Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Review: Monsters vs. Aliens


It’s weird to review cartoons for me because on the one hand I love animation and would love to be involved in its production somehow, probably as a writer. It’s such an underutilized method of storytelling (In the West, I mean) that doesn’t get as much respect as its live action counterpart does. On the other hand I tend to get more judgmental about cartoons than anything else (With the possible exception of comic books). I may get angry that a cartoon fails on certain levels simply because it may make the whole genre look bad (In my sometimes crazed opinion, of course). So reviewing Monsters vs. Aliens is something of a worrisome situation. If it’s not what I consider "good" it’s likely I’ll tear it to pieces and look like a oversize child (More so than I already do with my internet blog). But that said I need as much practice writing these reviews as I can get before the summer movie rush so review it I shall.

Released last year (2009) Monsters vs. Aliens is another attempt by DreamWorks to compete against the critically acclaimed Pixar. The story centers on Susan, played by the talented Reese Witherspoon. We join our protagonist on her wedding day where she seems to be living the dream of being engaged to Paul Rudd. We see very little of her life however, but just enough to see that Rudd’s character Derek is at least kind of a jerk but seriously who among us isn’t? Anyway before the knot is tied Susan is hit by a meteor and soon grows to giant size. Almost immediately she is captured by the government, thrown into a suspiciously convenient sized cell in their secret complex, renamed “Ginomica” (Because the American Government is a dick, I guess) and told she’ll never be allowed to contact the outside world again because she has now been labeled a monster. There she meets fellow captured monsters Dr. Cockroach (Hugh Laurie), The Missing Link (Will Arnett) and Benzoate Ostylezene Bicarbonate aka B.O.B. (Seth Rogen). Meanwhile an evil (Obviously) alien called Gallaxhar is alerted to the fact that a substance called “quantonium” is now on Earth and soon begins an invasion that only the detained monsters can stop…for whatever reason.

Only monsters can save us because...uh...they're expendable?

Witherspoon does a pretty fine job in her role. She works with what she’s given well and actually acts as opposed to stand in a booth reading some papers. In fact kudos to the entire main cast for doing their jobs in above average fashion. I had actually never seen Hugh Laurie in anything outside of House and was surprised by the versatility he showed here (Although I shouldn’t have been since he fakes an American accent like a champ on his show). Will Arnett pretty much is only capable of playing one type of character but plays it well each time and you don’t ever really get sick of it. Gallaxhar turned out to be Rainn Wilson, something I didn’t realize until the credits so he gets special props for his character acting chops. Seth Rogen…well he plays that lovable same Seth Rogen type character we’ve seen before, if significantly more incompetent, which was fine by me. The animation was pretty good as well, not the best but certainly not the worst I’ve seen. When the action starts it also incredibly fun as the battle between the two sides was very reminiscent of a superhero battle which is always neat. This of course brings up images of The Incredible which, as you can imagine, is either good or bad depending on your point of view.

Alright, now that I’ve got the positive out of the way let’s move on to the negative.

THIS MOVIE SUCKS!!!

CRICHTON!!!

Okay, I’ll try to refrain from entering an uncontrollable hyper rage. Frankly this film has a lot of ingredients to be a really good, maybe even“Pixar-Level”, piece of cinema but in the end it falls flat for one general reason: it seriously underestimates its audience. This leads to several annoying shortcomings in plot and character development which ends seeming somewhere between incompetent and lazy.

Like I said I like the main protagonists. They each have their own individual personality (Even B.O.B. who tends to accidentally steal the others’ personalities). Coupled with the great performances from their actors its hard not to find these guys appealing. The problem is that we don’t really go further than skin deep with most of them. None of the secondary guys have any real motivation to do anything in this film, other than a promise of freedom. Dr. Cockroach seems to just want to conduct mad science, something that he was doing well enough in prison, Link says he wants to scare people but he’s really inconsistent with this, and B.O.B., well, any motivation B.OB. might have would probably be beyond our carbon based limitations so I’ll give the filmmakers that one. But seriously I don’t feel emotional attachment to these characters because I’m given no reason to. Lots of folk are likable but I cannot care about a main character who remains a two note static caricature.

SCIENCE!!!

Susan is better but not by much. She does indeed grow as a character and we are indeed given suitable motivation for her, I guess. He story seems to be a sort of “I don’t need to define my existence through the man I love” type of change through the film as she slowly realizes that she can be great on her own and not just as Paul Rudd’s wife (Though frankly what crazy woman wouldn’t want to marry Paul Rudd?). That’s fine, except that we barely see her before her transformation into Ginomica so when the movie implies that she spent a lot of time in Derek’s shadow we have to take their word for it since they opted not to show us.

The worst offender is Gallaxhar but that’s more in line with the plot problems that I’ll get to in a minute. While looking at characters I want to briefly mention some of the supporting/minor ones. Paul Rudd is fine as Derek, but the character is pretty much that douche bag boyfriend that women in movies always seem to need rescuing from (i.e. Not interesting). Kiefer Sutherland plays the General who acted as warden to the monsters. He’s okay, but he literally acts circles around his father Donald Sutherland’s performance as the villain of the Astro Boy movie as Donald apparently couldn’t be bothered to emote. Stephen Colbert shows up too playing the President in a role that is pretty much the one he plays on his The Colbert Report except he demonstrates the same voice acting talent he displays in the Tek Jansen shorts. You know; a token amount. Which is weird because he played Doctor Impossible on the Venture Bros. and was awesome in that role yet he undoubtedly was paid far more to appear in this film. Has fame and money made him lazy? Lazier?

Stephen Colbert has become "The Mask"

Anyway the plot of the film is just as patchy as the character development. I was left with so many questions in regard to the world and the villainous plot. My Nitpick Senses were tingling like crazy during my viewing of the movie until I realized that they were actually serious problems. Like Gallaxhar’s scheme: He wants to get the quantonium. Why? Because he needs it to make a new planet. Okay, but how? And also why? Well he claims he destroyed his planet and the quantonium is needed to rebuild it. Wait, why the hell did he blow up his planet? Why does he care about restoring it if he destroyed it to begin with? Why does he need to destroy Earth to do it? Why is quantonium such an important element to this process? Even the movie is aware that Gallaxhar doesn’t seem to have any good reason to do any of the evil things he does; he attempts to tell us his evil plan but he is “comically” cut off and we learn NOTHING!!! WE DON’T HAVE TO EXPLAIN HIS SCHEMES OR MOTIVATION! IT’S A KIDS’ FILM! HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!

There’s also the government’s role in this film. I find it strange that the team charged with housing the monsters are so well funded considering they’re top secret and they only actually house four monsters (Five when Susan is captured). Plus they seem really serious about making sure they never see the light of day again, claiming they’re too dangerous to co-exist with humanity, but are very quick to grant them their freedom in exchange for fighting the aliens. If they were so horribly dangerous why would you ever make a deal that involves them being freed? This stuff just really took away my ability to enjoy the movie, sadly. I have since learned that there were a ton of writers working on this film, which shows me flat-out where the real problem was. How can you expect to properly boil water when there’s half a dozen cooks squeezed into the kitchen?

Simply put this film is bad, but it could have been good. I know I’m grading this thing a bit harshly but it had a ton of potential and it failed to deliver. Basically the film makers behind this one did not take their audience’s intelligence seriously at all and it shows with this very simple and straightforward plot which felt like handling a toy with the sharp bits removed to keep me from poking my eye out. With films like Up and Wall-E non-Pixar companies have got to step up their game. It’s ironic that Monsters vs. Aliens was marketed heavily as being in 3-D when the film itself is extremely two-dimensional, both character-wise and story-wise. If you have a young child I suppose they won’t care about any of the things that I brought up and you can probably stand to lose the two hours it takes to watch it with them without any real problem. However my advice would be to just rent The Incredibles instead.

Pictured: What a kids' film should be like

I’m going to a have to give this movie 2 out of 5 Adorable Pandas because it could have been so much better with not a lot of work.


Pros

-The main characters are interesting, even if only on a superficial level

-This is because we get solid performances from their actors

-Action scenes had a very superhero team feel to them

Cons

-Except for the main protagonist there are no dynamic characters

-Insultingly simple plot

-No less than six writers worked on the script, meaning there were probably a lot of re-writes to what was probably once a perfectly watchable film

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