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Friday, September 24, 2021

One Thing Covid Didn’t Smash to Pieces? Monster Movies

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Part of it is O’Brien’s charm, coupled with his creaky, perma-pubescent voice, which the script has its clever way with. The other part is the monster effects, which seem about half as computer-generated as GvK’s. For a climactic beach battle with a “hell crab,” the filmmakers installed a huge blow-up crab doll on set so the actors would have something to play against. By contrast, when Hottle had to act with Kong, she had nothing to look at, save a massive green screen. “One of the hardest parts was trying to pretend there was a bond there,” she said in a recent interview. In Love and Monsters, the bonds are real, and not just between the nice humans. The aforementioned cute kid, whom Joel meets on his overground journey, imparts several important lessons, one of which is: Look at the eyes. She means the eyes of the creatures. If they’re gentle and kind, maybe they don’t want to eat you. Maybe they—and the movie they’re in—want less to do with breaking things apart than with putting them back together.

Or not. A second monster movie, which came out last December, doesn’t even pretend to have intelligence behind its eyes. In one pivotal scene, in fact, a monster hunter—the movie is literally called Monster Hunter—hurls his spear at the unkind eye of a towering sand rhino. His aim is true; eye goo gets everywhere. That’s when you know: This movie wants to be the purest, most perfect expression of what the genre can be.

In short, it succeeds. Monster Hunter is the sort of movie that dares dummies to think it’s dumb. It makes itself painfully easy to criticize in the conventional language of criticism. None of the characters are “developed.” It can’t be said to have a “plot.” All it is is one fight sequence after another, things exploding, body parts gushing, people dying, interspersed with what barely qualifies as dialog.

But none of these, to be clear, count as weaknesses. Such a commitment to schlock takes courage, great courage! Unlike, say, Godzilla vs. Kong, which wastes too many resources in a pathetic attempt to establish some vital core of humanity, Monster Hunter simply puts you in front of bigger and bigger monsters, and nothing, not the interdimensional lightning storms nor the random tribe of desert warriors nor the mysterious tower guarded by fire-breathing dragons, is ever even remotely explained. Plus, it stars the legendary Milla Jovovich—as directed, in their fifth collaboration together, by her husband, Paul W. S. Anderson. If the fun they’re having here (and always) is any indication, theirs is the bitchin’-est marriage ever. At one point, Jovovich’s twin swords burst into flames, and she looks around for an explanation. None is given.

Monster Hunter does not have an ending; as an adaptation of a narratively looping video game franchise, it merely stops. Mid-fight, to be exact. You are amazed, relieved, and ready to play it again. Here, finally, is a monster movie that truly knows itself. There’s no tearful reunion, no promise of a better tomorrow. Just more carnage on the other side.

That’s what Godzilla vs. Kong, in the final analysis—and even Love and Monsters, adorable though it is—fails to understand. Monster movies don’t mean anything. Maybe they play on our fears. Of nuclear warfare. Of invasion. Of infection. But they don’t have anything to say about those fears. They’re metaphors, in a sense, for an absence of metaphors. Do monster movies hit any harder, any different, now that we’re coming out the other side of a stupid, pointless pandemic, one that leveled cities and populations all over the planet? Not at all. If anything, their purpose, if they have one, is clearer than ever. There is nothing to be learned, nothing to be gained, from mindless death and destruction.


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