Movie Review by Samuel Taradash
Starring (voices of): Reese Witherspoon, Kiefer Sutherland, Seth Rogen
Directors: Conrad Vernon, Rob Letterman
MONSTERS VS ALIENS is one of those rare movies that not only delivers exactly what the title promises, but also is an enjoyable, well executed film. The story is a pleasantly fresh take on a number of well-tested movie tropes. Bride-to-be Susan (Reese Witherspoon) wants nothing more than to marry her beloved Derek, honeymoon in Paris, and start her happily ever after dream life. But when a radioactive meteorite transforms her into a 50-foot giantess, her big day slips into a enormous nightmare. Captured by an above-top-secret military unit, Susan finds herself locked away with four other refugees from science fiction films of the 1960s. The unrepentant mad scientist, Dr. Cockroach, an unfrozen and unreformed fish-man Link, and the indestructible blob named Bob have resigned themselves to life in a Guantanamo for Gargantuas. Perhaps the film is wise not to focus on the implications of a secret military prison where inmates are locked away for decades without trial. But the friendships Susan develops with her fellow monsters are almost sweet enough to make audiences ignore the aftertaste of extraordinary rendition. And then, yes, aliens attack. And yes, the monsters swing into action to defend Earth and maybe learn a little something about themselves in the process.
The much-hyped “True 3-D” effect is surprisingly good, with crisp, accurate colors, sharp focus and convincing depth of field. Once the director gets past the obligatory, show-off shots of things flying directly at the camera, the effect actually makes the film much more believable. Until your brain works out how to process it, some of the earlier action sequences may seem to be taking place in a full and realistic space that’s on the other side of a very large window. But it soon feels both immersive and natural, easing Susan’s frankly unsettling character design out of the uncanny valley and into the more cartoony and easily acceptable world of her co-stars. Overall, though, the animation is enjoyably detailed, offering a wealth of visual and contextual gags to be spotted in repeated viewings.
The story is generally free from surprises, twists or turns, but keeps up a good pace as it gambols from scene to scene without lagging. It wisely avoids the easy pop culture references that would be out of date well before the film’s premiere, sticking instead to a neatly sanitary 1960s vibe. Although Reese Witherspoon seems to be playing her umpteenth variation on “the initially shy but with untapped abilities” heroine, she plays it well and it suits the story. Indeed, the entire voice cast delivers crisp performances, with Hugh Laurie evoking a likable version of House MD character and Kiefer Sutherland channeling a good-hearted drill sergeant from the world of Dr. Strangelove. Perhaps that’s the greatest strength and only weakness of MONSTERS VS ALIENS: we intimately know all the characters at first glance, and they don’t betray that initial reading. But even without surprises, it’s a fun, eye-popping story with a genial heart.