Monsters: Dark Continent Review

Posted: October 16, 2014 in 2014 London Film Festival, Action, Reviews, Science Fiction
Tags: , , , ,

monstersMonsters: Dark Continent is a glorious failure, a spectacular technical achievement that is completely undone by the absence of a compelling narrative. The movie is the cinematic equivalent of a beautiful girl without a thought in her head – eventually you grow bored with just staring at her.

The original Monsters won a fair amount of critical acclaim for its nuanced and convincing look at aliens on earth that were more of an invasive species than hostile invaders. Done on the cheap, the film boasted modest special effects and small-scale ambitions that made for a pleasant diversion with an ending that suggested a universal language of love (and reproduction). Monsters: Dark Continent brings the story forward ten years, when the aliens have spread from Mexico to the Middle East. Hostile or not, they now represent an even greater threat to U.S. national interests, which means the full force of the military is being brought to bear. Unfortunately, the heavy handed tactics used to destroy the monsters have created a fair amount of collateral damage and given rise to a local insurgency that sees the American soldiers as simply another threat.

“Who was that IED for – us or the monsters?” asks a soldier. “Both,” replies his sergeant.

The film begins in Detroit as five soldiers prepare to deploy. There is a sense in the early going that director Tom Green has his sights set on a 21st century The Deer Hunter as we watch a group of youth from the same hometown prepare to go off to fight their nation’s battles. Unfortunately, the time spent stateside is squandered, and the opportunity for badly needed character development is lost. Sure, two of the five are childhood buddies, and one guy just had a baby, but overall, there is so little shading drawn for any of them that the audience is not emotionally invested in what follows. Who dies and in what order has low-to-no impact. There is more ground truth here than in The Hurt Locker, but it’s not in the service of a greater good.

Once at the front, they meet their sergeant, Noah Frater (Johnny Harris), who is on his eighth tour. Harris brings the proper look and intensity to the part, but is undone by a script that reduces him over the course of the 123-minute runtime to an irrational, angry authority figure who can do little more than scream about the mission to a group of confused recruits. The “mission” itself, which one expects to be the spine of the story, is to rescue a squad that has gone missing in a zone where the fiercest concentrations of monsters and insurgents overlap. While we might be hoping for Aliens and willing to settle for Platoon, Monsters: Dark Continent gives us neither. The search is an excuse to wander through the Jordanian desert, occasionally encountering friend and foe, with the monsters falling into a separate category. The squad only turns its weapons one time on a creature, which proves to be surprisingly easy to take down considering it is roughly the size of an engorged Val Kilmer.

Still, even with its narrative shortcomings, the epic scale of the film is staggering at times. We see the complete life cycle of the alien, from a dramatic nighttime spawning reminiscent of the conclusion of the first film to a colorful infancy featuring a dramatic and sudden transformation. The adolescent aliens run in herds, an activity captured in scenes that compare favorably to similar ones in Jurassic Park. Monsters: Dark Continent has so much that is so good: the merger of CGI and the Jordanian landscape, the framing and filming of sandstorms and sunsets, and a soundtrack and score perfectly suited to the action on screen.

The final shot of the movie is a gorgeous image that is featured in the trailer for the London Film Festival, where the movie enjoyed its world premiere at the Empire IMAX cinema on Leicester Square. Yet, for all its beauty, the last stunning visual, like almost everything good that precedes it, does not make up for the narrative gaps.

Two and a half stars.

  1. v0lus says:

    The only reason the trailers popped onto anyone’s radar was because it was a sequel of the first no-budget film the director of Godzilla 2014 made. No surprises.

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