Sunday, March 15, 2015

Film Review - Monsters: Dark Continent

Monsters: Dark Continent

Gareth Edwards' Monsters is my favourite film of the 21st Century. No ifs or buts, I think it achieves so much in an unbelievably understated way. It is in many ways the best science fiction/alien invasion movie ever made because there is something inherently more believable about Monsters than something arriving in a space ship, looking like John Travolta, and enslaving/destroying the planet earth.

And, of course, Monsters wasn't referring to the giant octopus-like, largely benign, aliens, but the people - the humans - who were the real monsters. From the opportunistic ferryman to the pretty much dislikeable lead actors, there is barely a glimmer of humanity between any of them... except, as the film progresses the two main 'stars' are changed by the events around them; it's like they not only discover each other, but a little of their ability to be human beings again. Of course, the wonderful allegory of Monsters is the fact the actual 'monsters' are just a backdrop to the horrors of people and they appear to just be searching for a reason to exist on this god forsaken shit-hole that is earth. Plus there's the utterly splendid soundtrack by Jon Hopkins.

I can understand why Monsters is seriously derided among geeks and fanboys, it doesn't have much action in it and it's a hybrid road movie cum love story - as I said the monsters are immaterial to the actual narrative, they just perfectly juxtapose the events taking place around them.

The idea of a Monsters sequel appealed to me as soon as I heard about it. Considering Monsters cost about $50 and made millions you could almost see a franchise growing out of it, but only because of some monstrous film exec; yet I somehow had the feeling that if Edwards was producing it, it would keep a sense of what it was really about. The early clips for Dark Continent simply moved the action from Mexico to the Middle East; the trailers featured glimpses of new-look monsters; super giants compared to the ones down Mexico way and it seemed to be focusing on something that was only fleetingly touched on in the first film - the fight against the aliens - which has been a vagary of both films because it is clear that the aliens appear to have no malicious intent, they just exist and things get in the way.

Here's where it gets a little too clever for its own good. The action is set in an unnamed Arabian country, probably Iraq, and follows the mission of a team of Detroit-based US 'squaddies' as they attempt to recover four MIA colleagues. The twist in the tale is while these US soldiers are there, the locals don't want them and therefore they have as much trouble dealing with suicide bombers, terrorist attacks and insurgents as they do from the lumbering and benign aliens.

Naturally, as with the first film, this wasn't about the monsters, but about the 'monsters' that make man tick. It is made clear almost from the word go that this squad of troops are a bunch of worthless twats who have a loyalty to each other but not really to their flag. This is because they live in Detroit, which is now just a ghost city forgotten about by everyone else; except one of the team is a little more sensitive, because he was alienated as a child and grew up in the same hostile and unfamiliar environment, but without parents...

Over in 'Ragheadland', the staff sergeant is a mean son-of-a-bitch who wants to go home to his wife and daughter but they don't want him any more because he's become this obsessed nutter-bastard monster and his #2 is a black man with a chip on his shoulder and all around them are shouty angry locals who are not given subtitles to enforce the feeling of isolation and lack of understanding...

Has the allegory been hitting you around the head enough yet? Because that is what this is; it is bashing you into submission with allegory and it loses sight and focus of everything else as a result.

But wait, there's more... With the subtlety of a zombie apocalypse the 'main' protagonist, the guy with his own trailer-load of allegory weighing him down like a millstone realises that he has more in common with the monsters than the mad angst-ridden bastards he's surrounded by - except most of them are wiped out by terrorists in a scene so telegraphed they should have had signs up saying - ENEMY ATTACK IN 30 SECONDS. You knew this because for the first time in the film all of the angst-ridden angry bastards were having a laugh and admiring the fucked up alien life out-running their RVs.

Then there's the Bedouin interlude where not-so-angst-ridden is given a lesson in why life is sacred while having his own personal alien light show just to HAMMER HOME THE ALLEGORY.

Then there's the acting. There are some fine British actors on show here with credits worth praising: This is England, Skins, Misfits, Fortitude, Game of Thrones alumni all appear and they all SHOUT A LOT in bad American accents and try to impress upon us what bad ass mutherfuckers they are and how they've really struggled to become bad ass mutherfuckers and ... FFS STOP IT NOW!!!

I cannot think of much in its two hour length that can redeem it. Monsters: Dark Continent was an ill-advised, badly made pile of SHIT.

For starters it doesn't actually need the monsters in it; they served no real purpose as most intelligent people outside of Jesusland are probably more than aware that a lot of US GIs are wankers, arseholes and likely to be into shoot, slap and kill first and ask questions later than being caring understanding types and probably make as many enemies as they do friends. I'm sure the same can be said about most soldiers.

Setting alienated US soldiers in a hostile environment is pretty much a staple diet from Hollywood, with at least one every two years singled out for Oscar attention - this year was that sniper film that just glorified death the American way. Why this was needed to be Yanks and therefore get everyone to put on fake accents is something that mystifies me - perhaps the director wanted to make a point?

The monsters were great and varied and not on screen for long enough and ended up being background screensavers and an excuse to drop bombs; their potential was completely lost and was substituted for a chance for some British actors to chew scenery in their best Hugh Laurie House voices. It just took the original and instead of making the action bigger and bolder, it just gave us a bigger bunch of characters who all deserved to die.

I now understand how and why this didn't get a theatrical release and slipped out on DVD without any fanfare or mention. It is a dreadful film with no redeemable qualities; some unbelievably bad acting and no idea what it was trying to say, because the story or the possibility of a story got lost in ALL OF THE SHOUTING!

2 out of 10 (and that was for the alien monsters who acted everyone else off the screen)


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