Watching Monsters vs. Aliens in 2D is like flying coach while everyone else flies first class. We’re all going the same way, but some of you are having a lot more fun getting there. When told that our showing wouldn’t be in 3D, there was an audible sigh of disappointment from the cheap seats. It seems this 3D thing has caught on, and if you’re going to see Monsters vs. Aliens make sure you’ve taken the right steps to see things leap out of the screen. Watched in two dimensions the film is one long reminder of how much cooler this would be if you only had on those uncomfortable, plastic frames.
But maybe it wouldn’t be all that much better in 3D. For a movie with the word “Vs.” right in the title, Monsters vs. Aliens contains surprisingly little monster on alien action. It fails to take advantage of the animated medium it’s swimming in, a medium which literally lets it imagine anything and put it on screen. The action is fairly tame, especially when put up against other successfully action-saturated animated movies like The Incredibles or even Bolt. When MvA has its heroes battling a giant robot, it quickly turns into everyone standing around on a bridge staring at each other. When The Incredibles battle a giant robot it’s a breathtaking, break-neck action sequence filled with comedy, eye-popping visuals, and on the fly character development. The entire movie is predicated on the idea of monsters fighting aliens, but MvA just doesn’t have the juice to satisfactorily pull off its own premise. They’ve plopped all of these really beautifully rendered CGI creations down in a specific world and then seem to have no real idea what to do with them.
It’s saved by being funny. Seth Rogen runs away with the entire movie as the voice of B.O.B., an indestructible gelatinous ooze formed by the accidental merging of a bunch of chemicals and Cool Ranch flavored dip. Though the movie's action beats are underdeveloped, they’ve successfully poured all of their creativity into making us laugh. Rogen’s one of a kind chuckle coming out of talking Jello mold might be enough on its own to sell the character, but they take full advantage of his gooey nature to turn every moment with him into a combination of site gags and hilarious, brain-dead Rogen one-liners.
Less successful is Susan (voiced by Reese Witherspoon), the real focus of the film. She’s our main character and she seems to have been born without a personality. When we first meet Susan she’s hit by a meteor during her wedding, causing unexpected growth of enormous proportions. Now over 50ft tall and pretty freaked out, she’s quickly captured by the military and imprisoned in a secret bunker with the government’s other captured monsters. There Susan meets Dr. Cockroach (voiced by Hugh Laurie), a mad scientist who turned himself into a bug; The Missing Link (voiced by Will Arnett), an unfrozen fishy creature with the personality of Rodney Dangerfield on spring break; Insectasaurus, a Godzilla-sized caterpillar without much of a brain; and of course B.O.B. Before long Earth is attacked by an unstoppable alien named Gallaxhar (voiced by Rainn Wilson), and the government offers their imprisoned monsters freedom in exchange for fighting off the invaders. They accept.
Susan’s lack of personality is less of a problem than it might have been since she’s surrounded by such oddity, and the interplay between the movie’s monsters will hold your attention in spite of the big, blank, space that is our lead. Yet even the film’s more interesting characters often end up underdeveloped. There’s a subplot involving Missing Link’s lack of confidence for instance, which is suddenly forgotten halfway through the film. And as much fun as I had watching Dr. Cockroach win a dance off, a more motivated movie might have also found ways to let him, you know, go all mad scientist and invent something. The bottom line is that while Monsters vs. Aliens has a flair for comedy it seems lost when asked to do anything else. I still don’t know what The Missing Link’s role is on the team and the movie’s big finish is incredibly half-hearted.
Monsters vs. Aliens looks nice and I’m sure it’ll only look better in 3D. It’s also gifted with a top notch voice cast. Rogen steals scenes but Hugh Laurie, Rainn Wilson, and Stephen Colbert as The President are equally unforgettable. That’s not enough. There’s no tension, no excitement. It needs someone with an eye for action to kick the whole thing up a notch. Go watch a Godzilla movie. It may offer some clues. This should have been Monsters Versus Aliens! Instead it’s more like monsters stop aliens. If they aren’t going to take advantage of their medium then we might as well go back to the days of monster movies with bad rubber suits. The components for something really special are here, on screen, waiting to be used. It’s a shame no one figured out how to use them.