Monsters: Dark Continent (Movie Review)

Monsters: Dark Continent (Movie Review)
4 10


PLOT: Ten years after the events of MONSTERS, where the extraterrestrials have spread across the globe and are just a part of our reality, a group of friends from Detroit are deployed to the Middle East, where they must contend with violent insurgents as well as a plethora of roaming monsters.

REVIEW: Is it silly to complain there aren't enough monsters in MONSTERS: DARK CONTINENT? The question has two answers: the first is an affirmative, because if you saw this film's predecessor, Gareth Edwards' debut MONSTERS, you're used to the idea that, in this franchise, the titular invaders are only supporting characters, shapes in the periphery and incidental to the main story. The other answer is, of course not! Why wouldn't a movie with the foreboding title MONSTERS: DARK CONTINENT feature plenty of said monsters? Even if the film is, at the end of a day, all about its human characters - as well it should be - it's not unreasonable to ask that we shine some light on the creatures whose presence has turned the world upside down.


Alas, even more egregiously than Edwards' film, Tom Green's follow-up is frustratingly averse to featuring many monsters, content to keep them relegated to infrequent visits. And I wouldn't mind it so much if the film itself weren't so derivative and unexceptional. Whereas Edwards' film wasn't anything groundbreaking - it focused on the budding romance between two lost souls - Green's is even less ambitious. It's a HURT LOCKER-style treatise on the dehumanizing horrors of war, the kind of which we've seen countless times, and better. Oddly enough, if you edited the film of maybe 15 minutes and a handful of visual effects, it would cease to be a monster movie and become your typical Middle East-set "war is hell" project, where the protagonists are stereotypes and the situations are drawn up from the War Movie 101 playbook. Injecting some alien action might have brought new dimensions to the standard-issue tropes and messages, but as mentioned, DARK CONTINENT is all too happy to keep the monsters on the sidelines for bafflingly long periods of time.

The film's very long very first sets up its gung-ho American characters, Detroit natives Michael (Sam Keeley), Frankie (Joe Dempsie), Shaun (Parker Sawyers) and Linkelaar (Kyle Soller). Aimless and withering away in their depressed city, the boys are preparing to go off to an unnamed Middle East country to halt angry insurgents. And, oh yeah, tackle any monster problems that pop up too. You see, the alien visitors have migrated and adapted to almost all of Earth's environments, so they're all over the map. That sounds like a promising notion, yes, but Green and co-writer Jay Basu don't explore it much - they're more interested in giving us a very cliched look at our protagonists' prep for deployment (they party and hire strippers!), their typical bro-bonding moments, and at long last their arrival in the Middle East and introduction to war. Turns out, it's not quite as fun as they thought it might be!


Admittedly, MONSTERS: DARK CONTINENT becomes slightly more engaging when the boys are in battle; Green (mostly known for British TV work) ably creates a sense of chaos and fear when the bullets start flying and our team's back is up against the wall. He also introduces two rough-gruff sergeants (Johnny Frater and Nicholas Pinnock) who are, at least initially, more in-depth characters (and actors) than our quartet. That said, most of the combat scenes almost appear to be based on unused Kathryn Bigelow storyboards - if you were to just flip on this movie in the middle of the action, you'd think you were watching one of Bigelow's acclaimed war pics. Green can copy that style with no problem, but is that an impressive achievement? And since we're not exactly fond of our main characters (they're all one-note, loud and obnoxious), our investment in their fates is small.

I won't beat a dead horse in regards to the movie's lack of creatures, but it's worth mentioning one more time: you definitely shouldn't expect to be inundated with them. I will say that when they do show up, the visual effects are impressively rendered. Assuming this was a low-budget film (although it certainly had more to work with than Edwards), the creatures are imposing and complex. Problem is, we never really get too good of a look at them. One prolonged nighttime sequence, when an epically large monster shoots spores into the air while two fascinated humans behold the spectacle, is easily the movie's highlight, but when it's over MONSTERS simply moves along to the next soldiers-yelling-at-each-other scene. And there are a lot of those.

MONSTERS: DARK CONTINENT is a disappointing experience overall, to be sure, but it's also incredibly frustrating. This could have been something special, and the filmmakers have settled for the utterly familiar.

Extra Tidbit: MONSTERS: DARK CONTINENT opens today, April 17th.



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