As impressive as it was (and continues to be), Gareth Edwards’ 2010 debut Monsters isn’t the first film one would think of that was desperately in need of a sequel. And now, having watched Monsters: Dark Continent, that thought remains undimmed.
Several years have passed since the events of Edwards’ film and the monster infestation has now spread to other parts of the World, primarily the Middle East. Here the US Army find themselves fighting two battles. In their attempts to eradicate the MTRs, a war has broken out with local insurgency groups. Having left his broken existence in Detroit to come and join the Marines, Michael (Sam Keeley) and his fellow troops soon find themselves at the mercy of those who believe the Americans to be as much of an invader as the extra-terrestrial beings.
As with the original, Monsters: Dark Continent is not, fundamentally, a film about monsters; they only form the backdrop. The story that Green and his co-writer Jay Basu want to tell is one that examines the psychological effects of modern warfare. The problem is that the “war is hell” narrative has now become so ubiquitous within the genre that it ceases to be effective. Here it’s played out as a mundane blend of Jarhead and Platoon. It looks the part most certainly, but despite satchels of style, there’s very little substance to support it.
We probably shouldn’t be surprised. After all, trying to instil subtlety into a gung-ho war picture was never going to be an easy task. Particularly when the majority of the characters are so unlikeable. Though all of the performances are amicable, the roles themselves are stereotypical and uninteresting. Johnny Harris manages to produce some superb moments of genuine menace as Michael’s sergeant Noah Frater, but its almost entirely undone by his predictable character arc.
Where Green does excel is in the visual. His intense battle scenes are elevated by Christopher Ross’ fiercely urgent camera, which sufficiently spikes the pace. While the astonishing desert landscapes are panned over with awe and wonder, and superbly rendered with the addition of the Monsters, who stalk the backdrop in herds.
Herein lies the problem though. The MTRs only ever remain in the background. Occasionally, they inadvertently wonder closer, but it’s a rare and often fleeting occurrence. Arguments that the creatures could be removed altogether disappointingly hold water. And if they were, all you’d be left with is a story you’ve heard told more times than I’d care to count. War may be hell, but this creative reality is torturous.