- 2009 Film Review - Monsters VS
- April 9,
- By Eric M. Scharf
- I have been a big fan of the
traditional monster movies ever since I was a young boy, and when I
heard that a film entitled “Monsters VS Aliens” (MVA) was coming to
theaters, I literally said, “WOW! Hold the phone! That is the
greatest title for what should be the biggest battle royal ever!”
I simultaneously learned that it was going to be a DreamWorks
3D-animated film with bright colors and cute, strange creatures, which
instantly indicated a much younger audience. I was not let down, and
I just ratcheted down my expectations to something less than Alien
To be clear, I have been appalled by the silver screen garbage that
is the Alien VS Predator series. I loved Alien 1 and Aliens, and I
enjoyed Alien 3 out of respect for Sigourney Weaver. I also loved
the macho-fest known as Predator. All related films after those have
turned my stomach. But I digress . . .
When I think of “Monsters VS Aliens,” I think of something epic or
awe-inspiring, as would most monster movie fans. What I received for
my $9.00 ticket price was an enjoyable film but not the great film
for which I had hoped. There were high expectations for this film,
with the likes of Shrek and Kung Fu Panda as older siblings within
DreamWorks’ still-young stable of animated properties.
The story was cute, simple, and even tame at certain points. The one
weakness that I could not quite ignore was that the film really
encompassed a cute collection of continuity-breaking moments rather
than a complete story.
A perfect example of this involves the scene where the President
inadvertently attempts to procure some life-threatening refreshment.
While in the war room with his cabinet and military advisers, he
reaches for a big red button on a nearby wall, but he is stopped
cold by shouting advisers. That button would have launched the
country’s entire nuclear arsenal. He shrugs and inquires as to which
button he must push to get a latte. He is told to push the other identical
big red button. He pushes the button, serves himself a latte, and
asks his team which idiot designed such a setup. He is told that he,
himself, did it. The President, then, tells his advisers to fire
somebody for such a screw-up.
The scene was cute for but a “moment” and otherwise unnecessary and
useless. MVA is not the first film to make this mistake, and it will
not be the last, either.
Such a promising film premise with such a segmenting and strangling
story weakness can only be described by the Genie from Disney’s
“Aladdin” as “Phenomenal cosmic powers in an itty-bitty living
I am not entirely convinced these moments were used like so many
available mice to plug holes in a Swiss cheese story. I just believe
the co-directors, Rob Letterman and Conrad Vernon, chose to give the
multitude of talented actors attached to the film a chance to share
the big stage.
This film, like most high-dollar animated flicks these days, has
plenty of the biggest and hottest actors providing voice talent,
with the memorable ones being:
Ginormica, otherwise known as Susan, is voiced by Reese Witherspoon.
Derek Dietl is voiced by Paul Rudd.
B.O.B. is voiced by Seth Rogen.
General W.R. Monger is voiced by Kiefer Sutherland.
Dr. Cockroach Ph.D. is voiced by Hugh Laurie.
President Hathaway is voiced by Stephen Colbert.
- The Missing Link is voiced by Will Arnett, mildly reminiscent of
Cliffy from Cheers.
- Gallaxhar is voiced by Rainn Wilson.
The news reporter at the probe crash site, voiced by Ed Helms,
sounds very much like Tom Brokaw.
So, there was plenty of temptation for the directors to break the
story up into well-coordinated, talent-touting snippets rather than
a smooth story from beginning to end.
The film centers on Susan Murphy, a California girl going about the
innocent business of preparing to wed her dreamy fiancé, Derek
Dietl, the toast of the Modesto area news reporting scene. Everything is
going according to plan, and she simply could not be happier.
Her wedding day elation takes a pretty big dent when Derek informs
her that they are going to an even better place than Paris for their
honeymoon: Fresno! After a brief let-down, and a not-so-subtle
reminder that this detour will help his career, Susan jumps on board
the Good Ship Dietl and is back to being thrilled to marry her dream
boat. She seems shackled to blind devotion by a minor inferiority
complex; just enough for Derek to remain a self-centered glory
Shortly thereafter, the greatest moment of her life finally arrives:
Susan is hit by a meteorite the size of a single-family home! This
is, however, no ordinary potato-shaped intergalactic boulder. While
it should flatten Susan against the ground like so many ripe and
juicy tomatoes, it transforms her into quite the opposite. The
meteorite is juiced with a rare and powerful ingredient, called
Quantonium, which causes her to grow 50-stories tall, gives her
incredible strength, and, most noticeably, turns her hair a
brilliant bright white.
Not surprisingly, the government responds immediately to this
non-FEMA event by capturing Susan, transporting her with an
impressive-looking oversized personnel carrier aircraft (think C5
Galaxy-VTOL hybrid), and depositing her into a secret
prison-like military facility used to house other similarly-odd
creatures who later become her teammates in what begins to resemble
the old TV series “Monster Squad.”
- The somber mood and sterility of the following scene, where she was
abruptly introduced to her “cellmates,” had me half-expecting to see
Dr. Helen Magnus, from SCIFI Channel’s “Sanctuary” television
series, walk up to Susan, welcoming her to her new home, where
Magnus “tracks, protects and learns from the extraordinary and
paranormal creatures that inhabit our world.”
Susan’s extraordinary teammates include a varied cast of characters:
Dr. Cockroach. He is a mad scientist, with an approach very similar
to Doc Brown from “Back to the Future,” who accidentally transformed
himself into a roach-human hybrid. While his experiments mostly tend
to backfire, it is not for a lack of kind-hearted yet mad
B.O.B. He is an indestructible, gelatinous, brainless mass. B.O.B.’s
lack of a brain causes him to suffer from some ridiculous memory
problems. He has a tendency to “sample” almost everything in his
given environment by swallowing them through his conveniently empty
head and expelling them through his mouth. When those “things”
include humans, B.O.B. also tends to forget to spit them out fast
enough to prevent their own potential brain damage from lack of
oxygen. Nonetheless, this process allows B.O.B. to temporarily
inherit the memories of the swallowed person, which makes for
several embarrassing moments for B.O.B.’s “victims,” as he cannot
keep those memories to himself.
The Missing Link. He is a top-heavy lizard man in the mold of a
kinder, gentler, more fun-loving “Creature from the Black Lagoon.”
He is constantly worrying about “being able to perform” in public
after so many years hidden away in the team’s secret military
bungalow. He is particularly close and protective of the largest
member of the gang.
Insectosaurus – an enormous, prehistoric, insect-dinosaur crossbreed
the size of a modern Olympic stadium. Insectosaurus proves to be the
biggest teddy bear known to humankind, but he is also the biggest
mouth-breather of our time. And, as humungous as he may be,
screaming humans scare him to half to death.
“Calling All Monsters,” indeed.
While character development, however, has never been a strong point
of monster movies, character discovery, or more specifically,
self-discovery of one’s special abilities, might have greatly
enhanced the presence of this likeable team of oddballs.
Susan, for example, could have discovered that she could, in fact,
grow larger and stronger than a 50-story tall person, but only
within a limited time frame, as the Quantonium in her physical
make-up would need time to reconstitute itself (e.g. the Dilithium
crystals, in the USS Starship Enterprise, when pushed beyond
capacity through warp speed travel, would need time to regenerate
before the ship could travel at that speed again).
The Missing Link, for example, could have discovered that he is much
faster and stronger than he remembered, after being out of
commission for so many years. This would add weight to his concerns
about still being as capable as he used to be, and it would give
credence to his belief that, in the good ole’ days, he was much
better than he fears he has become.
- Dr. Cockroach, for example, could
have discovered that his transformation into a roach-human hybrid
also produced the armor-like shell that most roach characters tend
to display in stories filmgoers to which filmgoers have been
treated. The roach sidekick, in Pixar's "WALL•E," gets steamrolled
twice, to great effect, only to be seen popping back up as if
nothing happened. Roaches, in reality, are seen as the only creatures
that can survive almost anything, and this added characterization
would have made Dr. Cockroach much more than the mildly annoying
talking head he literally appears to be during most of his scenes.
Insectosaurus, however, is a special case, because most adults who
see MVA will comprehend Insectosaurus as the giant joke he was meant
to be, or “the huge creature with no weight,” who only comes in
handy towards the end of the film. I would have certainly preferred
that Insectosaurus, too, had something extra-special to him.
My thoughts on self-discovery of powers remind me of the story
effort put into Pixar’s “The Incredibles,” one of my favorite
3D-animated films of all time. “The Incredibles” was interwoven with
self-discovery by characters who were learning how to use their
super powers on-the-fly, much like Susan, but also much younger in
- Nonetheless, while Susan and her new friends are becoming familiar
with each other back at their secret lair (including whacky and unsuccessful attempts by Dr.
Cockroach to return Susan to normal), we learn that big trouble is
brewing outside of our solar system and speeding towards Earth. The
entity responsible for the meteorite that changed Susan’s life,
interstellar conqueror Gallaxhar, sends a robot probe to Earth in an
attempt to recapture his precious Quantonium. If that is not
troubling enough, Gallaxhar also has four eyes, literally, and the
two outside eyes are in constant sea-sickness-inducing motion,
making it seem like he is a walking pendulum.
- The initial battle, involving the U.S. military, offers blatant but
enjoyable mimicry of the great warfare scenes from “Independence
Day.” Nonetheless, the military provides no such deterrent to the
massive one-eyed robot probe, and the monsters are called in to bat
Susan, now-renamed Ginormica by the military, in tandem with
Insectosaurus, uses her incredible strength to stop the menacing robot probe.
This scene, in fact, is a perfect example of the amazing grasp of
size and scale held by the film crew. Insectosaurus standing on the
other side of the Golden Gate Bridge from the equally enormous robot
probe, with the smaller Ginormica and plenty of cars and ant-sized
humans between them, is spectacular.
- After learning of his failed bid to reacquire the Quantonium,
Gallaxhar decides to take care of business himself, arriving on
Earth and informing the human population that he intends to take
over and enslave everyone – no hard feelings.
President Hathaway does the only thing he can, as he guarantees the
monsters their freedom in return for stopping Gallaxhar’s diabolical
plan and saving the world.
Ginormica and her teammates do, indeed, decide to take on Gallaxhar
and his army of dozens of robot probes and hundreds of Gallaxhar
clones. Once, again, the military’s ultra-cool personnel carrier
aircraft is called into duty to transport the team to their
destination, and, once, again, it is only for a brief “moment,”
after which it is damaged beyond repair and crashes. While the
X-Men’s super cool aircraft was destroyed in an instant after almost
zero use in X-Men 3, it is still my humble opinion that impressive
aircraft / spacecraft command more than a moment of attention. Then,
again, like Insectosaurus, a fantastic mode of transportation with
very little usage, while unpopular, is understandable.
- The team escapes their doomed
aircraft, and, after another “moment” involving General W.R. Monger,
they just manage to make it onboard Gallaxhar’s enormous spacecraft.
Ginormica literally looks normal-sized in comparison to it.
Ginormica quickly encounters Gallaxhar, and, once he determines that
Ginormica is not easily dispatched, a heart-pounding chase ensues.
Gallaxhar stays just ahead of her grasp until he manages to capture
her. She awakens in an hourglass-like containment area wearing a
skin-tight jumpsuit only TRON could love. The only things missing
from it were glowing neon blue rhinestones.
- Nonetheless, Gallaxhar
manages to recollect the Quantonium from her body without harming
her, to which I was simultaneously impressed and disappointed.
Expectations of a monster movie fan had me wanting to see Gallaxhar
extract a pound of flesh for his trouble, and, yet, it was
refreshing to see such an all powerful villain use a passive
technical method to attain the element of his desire.
Ginormica’s teammates come to the rescue only to be stopped rather
easily by Gallaxhar. Ginormica aggressively pursues Gallaxhar into
his escape pod chamber, where his precious Quantonium is being
loaded. She understands the only chance she has to save her friends
and stop Gallaxhar is to break the containment field around the
Quantonium, allowing it to engulf her once more, and regaining her
former powers. She knows she will never be able to return to being
normal again, but she has no choice, with her teammates in need . .
. and no normal life to which she can return (as proven by her
disastrous reunion with her parents and their neighbors).
ends up halting Gallaxhar’s mad scheme, freeing her teammates (her
friends), and hitching a ride on Insectosaurus’s back, who
flies in on his new wings (after awakening from a cocoon after his
bruising encounter with the first robot probe), just in time to
validate his larger-than-life existence, and just as Gallaxhar’s
ship self-destructs. His massive spacecraft, by the way, is
not the most creative design anyone has ever seen, and it looks
one of those Polycom conference call devices that are used through the
- And, thus, Ginormica and her teammates end up being set free – not
free to return to the “normal” lives they once knew – but free to
see where their brighter future will take them.
It is human nature to want something you see or experience, or with
which you interact, to be “what you want.” You want all of your
meals to taste great, your vehicle to drive like a silky smooth race
car, your clothes to make you look like a film star every time you
put them on. Films of all kinds, all genres, and all grades are
going to have fans for some of the most common and outlandish
I enjoyed this film about how a common person went through an
unexpected transformation, joining an outlandish team just in time
to save the world from destruction, and learning to appreciate her
own self worth a little more in the process. I simply would have
enjoyed it as much as my 5-year-old daughter, or even more, if the
directors had take more than a "moment" to better address my age-old love for
monsters and aliens . . . and what they would do to each other if
they really mixed it up on the battlefield.
Now that the first attempt at MVA has been made, however, the cat is
out of the bag. There will be more attempts to better satisfy my
childhood monster movie dreams, and I plan on seeing each and every
one of them.
“In 300 years, when evil returns, so shall we.” – The Mondoshawan in
“The 5th Element.”
“In the next 5-10 years, when another, greatly improved MVA effort
returns to theaters, so shall I.” – Eric M. Scharf in “A Wishful
Thought” (Working Title).