Directed by: Rob Letterman (Shark Tale) and Conrad Vernon (Shrek 2)
Starring: (Voices of) Reese Witherspoon, Seth Rogen, Hugh Laurie, Rainn Wilson
The basic idea of making a spoof of 1950s science-fiction movies using the quintessential 1950s gimmick of 3-D is, in itself, inspired. The idea of filling it with cross-references to 1950s-‘60s sci-fi movies from the well known—The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), The Fly (1958)—to the cultish—Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958)—to the esoterically awful—The Amazing Colossal Man (1957)—is a nice nod to film and SF nerds. There’s even something sweetly nostalgic about the movie’s story line: the idea that the government has had all these out-of-date monsters locked away for about 50 years. The voice casting is surprisingly good, especially Rainn Wilson (a performer I generally find more obnoxious than appealing) as the evil Gallaxhar. Nonetheless, though the individual components suggest it should be better, the results are rarely more than pleasant.
It’s hard to pinpoint what’s wrong with Monsters vs. Aliens, because there’s nothing really wrong with it, but there is a lot that isn’t quite right. It’s a little too much like the film is going through the motions—hitting all the right notes, but without much in the way of feeling.
The early scene where Susan (Reese Witherspoon), having been exposed to a meteorite, grows to nearly 50-foot tall proportions and is subdued by the army is a lovingly crafted riff on Bert I. Gordon’s Amazing Colossal Man. Most of the other nods to old SF don’t have the same feeling. They fall prey—at least slightly—to the unfortunately common syndrome of the post-modern penchant for making pop-culture references in place of actual gags. At least here, it’s a little more of a test than usual (the Net nerds seem to have missed the Colossal Man references altogether); but that doesn’t make it any funnier, just a little cooler. Probably the single funniest thing in the film—apart from Wilson’s intergalactic bad guy—is the idea that an alien spacecraft would have a computer (voiced by Amy Poehler) that sounds like a dead ringer for the woman who informs viewers at Regal theaters that “concessions are available in the lobby.”
Kids aren’t likely to find any of this a problem. As a story on the kid level, there’s certainly nothing wrong with the film. It is pretty typical/serviceable stuff, complete with the usual “believe in yourself” tropes and a dash of female empowerment. The movie finds the suddenly enlarged Susan being imprisoned with monsters from the ‘50s-‘60s—a blob called B.O.B. (Seth Rogen), a mad scientist with a cockroach head called Dr. Cockroach (Hugh Laurie), a vaguely (very vaguely so as not to alarm Universal’s legal department) Creature from the Black Lagoon creature called “The Missing Link” (Will Arnett) and a Mothra knockoff called Insectosauraus (remonkeyed so as not to alarm the Toho legal department). As soon as the Earth is invaded by aliens, however, the government finds a use for the monsters. Apart from the personal stories used to flesh this out, that’s the plot, and it works fine for what it is.
At bottom, I liked the movie well enough. I found it consistently clever and that it maintained a pleasantly giddy sense of fun. In a year, I’ll have only the vaguest sense of ever having seen it. Make of that what you will. Rated PG for sci-fi action, some crude humor and mild language.