The highest compliment I can pay “Monsters vs. Aliens” is that it delivers on its promises. The title promises monsters fighting aliens, and that’s what we get.
And not much else.
A tyrannical, megalomaniacal alien named Gallaxhar (Rainn Wilson) attacks Earth in order to retrieve his quantonium, an enormously powerful energy source that he lost when he destroyed another planet. The quantonium was carried off by a meteor that happened to land near Modesto, Calif., right on top of a young bride-to-be named Susan (Reese Witherspoon).
The quantonium transforms Susan into a giant with superhuman strength. She is swiftly taken to a secret government facility where she joins other monsters who have been kept hidden from the American public for decades.
Susan, now named Ginormica, meets the half-human mad genius Dr. Cockroach (Hugh Laurie), the amphibious Missing Link (Will Arnett), a blob without a brain named B.O.B. (Seth Rogen) and a giant bug named Insectosaurus.
When the president (Stephen Colbert) and military can’t stop Gallaxhar, they call on the monsters as a last resort.
This all sounds much more fun than it actually is.
“Monsters vs. Aliens” suffers from the same fate as every other “versus” movie, like “Alien v. Predator.” The main scenario is spelled out by the title, and there just isn’t much beyond the monsters battling the aliens (and technically, there’s only one alien).
The filmmakers parody just about every “creature feature” ever made. Dr. Cockroach references “The Fly,” the Missing Link spoofs “The Creature from the Black Lagoon,” B.O.B. is a comedic version of “The Blob” (as well as a reference to “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes!”), Insectosaurus imitates Mothra and Susan/Ginormica is obviously a take on “The Attack of the 50 Foot Woman.”
In fact, this movie becomes one long series of nods to other movies, including “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “E.T.,” “Dr. Strangelove,” “Godzilla” and “Beverly Hills Cop.” And that’s an abbreviated list.
All these quotations are fun to spot — as long as you’ve seen the movies. Most of these jokes will be completely lost on the film’s younger target audience, not to mention many of their parents.
Unfortunately, the writers don’t add many good jokes of their own. They somehow manage to make Colbert as the president unfunny. How is that possible, you ask? Because these are the sorts of lines they give Colbert: “Boys, set the terror level at code brown, ’cause I need to change my pants.”
If you like DreamWorks’ trademark mix of crude humor and violent family fare, you may enjoy the movie.
But it’s almost impossible not to compare this to both “The Incredibles” and “Monsters, Inc.,” and it loses big time. This is low-rent Pixar.
That said, this is the rare animated movie that might appeal more to girls than boys. Susan/Ginormica is the only character who gets fleshed out with a genuine storyline. Every other character gets superficial treatment.
When timid Susan suddenly becomes a giant, intimidating creature, all she wants is to return to normal and to marry her fiancé (Paul Rudd). She soon discovers an inner strength to match her new, formidable body, though, and embraces her power.
Preteen girls might find this aspect of the movie empowering.
The rest of us would be better off saving money and renting some of the original creature features.
Jeff Marker is a media studies professor at Gainesville State College.