Monsters: Dark Continent marks the inevitable follow-up to Gareth Edwards’ stunning 2010 low-budget feature debut Monsters. Daring to tackle such a sequel is a brave move because the original film is a delicate, moving love story told on an epic, world-building canvas. For the most part the original film, which Edwards essentially made on his laptop, had little to do with the monsters of the title, they were there as a subtext, a thematic representation of the central romance. Making a sequel to it was never really going to be possible so Monsters: Dark Continent chooses to go the spin-off route by taking the same concept and rather than making a love story turning it into a war movie.
Six years after the events of the first film, pieces of the satellite that brought aliens to earth that mutated into gargantuan monsters have now landed in the Middle East. With the creatures running wild the local insurgents see it as an opportunity to rise once again. Having all grown up together in Detroit a group of friends, including Parkes (Sam Keeley) head out to fight the monsters by joining the US Army. Once there they find themselves under the command of the hardened Frater (Johnny Harris). Before they’re embroiled in a mission gone bad in the middle of the dessert with monsters on one side and insurgents on the other.
It’s hard to imagine anything other than James Cameron’s Aliens being the primary influence on Dark Continent. Having seen the intimate first film writer director Tom Green has decided to send in the Colonial Marines, sorry, army, to deal with the enemy. Unlike Aliens Dark Continent only looks to develop the mythology of Edwards’ Monsters as a vague backdrop to the main plot.
The issue is the main plot is not engaging. It is a nuts and bolts gritty war drama. The vistas drained of colour, the locals gazing at the power of the US military with either menace or fear. There’s even a tough-as-nails leader for the troops to both admire and hate in equal measure. The plot idles along early on, giving us a brief insight into the troops lives back home before they head off to war and then once there their back-story seems to count for little.
But, crucially, when those monsters are there the film does begin to touch the heights that Edwards’ original film did. There are moments of staggering beauty in which to adore these creatures whose purpose here seems to suggest that war turns men into monsters. But the actual monsters are never nearly as horrific as the humans on offer. You wonder if actually the monsters themselves might not be a peaceful species happy to be left alone if only the bombs would stop dropping on them. So the metaphor of the film never works, if anything it contradicts the whole point being made.
Never the sequel that Monsters deserved or probably wanted, Monsters: Dark Continent aims high but ultimately feels like a missed opportunity tomons expand Edwards’ hauntingly beautiful world.