Gareth Edwards' 2010 indie sci-fi hit MONSTERS told of a world recovering from an alien invasion some six years earlier. "Infected zones" kept the surviving beasts under quarantine, while mankind got busy rebuilding its routines.
The action in MONSTERS: DARK CONTINENT occurs ten years after the events of that film. This time around we're taken to the Middle East (the first film was set in Mexico), and to a US base called Camp Benedict. It's here that we meet sergeant Noah (Johnny Harris) - a highly skilled marksman. He's part of a team tasked with quashing the plights of a new group of insurgents.
Back in impoverished Detroit, wayward mumbler Michael (Sam Keeley) narrates as he meets up with new father Sean (Parker Sawyers), Frankie (Joe Dempsie) and Karl (Kyle Soller): four friends who all signed up to join the army together. They've just been called to head out to Camp Benedict.
Before they go, they have time to play basketball, attend a dog fight (a bull terrier versus a canine-resembling monster), say their goodbyes to loved ones, and - in Michael's case - mumble some more, about how we don't realise what courage is, everything's fucked up and so on. He does cheer up briefly when the group find time to party with a couple of hot chicks.
Then, before they know it, they're off to the Middle East. Their first aerial glimpse of the monsters there is a snapshot of what's to come, one that disturbs Michael but seemingly excites some of the others.
Upon arrival at the US camp, Noah introduces himself and his right-hand-man Forrest (Nicholas Pinnock) to the lads. "We will take down monsters when we encounter them" advises Forrest, "but our main focus is to close down this insurgent activity". He proceeds to call them all ugly "motherfuckers" and then welcomes them to Team Tigershark. Charming.
And so, they train, they bond, the squabble, they make up, they talk about the loved ones that they're missing back at home, Michael mumbles some more narration now and again, and the guys are sent out on occasion to wipe out suspected insurgents.
And, oh yeah, occasionally, they even happen upon the odd alien monster...
As with its predecessor, MONSTERS: DARK CONTINENT focuses more on human relationships than it does its potential for alien warfare action. In fact, the creatures are once again held for the most part on the periphery of what's going on. Instead, we're invited by writer-director Tom Green (and co-writer Jay Basu) to warm to the band of brothers and their two, deceptively surly commanding officers.
Inevitably, there are the usual clichés to look forward to: power struggles within the group; the candid telephone call that reveals a gentler side to outwardly mean Noah; manly one-to-ones boasting of bedroom prowess and the like; strings on the soundtrack when one of them predictably gets killed. The same can be said of the action set-pieces, which pilfer their creativity from the likes of SAVING PRIVATE RYAN and THE HURT LOCKER.
The Jordan landscapes are highly cinematic, ensuring the film is always attractive to look at. Christopher Ross' cinematography does a sterling job of capturing the country in all its ancient beauty, while affording events a polished, big budget look that MONSTERS couldn't quite muster. Neil Davidge's score does its utmost to keep pulses racing.
But the film never really takes off, in large part to the actors - who, aside from Harris, are severely lacking in charisma - and the one-dimensional characters they portray: cut-and-paste jobs culled from every other modern "war is Hell" film out there.
Relocating the action to the Middle East is telling. More blatantly than in Edwards' film, Green and Basu use the action to suggest that the real monster here is the terrorist threat that extremists pose to the Western world. It's an interesting allegory, but it can only propel this film so far.
When the monsters do appear, usually ambling around in the background, they are admittedly well-conceived. The results are often akin to the beasts created for THE MIST. But they're not used for much here.
MONSTERS: DARK CONTINENT isn't a bad film. In fact, considering its 114 minutes in length, it held my attention pretty well. But it's lacking as a sci-fi alien invasion thriller, predictable as a war flick and lacks the emotional engagement required for it to be considered a success in terms of human drama.
Entertainment One are bringing MONSTERS: DARK CONTINENT to UK blu-ray and DVD uncut. We were sent a screener disc for the DVD version.
It presents the film in its original 2.40:1 aspect ratio, enhancing the picture for 16x9 televisions. Detail is profound, images are crisp and colours boast a warm hue without ever bleeding. Solid blacks are always a bonus; the filtered car commercial-esque look of the film is conveyed extremely well; I can only imagine how great this must look in HD.
Audio is presented in both 2.0 and 5.1 mixes. The latter is excellent, really accentuating the bass lines of the electronic score and the bombastic action set-pieces.
An animated main menu page leads into a static scene selection menu offering access to the film via 12 chapters.
Bonus material begins with the self-explanatory "The Dog Fight: VFX Breakdown". FX supervisor Seb Barker talks us through what was expected to be a difficult effect to pull off, but was eventually executed relatively easily. At just 3 minutes in length, the insight here is limited, but it's a decent featurette anyhow: it manages to pack a lot into its short running time.
Barker is back again for the 9-minute "Evolving the Monsters". Green also enjoys some screen time here, explaining how he wanted his film's creatures to have evolved in keeping with their desert-bound surroundings.
"Filming on Location" also does what it says on the tin, with Green and his cast talking about the beauty of shooting in Jordan. This is the most substantial extra, both in terms of length (12 minutes) and its amount of behind-the-scenes footage.
The disc is defaulted to open with trailers for BIG GAME, SPOOKS: THE GREATER GOOD and GASCOIGNE.
MONSTERS: DARK CONTINENT is a so-so follow-up to Gareth Edwards' breakthrough hit. It won't make the same splash as that film did, chiefly because that novelty of what was achieved on a limited budget doesn't apply here, but it just-to-say holds up as a thoughtful, human drama/sci-fi action thriller hybrid regardless. The monsters are little more than afterthought; the war-based drama is slick, polished and predictable.
Also available on blu-ray.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Entertainment One|
|Region 2 - PAL|
|see main review|