Sunday, May 17, 2015

Monsters: Dark Continent (2014)

Some years after the first Monsters, the zones of alien invasive species have grown. The US have started another invasion into “the Middle East” (and yes, the film never bothers to name an actual, you know, country, because who cares how the brown people call the places they live, right?) to bomb the wandering giant monsters back into the stone age. Or something.

Anyway, the usual combination of imperialism and “collateral damage” does of course lead to resistance among the local population, and so the US military forces find themselves more involved in warring with the people they are supposedly helping than killing any of those “monsters”. The film follows the tragic misadventures of a quartet of freshly shipped in young guys from Detroit whose first tour under the experienced, competent and damaged Sergeant Frater (Johnny Harris) will also be the last one for most of them. (Hint: the African Americans die first). Things start out bad, and turn into a complete clusterfuck on a rescue mission deep in alien infested and “insurgent” dominated country.

You know what I really, really wanted out of the sequel of one of the best SF movies of the past decade? The Hurt Locker 2! No, wait, I actually didn’t want that at all, but that’s what Tom Green’s film no doubt is. In fact, the titular “monsters” are so unimportant for the film beyond a couple scenes where they act as a random natural force that could have been replaced by anything you’d care to name, I am tempted to suspect the film’s script started as just your typical contemporary war film and got turned into part of the Monsters franchise for reasons only movie producers would understand. Why anyone would think this would be a good idea is beyond me. But hey, if you pretend your mediocre war film is a sequel to a film people dearly loved, you don’t have to wonder about the exceedingly negative reactions by the people who loved it and find nothing of what made that film great in it, and really deserve all the bile you get.

So, what we have here is a film that doesn’t care about its titular monsters, provides nothing of the sense of awe and wonder the first film was suffused with, doesn’t do any of the clever worldbuilding via small details (because you can only do that if you actually care about the aliens) it did, and replaces an interesting world with, sorry I have to repeat myself, The Hurt Locker, but worse.

Even if I pretend this isn’t in any way connected to the first film, Dark Continent is still not a very good film. It suffers from all the problems the Hurt Locker school of war/anti-war film has: firstly the inability to actually show the other side of the conflict as human beings in a way that often more than just borders on racism. Nameless and mostly faceless enemies who talk in a language the protagonists don’t understand and are only in the film to be killed by them, kill them, or make them feel bad things just are not a good idea in a film that seems to want say something about actual armed conflicts happening right now. Sure, the US grunts we usually follow – even in a UK production like this, curiously enough - in these films are not in an ideal position to provide a perspective on their enemies but then who says all war movie scripts have to be so desperately centred around them?

Which leads us directly to secondly: the films’ - and this film’s specifically - inability to actually decide what it wants to say about wars, the soldiers fighting in them, and the painful messiness the last dozen US wars have been. It’s certainly not going to criticize the white people taking part in them for taking part in them, but then it’s also not at all interested in analysing the structural reasons for young, uneducated men to become professional soldiers. Dark Continent sure seems to think that war is hell, but since the film also manages to avoid any talk about actual politics and steadfastly doesn’t take any actual concrete position regarding anything itself, it treats war as a sort of vague natural tragedy, not a thing that is the fault of people in power and those people who follow them (which would be the combatants, oops, but you can’t say that because soldiers are “heroes”), and so not a thing anyone has any control over. Which I have a hard time interpreting as anything but hypocrisy or stupidity on the parts of the filmmakers; take your pick.

But what’s worst about Dark Continent – except for the whole thing where they take out everything that was great about the first film and replace it with something not at all worthwhile or even just interesting – is that it’s not even a very good example of the type of war/anti-war-but-not-really film it wants to be: the acting is generally okay, but the dialogue, particularly during the first act, is often inadvertently funny tough guy speak right out of a bad pulp novel, the characters are flat and clichéd, and the film is about an hour too long for what it is.

One could get rather angry about the whole thing, but I can’t honestly say I expected Monsters: Dark Continent to be anything but bad; I just expected it to be bad in a slightly different way than it turned out to be.

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