This format is a shorter, more to the point, off-shot of the normal review/op-eds I normally do. A ranking will be given at the end from a scale that starts at (from the lowest to the highest): Bad – meh – fine – good – great. Anything not appropriate for these “scores” will likely warrant a more in-depth discussion, which is what I normally do, so this range does not cover all movies, just the ones that I think are suited to this format.
Love and Monsters is a 2021 movie, directed by Michael Matthews, and stars Dylan O’Brien as Joel, a manchild who survived the apocalypse hiding in a bunker, but is very lonely; he then discovers where his ex-girlfriend is hiding and decides to go on a perilous journey to be with her. The movie also stars Jessica Henwick and Michael Rooker.
I went into Love and Monsters with zero expectations on a night where there was a lot of fireworks and noises outside (Happy Easter by the way!) and didn’t want to commit focus (and be aggravated by the loud noises) on something more of my style; despite this, I really enjoyed Love and Monsters. It’s gets just enough things right to compensate for what it gets wrong, and I am very surprised by that; the action is good, the creature design is good, the pacing and flow is good, some comedy sticks, there are some clever uses of foreshadowing and visual cues, and the general tone and messages the movie tries to pass on are heartfelt and decent. The characters are bad, most of the comedy just didn’t land for me, and it has a generic feel, but I can overlook those in favor of the positives and the dog, who is called Boy and is a very good boy indeed.
Set in modern times, Earth is on a crash collision with an asteroid and humanity comes together to eliminate that asteroid…by shooting a bunch of missiles at it; however, the chemical residue those missiles leave on Earth left nature mutated and not that kin of humans. So, war on nature, most of humanity dies, and the rest survive in bunkers, which is where we find our protagonist Joel. Surprisingly, he is one of the worst aspects of the movie; he is constantly using his “I’m a socially awkward teen” gimmick and narrates the entirety of the movie that makes it feel like I’m being told what I can see for myself and feels like the movie can’t trust me to get the most basic visual storytelling it provides. What saves the movie though, is how well-explained and mature the movie treats motivations and the state of the world; the character is on a perilous journey to find a person they haven’t seen for 7 years, but he does stop to wonder if what he’s doing is misguided, and he learns a lot on his way, which gives him (and us) a new perspective on the world and how someone like him can survive in it.
While the protagonist is not the most likeable, the world he gets to know alongside us absolutely steals the show; the creature design is very well animated and designed, and (the name is probably a reference to this) it reminds me a lot of The Last of Us – a human world being retaken by nature. There are good characters in the movie, however they fall victims of the best feature of the movie: pace and flow. The movie constantly keeps moving like an overactive teenager and it feels like a slapstick comedy pace at times; if you don’t like one scene, don’t worry the next one ain’t that far away. Joel meets the aforementioned characters on his journey and they spend a long time together, but as soon as the movie runs out of ideas for new stuff with them, it sends them on their way; what follows is still great, but it is missing the best characters we have seen thus far, and that’s disappointing. Their time together represents what works so well in this movie; lots of well executed action set-pieces with a light-hearted tone and mature look on themes of growing up and respecting nature. The action, in particular, was a pleasant surprise for me, because I am mostly burned out on CGI heavy movies, but this one clicked more than I expected; it’s not as heavy on its use of CGI, but when it did use them, it made the action more intense and fun for me. After the action, the characters begin to learn and discuss the world and its inhabitants, which gives us insight and perspective on the new status quo, as well as a chance for these different characters to influence and grow each other. Moreover, while the movie manages to keep executing action and themes pretty strongly, the characters only get worse. There is a moment where an actual antagonist is introduced, then has a first of two resolutions done with in five minutes; the supporting cast is also just not memorable and the movie only works if you like the action and world design enough to keep your interest, as these characters certainly won’t.
The story itself won’t either; Love and Monsters has a story that is not meant to be taken literally, but I hate how it handles the “base” reading of the story – aka, what actually happens in the story, not what you read into it. I don’t want to spoil it, but the way it resolves the central conflict and how it trivializes some of the “rules” it sets up before is disappointing for me; although, it does work nicely in the thematic/allegorical reading of the movie. The writing in general, is one of the worst aspects of the movie; the jokes have some variety to them – although they mostly resolve around Joel treated as a loser – and some of them stick, but most just lack the impact of natural comedic talent to work. I’ve seen and laughed at most of these jokes before, but when they were handled by people who knew how to make me laugh – Dylan O’Brien did a good enough job at the dramatic bits, but the comedy felt lackluster.
All in all, Love and Monsters is a good, family-friendly action movie; it has some nice action set-pieces, great creature-design, and a fantastic pace that allows it to have more mature looks at the themes and messages it is tackling without compromising its “fun-first” ethos. It doesn’t always stick the landing when it comes to the story or comedy, and I wished they had found a way to make it feel less generic, but despite how it looks from trailers and how it sounds as a premise, there is a lot of heart and genuine entertainment to be found. It’s GOOD and it is a fun 100 minutes for the family to enjoy together; bonus points for having a really good boy and goofy robot characters, which are both my weaknesses, so what more could I really ask?!