They’re in the army now...
Low in budget, high in concept and brimming with invention and audacity, Gareth Edwards’ Monsters showed you don’t need millions to make a smart, character-full genre picture featuring giant squid-like aliens. It also showed how quickly careers can be made these days, Edwards going straight from directing his modest $500,000 debut feature to the blockbuster behemoth that was Godzilla and the first of the standalone Star Wars spin-offs.
No pressure on Tom Green, then, the young British director given the slightly unenviable task of generating a follow-up. To his credit, the former Misfits helmer doesn’t seek to replicate Edwards’ rich combo of apocalyptic road movie and slow-burn romance, a film in which the monsters of the title were merely a backdrop to Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able’s passage from ill-matched travelling companions to Capra-esque lovebirds. Unfortunately, he and co-writer Jay Basu have come up with a copy of something else: a war yarn about raw recruits enduring a traumatic baptism of fire that best resembles Platoon with tentacles.
Swapping the original’s verdant Mexican jungle for arid Middle Eastern desert, Monsters 2 at least rings the changes visually, locating its action in a dusty, bleached-out cauldron where hostile locals driven to militancy by indiscriminate US bombing pose a threat to fresh-faced rookie Michael (Sam Keeley) equal to the huge sand bugs he sees lumbering in the distance. There’s also cephalopod innovation, the mighty Goliaths joined this time by horse-sized beasties that charge like buffalo, and baby offspring with a lethal aptitude for dog-fighting.
Once Michael, Detroit buddy Frankie (Joe Dempsie) and the rest of their unit get out into the field, however, it quickly becomes apparent that Green has little else to offer but formulaic combat carnage. Sent into the infected zone to rescue some stranded comrades, these callow novices waste no time getting in over their heads, for all the attempts of their ball-busting sergeant (Johnny Harris) to lick them into shape.
Modern war clichés infest a story in which the MTRs (as they are so dubbed) are largely passive bystanders. Indeed, it’s only in one aerial sequence, in which a Cloverfield-like leviathan lunges a curious feeler towards the Black Hawk chopper circling above it, that we genuinely feel the cool creatures we’ve come to see and the hand-me-down humans we haven’t are inhabiting the same film.