Sunday 10 May 2015

Monsters: Dark Continent

This movie was so bad I wasn't going to dignify it with a post, but I felt I had to get my feelings off my chest — and warn you about it. 

How could a movie about soldiers versus monsters not at least be entertaining? Well, let's take a look...

The problems begin with the title. Besides being incipiently racist, what the hell continent are they talking about here? The movie is set in the Middle East, which isn't a continent... so maybe Asia?

The first Monsters movie was intriguing. It was written and directed by Gareth Edwards who went on to direct Godzilla — a film which suffered from fatal script problems, though not so fatal or problematical as the ones which beset Dark Continent. 
The original Monsters was an interesting curiosity. It dealt with the invasion of giant monsters from space, but in a fairly novel and inventive (and low budget) way.

The alien onslaught was seen from the point of view of some American tourists in Central America, and how it affected them. The crisis was treated just like a tsunami or earthquake or volcanic eruption. The eponymous monsters were mostly glimpsed in the distance, as towering figures striding the horizon. The heroes didn't have much interaction with them... the film was a realistic treatment of the experience of ordinary, everyday people coping with a global disaster.

Well, Monsters was a success so here is the sequel, directed by Tom Green, a British TV director and co-written by Green with Jay Basu, another Brit who was among the writers on the excellent movie Fast Girls. 

And they seem to have adopted the same strategy as with Alien and Aliens... the first movie dealt with civilians under threat, so this time let's make it the military instead. In the case of Aliens, that was a brilliant notion. And for a while it seems promising here, too.

But Dark Continent is a poorly conceived and pretentious film which fails completely. The fatal mistake is the idea that the soldiers aren't really going to fight the monsters. They're sent to the middle East to combat human insurgents who are attacking US troops in the course of their battle against the aliens. The insurgents are pissed off at the collateral damage created by the American bombing of the monsters.

The logic of this is nonsensical. For a start, people would tend to get out of the way of giant lumbering monsters who are attacking their town, which considerably reduces the number of collateral casualties. Plus they'd actually tend to be grateful to people blowing up said monsters with bombs from the air. 

In fact, there is a thriving sub genre of science fiction about how a divided and warring humanity buries its differences and unites in the face of an alien invasion. Famous examples include several stories by Theodore Sturgeon, most notably  'Unite and Conquer'; an episode of The Outer Limits entitled The Architects of Fear by Meyer Dolinsky; the novel Wild Card by Raymond Hawkey and Roger Bingham; and most recently Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. All of these stories have got human psychology correct. Monsters: Dark Continent has got it exactly arse-backwards.

But let's assume for a moment that the movie's ridiculous premise holds water...

You still wouldn't need ground troops to fight the insurgents. Your strategy is to bomb the monsters from the air. At the most you'd need some strongly fortified airbases. You wouldn't need to get out in the countryside at all. But forget logic, this movie completely has its head up its ass. For some reason Green and Basu seem determined to make a very familiar and clichéd war story about American soldiers fighting in a conflict like Iraq or Afghanistan. With some monsters. Or, as it turns out, not...

Dark Continent is basically an inferior clone of American Sniper, Hurt Locker and any number of other recent Middle East war films. It might have worked if the troops actually engaged with the monsters. But they don't. They're busy shooting local insurgents in exactly the same old boring fashion as all those other movies.  Occasionally we glimpse an irrelevant alien monster lumbering by in the background, but that's about it...

The concept that was so effective in the first movie... monsters at a distance, no interaction... is a whopping mistake here. And in the first film it was dictated by the tiny budget. Here, in a lavish sequel, there are no such financial constraints. It just makes no sense. 

It also means Dark Continent is just a mediocre Middle East war movie like any other, with some tacked on CGI footage of the monsters. Indeed, it's possible to believe the script existed without the monsters, and they just cut and pasted them in.

The movie would work better if you took the monsters out. But even then it would be pretty poor stuff, because the film makers don't bother to create any sympathy for their military characters. The troops are just an undifferentiated bunch of cardboard cut-outs... except for the guy whose wife has just had a baby, so of course he's going to die tragically. (Don't these people know how much of a cliché that is?)

There are some effective scenes early on, when the blue collar soldiers are partying in Detroit before they go to war. And at the end of the movie it seems for a tantalising moment that Dark Continent might turn into a documentary about the lifestyle of nomadic people (which would have been welcome... anything is better than the farago that is set before us here), but for most of its running time it's a complete failure. And terribly dull, despite all the blazing combat (if we don't care about the characters, action is just tedious mayhem, chaps).

I couldn't work out how anyone could have made a film so ill conceived and unnecessarily bad. What did they think they were doing? Then it hit me. The filmmakers thought they were making a powerful and artistic statement about the horrors of war. And that adding the monsters in the background would make it more powerful and more artistic.

Wrong, wrong, wrong...

(Image credits: The main (official) poster is from Imp Awards. The orange and brown official poster with the helicopter is from Image 12. The tormented face poster by Daniel Nash is from the Geeky Nerfherder. The blue poster by Marko Manev, the gunsight poster by Orlando Arocena and the sandy brown poster by Paul Shipper (which calls to mind John Schoenherr's desert art for Dune) are all from Inside the Rock Poster Frame. The black and white posters are from Ace Show Biz.)

1 comment:

  1. Disappointing. I liked (but didn't love) Monsters.
    Still, though - it's about soldiers so it's automatically more interesting.