-Man 3), the Tesla coils, the brain bots, and rampant destruction of city property. There’s even first dates, first kisses, and a little existential angst for good measure. Yes, this is a movie for kids like Shrek Forever After is for kids, which is to say not at all, really. But it was fun. Apparently even Will Farrell has a niche where his acting… or lack thereof… is okay, and here it is. Heck, I didn’t even cringe about Ben Stiller doing the voice of the depressed Bernard, who’s a librarian or museum curator or something.

So I’m a little shocked to be ranking this four and a quarter out of five. I don’t know if the kids in the theatre understood it, though. Some of them seemed a little restless at times. Yeah, that is weird, but that was the impression I got. The point is, the writers had a lot of fun messing with all the usual clichés and mixing everything up, and you can tell they had fun. Again, I’m not sure they really reached their intended audience, but they entertained me just fine.

The Last Airbender

The Last Airbender movie cast versus the animated series cast.

Once there was an animated series called Avatar: The Last Airbender. Thanks to James Cameron, no one can use the name Avatar anymore, so we’re stuck with the subtitle. I haven’t had cable in years, so I didn’t know the series existed myself until I started seeing all this buzz. M. Night Shyamalan likes to keep us all on our toes with his choices of subject, apparently. His last name, in case you’re wondering, is pronounced “sir”, because on the billion to one chance I ever meet him, that’s what I’m going to call him. I hear he gets mad if you mispronounce his name.

So there’s this kid with tattoos all over him. Wait, I have to start further back. There’s this world where everyone belongs to one of four groups: Air, Water, Earth, and Fire. Some people can also ‘bend’ their native element, as in make walls of earth spring up and send blobs of water flying. This bending is a lot like Tai Chi, requiring various stances and movements to get the really big and cool things to happen. It’s visually very cool, but it gets a little silly in the battle scenes. I mean, why do people just stand there and watch their opponent do the long, slow dance that means death at the end of it? Break their concentration! Knock them over! But it’s tradition, I guess, so what can you do? Each generation also has one person, a spiritual leader who can bend all four elements and who is called the Avatar — I mean the A word — and the kid with the tattoos is the latest reincarnation. Imagine the Dalai Lama with super powers.

Thanks to a freak accident, this reincarnation — a boy named Aang — ends up out of commission for a long time. Without the A word person around, things turn bad pretty quickly. The Fire Nation, under Fire Lord Ozai (Cliff Curtis, and I’m so sad that he’s playing a bad guy this time after Sunshine and Live Free and Die Hard), has gotten all uppity and wants to take over the world. And they’re off to a good start, because they use their fire to make Machines. Most others seem to live at about a medieval level of technology, but they have battleships with flamethrowers. Actually, they’d love the Really Big Gun from Jonah Hex.

The takeover is going pretty well so far, but once Aang is back in action, he’s ready to stop it. He’s rescued by Katara (Nicola Peltz) and her brother Sokka (Jackson Rathbone, who’s also in those Twilight movies and is therefore probably being mobbed by teenage girls even as you read this), members of the Southern Water Clan. Water Clan also means ice — the southern group dresses and lives somewhat like Eskimos or some other Inuit tribe, whereas their nothern counterparts remind me of Lapps or Finns, or possibly Russians. The Air clan looks mainly Tibetan, the Earth tribes seemed more Chinese, and the Fire Nation more like Indians — India Indians, that is — though everyone uses something that looks a lot like a Chinese alphabet. There’s a pretty rich background here, thanks to the series, and you get a good sense of it.

The three kids join forces and head out on Appa, Aang’s pet flying carpet. He was a flying bison in the series, but here, at least, he looks like a cross between a bearskin rug and the horned monster from Where the Wild Things Are. They are kids, by the way — at 25, Jackson as Sokka is the grandfather of the four main characters (though I’m sure the character is meant to be younger), all the way down to twelve for Aang — which is normally a scary thing, but that didn’t bother me at all going in, and I was right not to worry. Whatever else you might say about M. Night, he can get kids to act. I don’t know how he does it.

Anyway, the quest to save the world begins, and our heroes rack up a lot of frequent flier miles. Everywhere they stop, they start up a rebellion against the Fire Nation. But Aang, being brand-new to his job, still needs to learn a few things, and that has to take priority. Except at any given moment, it’s kind of hard to tell exactly what their priorities are. First they want to keep Aang’s identity secret. Two seconds and one scene change later, they’re telling everyone who he is. Once Katara asks Aang if he knows what to do. He says yes, but instead of asking what that is, or better yet just letting him do it, she tells him that they have to go. They repeat each major plot point until you want to throw things at the screen, but leave you to flounder in figuring out things like the mysterious dragon that appears from time to time. The repetition reminds me of 300 syndrome — a couple of times the narrator says something, and the next thing you know, that something is being acted out on screen. I’ll never understand why filmmakers do that. Show, don’t tell!

Maybe they assumed the audience already knew the mythology, and that’s one reason why it’s so jumpy and twitchy and generally confusing. It’s a bad idea to assume that everyone knows even Batman’s backstory; so it’s really off-base to presume that everyone watching this flick will have seen even one episode of the Nickelodeon series. Maybe they were trying to be artsy and got carried away. Maybe the original episodes were like that. Or maybe the editor just needed a vacation.

Just choose your favorite maybe. Whatever the reason for the way it leaps almost randomly from scene to scene, it loses half an idol just for that, knocking it down to two and three-quarters out of five. The effects are seamless. The acting is solid, and a special shout-out to Dev Patel as the exiled Fire Prince Zuko, fighting to reclaim his honor; and his uncle Iroh (Shaun Toub, Yinsen of Iron Man), who both do an excellent job as the antagonists — I hate to call them villains because they end up just so likable. And I suspect the sides will shift a lot for the next flick — yes, it’s meant for a sequel, even down to starting out with calling it “Chapter One: The Book of Water”, thus setting things up nicely for books two and three, as in the series. I don’t know yet if it will happen, but as long as they get a different set of editors in the booth, it might even be one of those rare cases where the sequel is better than the original.