Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Monsters: Dark Continent—Love the Smell of Burning Kaiju in the Morning

There is an old saying about no atheists in fox holes. By the same token, a herd of rampaging kaijus ought to make even the most irrational jihadist grateful to see the U.S. Marines. Sadly, that is not the case in this chaotic near future monster bash. The Middle East has become the world’s hottest infection zone, so the American military has come to fight the monsters where they are. Yet, every accidental case of collateral damage becomes grist for Islamist grievance propaganda in Tom Green’s Monsters: Dark Continent (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

For those keeping score at home, Dark Continent is technically a sequel to Gareth Edwards’ Monsters, but it is probably just as well if prospective viewer are not aware of its lineage, or else they might expect a significantly better film. Ten years after the events of straight Monsters, the Middle East has become the new center of battle. A group of thuggish friends from Detroit (looking even scarier than the terrorist and tentacle ridden desert) have shipped off to Sgt. Noah Frater’s unit, so he will make sure the maggots are in proper fighting condition. They are a stereotypical pack, who hardly deserve names, including the sullen orphan protagonist, his unstable protector, and the buddy whose girlfriend just had a baby. Right, odds are he won’t even make it into the second act.

Edwards’ Monster was a clever DIY calling card that led directly to his Godzilla gig. Unfortunately, even though Green retained the general creature designs, he emphasizes the worst aspects of the previous film. Where Monsters offered a lot of not so subtle immigration commentary, Dark Continent sees itself as an extended critique of American military intervention in the Mid-East. However, the message-making was hardly the reason the prior film was successful. The first time around, Edwards understood his responsibility for providing certain kaiju deliverables. In fact, aspects of politicized near future worked in tandem with the film’s genre movie conventions. Being stuck on the monster-plagued side of an ultra-fortified border follows right in line with the basic rock-and-a-hard-place tradition.

Bizarrely, Green frequently loses sight of the titular monsters and invites the audience to openly side with the terrorist insurgency against the American military. They are just uneducated thrill seekers who shoot first and ask questions later, whereas the victimized local population understands how to live with the monsters in inter-species harmony. Of course, if any of the monsters were women, they would have to wear a burqa and if any were homosexual, they would logically be stoned to death.

There is precious little characterization in Dark Continent, except for Frater, whom British thesp Johnny Miller plays as a bulging eyed, anti-social, PTSD head case. Happily, nobody in the film says: “it became necessary to destroy the village in order to save it,” but that probably represents a supreme act of restraint on Green’s part. Shallow as a puddle and clumsily didactic, Monster: Dark Continent is not recommended when it opens this Friday (4/17) in New York, at the Village East.