Monsters: Dark Continent (2014)
MONSTERS: DARK CONTINENT is a direct sequel to 2010s MONSTERS (which was written and directed by Gareth Edwards), about a satellite that crashes to earth bring with it spores that eventually grow into gigantic creatures. I had a lot of problems with MONSTERS. It was beautifully shot and the cinematography was stunning, but the story left a lot to be desired. The theme of MONSTERS was about how cruel human beings are and was an metaphor for man’s destructive treatment of both the environment and the creature’s that live in the world. The acting was solid and the creatures, what we actually saw of them, were pretty kick ass, but the damn message was pounded into our heads so many times that it lost all meaning. At the end of the day, MONSTERS was a pro-environmental film that had some giant creatures in it.
When I first heard a sequel to the 2010 film was in production, I wasn’t too stoked. Then reports started emerging that MONSTERS: DARK CONTINENT was going to focus more on the creatures and would have more action in it than in the first film. But most important, it seemed we would be getting more interaction between humans and the creatures. Okay, I’m game. I’m always up for a kick ass giant, pissed off creature flick. Let’s see if the sequel managed to correct the sins of the first film.
Edwards isn’t back for the sequel and leaves MONSTERS: DARK CONTINENT in the hands of director Tom Green, who also co-wrote the script with Jay Basu. The film picks up ten years after the events from the first film, where experts discovered that pieces of the infected satellite have fallen in the Middle East. Now there’s hordes of both large and small creatures wandering around in the dessert, demolishing any and all towns they come across. The U.S. has tried to help the Middle East by bombing the shit out the creatures, but there’s been a lot of collateral damage as villagers nearby the bombings have lost their lives. The rise of insurgent forces have slowly grown in the MidEast as they try and fight off the creatures and the Americans. The primary job of the army is to find and eliminate the insurgents and then if the opportunity presents itself, take down the creatures.
The film focuses on veteran sergeant Frater (Johnny Harris) and a group of four young, inexperienced soldiers from Detroit. There’s Frankie (Joe Dempsie), Inkelaar (Kyle Soller), Shaun (Parker Sawyers), and Michael (Sam Keeley), who also narrates much of the film. The acting wasn’t an issue here. The cast does a good job in their roles. We (thankfully) skip over the young soldiers going through basic training and join them as they reach the army base in some nondescript Middle Eastern country. They are welcomed to the base by Frater and then given the “harsh treatment” by sergeant Forrest (Nicholas Pinnock), who follows the R. Lee Ermey handbook right out of FULL METAL JACKET to a “T” and belittles the new soldiers with foul language and name calling. They run several patrols in the nearby towns, making contact with the locals and trying to gain their trust until they are finally sent on a mission to locate a unit that disappeared out in the field. This is when things go badly for the group.
You may have noticed that in the above description I left out any and all reference to the monsters. That’s because the writers themselves left them out. MONSTERS: DARK CONTINENT is primarily a war film with some giant creatures in the background. You’ll recognize elements of PLATOON, THE HURT LOCKER, FULL METAL JACKET, STARSHIP TROOPERS, and about a half a dozen other war films in this plot and what you won’t get is a solid story about the monsters. This film is also an obvious condemnation of America’s foreign policy that doesn’t completely work. We watch as Michael comes to see the humanity of his enemy and question what it is the U.S. Army is really doing there. The two worst sins this film commits is that it once again forgets about the giant monsters, and the film is unfortunately rather boring. You’ve seen all the themes MONSTERS: DARK CONTINENT plays with in other war films … in other better war films. With a two hour run time, this films damn near comes to a standstill at the hour and a half mark.
Once again the monsters become nothing more than something happening in the background while the human characters are “finding their humanity.” It’s a shame, too, because the creatures look fantastic. We’re introduced to some new smaller sized monsters that are forgotten about as soon as they are introduced. A big problem here is that the monsters are given no personality. Think of some of the best creature flicks you’ve watched. CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, GODZILLA, hell, even CLOVERFIELD. What made these films interesting and fun was that the creatures were all given a personality. The creatures in MONSTERS: DARK CONTINENT have absolutely no personality and if they were edited out of this film, you wouldn’t even notice it.
MONSTERS: DARK CONTINENT drills the same theme into our heads that we got from the original MONSTERS – that human beings are the true monsters. Towards the end of the first film, the two main characters watch the monsters mate and they see how beautiful and majestic they truly are. That’s when they realize that human beings are the real monsters. The same thing occurs in the second film, exactly. We get it, we get it already. Humans suck!! In the attempt to drill this theme into our heads again, the writers needed to present the creatures as peaceful, non-aggressive beasts who are simply strangers in a strange land. By doing so, the writers sacrificed giving the monsters any true identity. They are simply a moving background in the story.
The actors in this film put in good performances but it’s just not enough. The plot is a war story you’ve seen a million times before, and you’ve seen it done better. MONSTERS: DARK CONTINENT ultimately fails as a war story and fails as a giant creature story. If there’s any chance that a third MONSTERS film is going to be made I think I’ll steer clear. There’s only so may times I can watch a franchise tell me how badly humans suck. Definitely skip this one.
Director: Tom Green
Plot: 1.5 out of 5 stars
Gore: 1 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Scott Shoyer