CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS
Confession: I'm not really a fan of Gareth Edwards' original Monsters from 2010. Maybe I'm just old-fashioned, but a film called Monsters really should have its monsters front and centre, and not bimbling about in the background of a noodly indie romantic road movie.
The monsters of Monsters: Dark Continent feature much more than they did first time out, but the gnomic, beard-stroking question of "who are the real monsters?" still stands. Are they the American military, seeking to rid the Earth (or at least the Middle East but not, despite the title, Africa) of the extraterrestrial creatures with massive air strikes? Are they the locals, perhaps understandably pushed to insurgency after having their schools and villages flattened in the attacks? Or are they the aliens themselves, who don't actually pose a conscious, deliberate threat to anyone - all the film's casualties are human on human?
If the first Monsters was a quirky odd couple romance with occasional glimpses of Lovecraftian beasts lumbering around in the distance, then this is a sweary modern war movie like Jarhead or Lone Survivor, with the actual monster material saved for the second half. Which is just as well, because the first hour of partying, shouting and gunfire is almost intolerable (and uncomfortably loud: I had to spend some of the action scenes with my fingers over my ears, and I wasn't in an IMAX or even a particularly large multiplex auditorium), and the extended action sequences are all shot in that fast shutter shakycam style that goes back to the opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan. Things do, however, pick up after a rescue mission behind enemy lines has gone disastrously wrong, when the surviving troops are sheltered by nomads, and they see another part of the aliens' life cycle (in the same way that the first film saw them "mating").
Monsters: Dark Continent has received some pretty stinky reviews, but personally I liked it a bit more than that. At 123 minutes it takes far too long to get going, but those later sequences devoted to the aliens do have a visual beauty to them which is very much at odds with the gritty, grisly combat footage, and I could have quite happily had a reel more of the slightly hippy-trippy lightshow at the expense of the early character material, centred as it is around people I don't really care very much about. The creature effects are superbly well done, and you do get a decent look at them this time out, which is great because they're much more interesting than the petty squabbling humans. It's a bit of a hokey message, though - if we tried understanding our enemies rather than just killing them, whoever or whatever they might be, then maybe the world might be a better place - and the film takes too long on the killing front and not enough on the understanding. It's not terrible, but it's a slog to the good stuff.