Sunday, December 20, 2020

Love and Monsters

Spoiler-free!

Seven years after the earth is accidentally turned into an apocalyptic wilderness inhabited by giant, mutated insects and reptiles, survivor Joel (Dylan O'Brien) finally reestablishes contact with his long-lost girlfriend, Aimee (Jessica Henwick). He's useless as far as monster-killing goes, and her underground colony is 80 miles away from his, but he's determined to be with her again, and rekindle what they had. So off he goes, braving the monsters for love.

Don't settle for an unfulfilled life. Even if it's the apocalypse!

I'll put it simply: it's a refreshing adventure, and a blast of entertainment. Joel meets a friendly dog who joins him, then joins in with an old man (Michael Rooker) and his unofficially adopted daughter (Ariana Greenblatt). He meets and runs from many gleefully-rendered scifi monsters, eventually learning how to survive them. It has everything I could think to ask for in an action/adventure film. It's brightly colored. Fun to watch. With engaging action sequences that don't exist just to fill a quota. And moments of wonder, which every adventure film needs to be complete. It doesn't forget the heart, and has sweet genuineness to hold it all together. It's not breaking new ground on its genres; it's just filling the established mold with high quality material.

I don't even have a "but" to add to that. It's not gonna be my new favorite movie or anything, I just don't have any complaints. There was one thing I was expecting the film to do that it didn't and felt like a loose end, but I think it was mostly me projecting that made it a thread at all. The characters are archetypal, but that's not a problem when they're done with enough dedication. And by my calculations, dedication is Dylan O'Brien's greatest feature as an actor. If a script gives him something solid, he seems incapable of squandering it. He always plays a variation of himself, but who cares—he's clearly gunning to be the next Tom Cruise, and I think he's got the job in the bag.

Not everyone can channel entertainment so effectively.

Movies like this ride on charm and how high the entertainment quality can go. And O'Brien isn't lacking on leading man skills but to that end he still gets charm backup in the form of an unrelentingly adorable dog actor. They worked so well together that it makes me wonder why more movies don't include talented doggies. It's not like he was vital to the plot or anything. He simply made the movie better by making it more entertaining. The CGI wasn't anything to write to your long-distance girlfriend about, but it wasn't bad either and far from bland visually, which makes it actively good in my book; adding to the entertainment. As does the creature designs. And the good-natured comedy. And the way it steps into serious, dark drama, but doesn't wallow in it.

Ah, entertainment. Sometimes you need an escape, and this movie is eager to give it to you. Unexpectedly, it has more to give on top of that. Everyone knows you can't make a film these days without a nice, fluffy message to make it feel complete. Some universal truth to reiterate in a positive way, so we can walk away from our entertaining escape feeling reinvigorated toward real life. Accidentally, this little flick hits the nail on the head with a universal message that it couldn't have known, at the time of writing and filming, would be so relevant to the state of humanity circa 2020.

This movie knows what's up more than it realized it knew.

Love and Monsters doesn't shy away from the fact that there's danger in the world. It openly acknowledges it, and shows how painful it can be. Then, it wisely points out that being afraid of said danger is only a hinderance. It says there are things out there worth braving the danger for—personal, and communal. It shows us that the world isn't as bad as rumors and built-up fear sometimes makes it seem; and that hiding doesn't exclude you from danger. It values freedom over safety, and suggests that freedom leads to true safety, rather than a false illusion of it. Then it literally says, "There is a great big, beautiful, inspiring world out there. Go. Live your life. It won't be easy but it'll be worth it."

Leave it to some unassuming little adventure flick about giant bug monsters to remind us to have a little courage in this real world. No matter how scary or dangerous life gets to be, there's no excuse for not living it to its fullest—let alone not living it at all.

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