Review: Avoid This - Monsters 2: Dark Continent (2014)
Spoilers, but no discussion of the ending.
Who said "The screenplay is king"? He'd probably want to beat the shit out of the writers of this travesty (what a waste of a license that could have had genuine promise). Though, there are moments that are surprisingly decent. And there's two writers attached to this script. Interesting.
Also, people who care that cinema is primarily a visual medium might also want to go put their big pair of boots on, because you should be prepared for a truck-load of some truly awful and unnecessary narration.
When you make a film that makes use of monologue you have to be careful as hell. The audience is able to see things - so showing them things, letting them take in details, make assessments for themselves - these are ways of how you engage them. Just constantly telling them information is boring. Let them form their own opinion. If a bad guy is a bad guy - show him doing something nasty or violent or generally unpleasant; this makes an impression on the audience. Having a guy just say "That guy is a really bad guy and is very dangerous", but not showing any evidence of it has no impact. This is pretty obvious stuff.
This film opens with a monologue that is probably only three minutes long, but seems like ten. The word "monsters" is used in this short introduction...twenty times? It'll be less than that, but it seems like it's every other fucking word. Vary things. Use "alien" or something occasionally, so it doesn't sound so repetitive. But no. "Monsters, Monsters, Monsters, Monsters, Monsters, Monsters, Monsters, Monsters".
Then we meet our "characters". We're in the "hood" in "no-where's-ville" USA and the only way out for people like this is to join the army and go fight Monsters in a desert somewhere, and they're soon to ship out. There's lots of bonding between a bunch of characters we're not introduced to properly. Beers are drunk. The words "When we're out there you know I got yo' back, bro" or slight variations of the same are repeated over and over and fucking over. You know, so that we know these people are emotionally close and that they all have each other's back.
A moment of invention appears and my hopes are raised. For fun the guys head out. They pick their way through scrap and dead cars and we can hear excited shouting - the setup, the lead-in, makes you expect that they're dropping in on a dog-fight - betting on a couple of pit-bulls ripping pieces out of each other. Only half-right, as surprisingly one of the animals being forced to fight is a similarly sized alien. The dog looks to have the upper-hand and people are generally pleased, until the alien suddenly swarms the dog and kills it. Disappointment. A few bullets are put in the alien creature. Fight over.
So, while the writing is a real fucking problem, it's not a deal-breaker and there are a few decent ideas here. This is just the opening and when the action starts we'll have fighting, explosions and aliens - I'm a man with simple tastes and I can be won over.
Soon, we're in another, desert, country. The Monsters have been colonising this area and a bunch of extra-terrestrials massing in one place might then decide to go somewhere more populated, and Western, and so maybe it's a good idea to go blow the shit out of them.
We're in helicopters in broad daylight. These new troops are on their way to the base they'll be operating out of. On the way there they encounter some giant aliens, moving in a herd. For some idiot reason, despite the fact that there are a number of very different alien creatures, they're not given different names - they're all just called... ugh, you know.
These giant-striders, I'll personally call "Walkers" - gigantic creatures, lumbering, are able to move pretty fast due to their long limbs. Now our helicopters are just on the way to the base; they're not attacking these things and easily able to avoid them. But we still find ourselves buzzing them, weaving in and out of them, which is apparently fun and everybody gets a big thrill out of it - despite the fact these things have flailing limbs that could, and nearly do, smash the aircraft out of the sky.
Then a bunch of jets storm in and explode the shit out of them anyway.
CGI effects when you're on a budget need to be used intelligently (hey, like in the original film) - here some of them look surprisingly good, but some look absolutely awful and you wonder why some shots were used. In one section we cut from a close-up shot of a helicopter flying from below, and then cut right to an almost identical one. Then we cut away to something else, and then back to the underside of the chopper again. There are some really weird editing decisions being made and it isn't to pad the running-time out.
Finally, we get to the camp. This place at least looks the part - it's a large area, has the kind of low-slung buildings and stuff in it you'd expect and it looks like somewhere that could house a decent military force and would be a good place to launch an offensive from. The problem? Only once do we see a reasonable number of extras doing drills and walking around and whatever. Every other time it's just completely empty apart from our five friends, the Sergeant who greets them with a good shouting (Nicholas Pinnock - decent, and with a few funny lines) and Johnny Harris (hardbitten, no-nonsense and on his billionth tour) who leads them out on missions and clearly has a screw-loose.
Another moment of invention and hope. Our crew go out in two armoured vehicles. As they drive some new aliens appear. They look and move not unlike antelope. A couple of them. They're not interested in attacking, they're just travelling from one place to another one. One of the "antelope aliens" crosses the path of the hurtling front vehicle and gets smashed into the windscreen - it goes flying and if it's not dead then it's at least mortally wounded. Much rejoicing. Someone says something like "One dead, 10 million to go! Woo!"
And, peculiarly, we then get perhaps the most "human" moment of the film - understated, brief. It's travelling partner - friend, mate, family member, whatever - tracks back to the corpse and nudges it. It's genuinely moving.
The guys in the first car are still celebrating when they hit an IED, set by the locals.
The comparisons being made here are maddeningly simple. The soldiers are there to fight these alien creatures, but the way they treat the locals while looking for insurgents, some of whom don't like them too much, is right on the line of being inhumane.
"So who are the real monsters then, huh?!" That's the question the film asks you, feeling clever with itself while actually being a moron.
Things get worse before they finally get slightly better. The shit hits the fan and our band of brothers go on the run still being led by nutball Harris. They find a building to hole up in. Actually, they don't. They hang around outside of it.
Ugh. You don't just run through a random building and then all sit down when you get to the other side of it. You have a man or two covering angles so you can see shit coming and you don't just sit out in the open in daylight. These are supposed to be soldiers. There's only one reason they can be sat around like idiots and it's so the film can kill one of them.
Bang. One of them gets shot dead and some vans roll up, which they'd have seen if they'd been looking around.
They're captured and only manage to escape because the compound they're in attracts the attention on one of those aliens who like to drain electricity from things (try just turning the generator off, guys).
Finally, it's just our main character "narrator boy" and nutcase Harris left. They find themselves coming across a school bus that came under alien attack. The children are all dead. More natives appear. But these ones are nice - because not all foreign people are bad, you see. That's another of the important messages of this film.
This was finally, for me, the most interesting part of the film. Firstly Harris totally goes off the reservation and things take a weird surreal Heart of Darkness spin that would have been welcome far earlier in the film. Secondly, Sofia Boutella shows up out of nowhere in a small thankless role she must have taken on as a favour to a friend. Thirdly, Harris' beard and general dishevelment now make him look exactly like the actor Jon H.Benjamin (voice of Archer, Bob of Bob's Burgers, and star of Jon Benjamin Has a Van) which I'm now finding hugely distracting and entertaining.
I won't give away the ending as by this point there's probably a few of you who are more interested in this drek than you were before. Some people like to look at car-crashes.
But if you were a fan of the first film and you consider what they could have done here with the same resources it makes you want to smack your head into something very hard.
Available through Amazon Video or Netflix, depending on territory. Certificate 18 Distributed by Vertigo Films. Images property of Vertigo Films.