Monsters: Dark Continent
No. Just no. NO.
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What to Expect
Monsters is practically the reason visual-effects designer Gareth Edwards bagged the 2014 reboot of Godzilla – which, flaws aside, was a strong reinterpretation of one of Japan’s foremost kaiju (lit.: monster) films. Edwards, with the help of some of the most stellar VFX work you’d probably have seen in an independent semi-meditative science fiction drama with a notably tight budget, gave the creature-feature genre an interesting spin, pitching in some surprising heart even to the extra-terrestrial beings within his writing and execution.
Funnily enough, however, the movie didn’t require a sequel, despite ending on the rather ambiguous note that it did. Its surprise success instead would later lead to a completely different story altogether, with Vertigo Films green-lighting a second installment, with a different director (Tom Green) and writer (Jay Basu) jointly replacing Edwards, who calmly stepped down to instead be an executive producer along with Scoot McNairy, who led the performances in the first.
This should have been a clear warning to the potential audience.
To be fair to the debutants though, you’d always want to keep an open mind to where they’d be taking the franchise now, wouldn’t you?
What’s it About?
Ten years after the events of the first film, the infected zones have spread ‘round the world – which includes the Middle East. A set of soldiers meanwhile travel to the Middle Eastern regions to stop insurgents from destroying humanity.
Oh, by the way, there’s also those monsters we watched in the first film.
They’re a subplot.
And I’m not even kidding.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
One of the biggest trump-cards of the film has to be Christopher Ross’ (Black Sea) absolutely gorgeous cinematography. With the help of possibly some of the most dramatically lit – and tightly framed – shots being laced with vivid brushstrokes of pure abstractness, Ross tries his level best to input some rather different visual cues to emotivity in a film that’s completely stripped off it. Add to that the consistent visual effects compositing, decent production design and a score that tries hard, and you’ve got yourself an independent film that’s surprisingly consistent technically.
But here’s where all the good ends.
Reading up on the film, I came across this interesting bit where Green and Basu reportedly got “[…] an open brief, creatively”, which possibly meant free rein to do whatsoever they wanted to, so long as you’d find monsters in the mix. This obviously backfired, as all the output looks like is a weird mishmash of Battle: Los Angeles and The Thin Red Line. Now, this is something I wouldn’t exaggeratedly mind, except this is a movie which has a title that demands a certain set of expectations, and that doesn’t limit itself simply to virtue. The monsters, who are supposed to be the mainstay of this film, are relegated sharply to the background, acting now as mere props to a dish that’s completely different from what the customer ordered off the menu. Don’t get me wrong; I love myself a whole bunch of films that have been excessively misunderstood. The makers of this one, however, had in their hands a rather sensitive job of taking a genre-defying science fiction drama-thriller and continuing the legacy by – at the very least – being consistent; a level they couldn’t possibly live up to.
Beauty aside, this film sets up the premise in what could possibly be the last place to expect a build-up as such in a creature-feature – the US army being at war with the Middle East.
Like we haven’t ever seen that before.
Add to that cliched characters and their arcs, and you’ve got yourself a war-movie that’s poorly disguising itself as a monster film. You’ve got the lead narrator who’s the voice-of-reason. You’ve got the-only-one-I-call-family character cliche – and we all know how will he end up, and how soon. Add to that the I’m-fighting-my-inner-demons guy, and we’re all set for a whole bunch of war-movie tropes we shouldn’t even be witnessing, for we’re forever pining for monsters to arrive on the big screen.
And they’re cameoing. Just cameoing. In a film which (excuse me for repeating myself) for the love of whatever higher power one believes in, promises us a whole bunch of the creatures on screen, attributing themselves to an integral part of the storyline, if not in action. Jay Basu makes an attempt to mix war-drama with science fiction and meta-physicality. Okay, credible. But he forgets mostly about the science-fiction and focusses mainly on the war-drama, with pretentious narration muddling an already uninterestingly written screenplay (you can stop being Terrence Malick anytime now). The forced pretense – at a point in time – gets so high you’re already disengaged with the film within the first forty-five minutes of the film altogether. And the jumbled excuse of a screenplay doesn’t seem to be helping either. Be it the characters or the film, everything about the whole set of events in this hundred and twenty two minute long film is ludicrously flat, excruciatingly boring and – ultimately – unreal enough to make you nitpick at the few extremely important examples of the lack of attention to detail throughout the film.
Like the spatter of blue-blood off a human. Or the hand of a dead body moving out of reflex to support himself. Or this extremely stupid my-normal-life conversation-between-soldiers cliche that seems so out of place when it pops up that the whole babble feels like forced small-talk. Or (last, but not the least) the randomly appearing slow-motion shots – out of practically nowhere – of which you can make possibly one of the toughest drinking games you’d probably have ever played. I could go on and on and on.
And for people defending the PTSD-portions of the film, I guess we’ve all had that covered in films far better than this one, for this particular excuse of a film seems to be very selective on trauma too. There is just so much wrong with this film it gets incredibly difficult for one to focus on the aspects the few sets of people in the team should get credit for.
But what about the powerful subtext the film has within itself? Sure, the “hidden” display of how monstrous humanity is would have been an extremely powerful voice-of-reason resonating through the minds of the audience had the makers not colossally screwed up by deliberating on borderline-disgusting pretense of the abstract.
To Perform or Not to Perform
The performances are alright, but let’s just leave this out of the picture completely, for there’s so much of stereotype and cliche even within the performative dynamics that it clouds out whatever silver lining you have in the film.
It’s a cliched war-drama. It’s not a sci-fi genre-bending commentary. If you’ve expected the former, there may be some aspects you can latch on to.
If you’ve expected the latter, however, you’re doomed. For all you’ll be doing to yourself once you’re walking out of the cinemas is asking yourself the same question I did:
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