Friday, April 03, 2009

MONSTERS VS ALIENS - nothing special

MONSTERS VS ALIENS is a rather didactic, sporadically funny CGI animated film from DREAMWORKS - the studio that brought you SHREK. In contrast to SHREK, the incessant pop-culture references have been toned down, as have the fart jokes. Indeed, this movie makes a stab at being sweet and relying on old-fashioned physical humour in the manner of PIXAR movies. What hasn't changed is the classic DREAMWORKS didactisim. If SHREK is all about not being superficial and having self-esteem, MONSTERS VS ALIENS reads as a proto-feminist tract on female self-empowerment. Now, I'm the last person to object to such material, but it should at least be leavened by a steady stream of jokes. And on that score, MONSTERS VS ALIENS is well behind MONSTERS INC or THE INCREDIBLES, if not as out and out dull as BOLT 3D.

Reese Witherspoon is typically charming and engaging as Susan - a woman transformed in size and strength when hit by a meteor. She is sequestered by the government with other monsters, renamed Ginormica and asked to take-on an alien invasion by Gallaxhar, who covets her new powers. The movie is about Susan learning to embrace her strength and not to underestimate herself. It's also about her dumping her callow boyfriend (Paul Rudd) who can't cope with dating a woman who is more famous and powerful.

Where the movie does well is in its set-piece action sequences. I also loved Seth Rogen, Hugh Laurie and Will Arnett as the Monsters; Rainn Wilson as Gallaxhar and, most of all, Kiefer Sutherland as General W.R.Monger. I was less impressed by Stephen Colbert as President Hathaway (although that may have been due to his part being under-written - the scene where the President greets the alien probe is painfully unfunny.) But my biggest criticism is that the movie's moral message was just very heavy-handed and got in the way of the fun.

Finally, a quick word on the increased use of 3D. This movie uses 3D in the old fashioned "stuff coming out of the screen at you" manner rather than the pretentious "immersive" technique used in BOLT. I'm not convinced that either add anything to the movie-going experience. Rather, aren't we all convinced that it's just a cynical ploy to foil the pirates? The only recent movie I've seen where 3D actually enhanced the experience was Gil Kennan's brilliant MONSTER HOUSE.

MONSTERS VS ALIENS is on release in on global release.

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