Monsters heralded the arrival of writer/director Gareth Edwards in 2010 by placing two humans in a dreadfully threatening environment and capturing the feeling of impending danger. It spun the monster genre in a new way, and did it by keeping the creatures off-screen for most of the film. Its sequel, Monsters: Dark Continent, tries the same trick to a lesser degree, but the story just isn't there. This is a testosterone-infused war movie for meatheads set against an alien backdrop.
Edwards and his Monsters leading man, Scoot McNairy, executive produced Monsters: Dark Continent, but that's where the connection to the first film ends. The sequel is written by Jay Basu and directed by Tom Green and these two filmmakers put little stock in honest-to-God characters in favor of character stereotypes and dialogue worthy of a bad ABC show.
The film is set 10 years after Monsters. The alien 'Infected Zones' have spread to much larger areas and insurgent groups have taken up arms somewhere in the Middle East. Riffing off other terrible screenplays, from Independence Day to Battle: Los Angeles, the movie follows a band of soldiers sent to deal with the bedlam caused by the insurgents, which leads to battles with the monster aliens.
As bland and uninteresting as every human interaction is in this movie, the aliens help to make up for it. They're shown more than in Monsters and they steal every scene they're in. One fantastic sequence shows a four-legged beast galloping alongside the military caravan like a scene out of Jurassic Park. Green may not know how to keep a clean narrative going, but he's got an eye for movie moments, and a future in directing if he finds better scripts.
Green doesn't stop there with his homages. Dark Continent is very much in the vein of dour war pictures like Children of Men and The Hurt Locker, utilizing handheld cameras almost exclusively. And it's set in slum-ridden places of poverty like in District 9. The look of the film works for the most part. It's when people open their mouths that things go awry.
The main characters are new army recruits who come from Detroit. Michael Parkes (Sam Keeley) tells us he joined the military because it was better than dealing crack. We get to know him and his buddies, Frankie Maguire (Joe Dempsie) and Shaun Williams (Parker Sawyers), via a guys night of debauchery before shipping out. These scenes are cliched machismo disguised as fun-loving youthfulness. There's nothing here that hasn't been done a thousand times before.
Upon arriving in the Mid East, the boys are tasked with extracting four Americans amongst the dangers of war and monstrous aliens. Their c.o. Sgt. Noah Frater (Johnny Harris) is the military lifer character we've already seen in Hurt Locker and, recently, in American Sniper. He yells and screams embarrassingly unoriginal military motivation and the result is an eye roll. At no point did I buy any of these guys as real soldiers. Frater confirms this assessment later on by sniveling his way through the second half of the film.
The military sequences are tiresome. A war movie that actually uses the aliens as some kind of looming threat that builds as the film goes on (like Monsters does) would have been welcome. Instead the creatures provide the backdrop for a seriously ill-advised war flick. The one reason to see this movie—the monsters—isn't enough to tolerate scene after scene of obnoxious, swaggerific army recruits we never care about. Green tries to adhere them to us. He wastes plenty of time on character development that's about as nuanced as an episode of Jersey Shore. It's nowhere near enough.