Sunday, October 25, 2009

Review: Monsters Vs. Aliens

Starring Reese Witherspoon, Seth Rogan, Hugh Laurie, Will Arnett, Keifer Sutherland, Rainn Wilson, and Stephen Colbert
Written by Maya Forbes, Wallace Wolodarsky, Rob Letterman, Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger
Directed by Rob Letterman & Conrad Vernon

DreamWorks Animation has had, to be kind, a rough ride in terms of quality since it's existence. With the exemption of the charming Shrek and Shrek 2, they've plowed through a forgettable filmography of Shark Tale, Madagascar, Over the Hedge, Bee Movie, and Shrek 3. However, the studio gave a surprising great turn to form with the charming and visually gorgeous Kung Fu Panda. After years of mediocrity in the shadow of the mighty Pixar age, I was with a lot of movie goers that thought Spielberg's mighty animation studio was turning into a nightmare. This was until Monsters Vs. Aliens which turned the once sinking ship of a studio into a shining force that not only keeps the Dream alive as a raging, funny force to reckon with.

Monsters Vs. Aliens is a about Susan Murphy (Reese Witherspoon), a woman who got hit by a meteorite on her wedding day and turns into a giant woman straight out of Attack of the 50 ft. Woman. Naturally the government comes in and takes her to an underground prison for 50's style monsters and give her the name Ginormica. But when a giant robot from the alien Gallaxhar (Riann Wilson) comes looking for the meteorite, it's up to Ginormica, B.O.B. (Seth Rogan), a big blue blob, Dr. Cockroach Ph.D. (Hugh Laurie), a half man, half cockroach mad scientist, The Missing Link (Will Arnett), a creature from the black lagoon, and a giant bug called Insectosaurus (Conrad Vernon) to stop him from taking over the world.

As you're able to tell from the plot summery to the poster, the movie is a spoof of 1950's monster movies which even though were B movies made some pretty impressive special effects for their time. When Monsters Vs. Aliens was released, it was promoted as a great landmark for 3D technology and special effects. The version I saw was the DVD without 3D glasses added in. Just as Black Dynamite put a great effort in being a Blaxplotation film and a spoof, Monsters does the same thing here; the imagery, art and mighty explosions in the film are visually stunning to look at. Two scenes that come to mind were the fight on the golden gate bridge, the alien spaceship and the robot itself.

If I did have an issue with the film, it's the 3D gimmick. It makes sense to have this gimmick being a parody of a time when film was all about having 3D monster mashes, but it's really not immersive or inventive at all. Monsters doesn't use the 3D gimmick too much by making hands fly toward the screen which I applaud the filmmakers for. It actually shares the same problem with Up from Pixar this year; both films are impressive artistically and the only thing 3D does is literally give me a headache.

So the film is a spoof of 50's monster movies but does it work? Well absolutely it works; the film has some pretty funny moments that riff on references from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, An Inconvenient truth, and a pretty funny take on countdowns which I wont give away with this review. The highlight of the comedy is Stephen Colbert as the president of the united states and yes; it's as funny as it sounds. His underground meetings almost steal the show with the riffs on Armageddon. If Spaceballs had a spiritual sequel, Monsters Vs. Aliens is it.

Don't think that clever riffs on the sci-fi genre is all Monsters Vs. Aliens is about, the focus is more on Susan's transformation to Ginormica (mental transformation that is). The film's theme is simple: check your ego. Susan always put herself second to everyone else and has a pretty low view of herself; it's OK her husband wants something besides Paris, he needs to get the job. Then when she became a giant and starts fighting other giants, she realizes that she shouldn't shortchange herself simply because she's, well, a woman. Society still tells us that men should go after their dreams while the women are there for support and she learns she has enormous strength as Ginormica or Susan. It's really refreshing to see a heroine who fights for herself and becomes independent; it's been a while since we've had a great action heroine and we have a pretty damn great one here.

Finally, an awesome action heroine

There's another side to the ego trip too; her husband and Gallaxhar have way too much pride in themselves that they're both shallow, selfish fools. Gallaxhar's main plan to conquer earth is to use the meteors power to make an army of himself. The big message of the movie is about how you should have respect for yourself and respect for others in spite of what society says about you. It's a great theme to have in a kids movie; it's something the younger crowd will understand and the older audience can appreciate. Having a great balance with kids and adults in an animated film is pretty great to have these days.

Stephen Colbert may steal the show, but the rest of the cast is pretty excellent too. Reese Witherspoon is an actress I've never really cared for before but she gives a lot of life to Ginormica. The same goes for Rogan, Laurie, Arnett, and Wilson; we've seen these characters all before but it's pretty fun to hear it come out of this cast. It may look like a big celebrity whoring but I honestly didn't know it was Rainn Wilson as the villain. I've never watched 24 either and Keifer Sutherland was wonderful to listen to as the underground monster general. The kids probably haven't seen 24, The Office, Legally Blonde, or Knocked Up (let's hope not that last one) but they're going to have no problem hanging out with these monsters.

A lot of critics panned the film for a few things like the supporting cast being one-dimensional and uninteresting and they're right; without the cast they would have been pretty boring. The critics also didn't enjoy the 3D catering and I agree with them that it should die out. There are a few issues with the film but in all honesty a lot of the complaints they had with the film didn't bother me at all. I was too busy having fun hanging out with the characters, enjoying the great scenery, and laughing at the humor. Monsters Vs. Aliens probably wont start a revolution but it's a great watch to have with your kids and even with yourselves.

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