Apocalypse survival films have become a routine genre in Hollywood. We always find a handful of survivors that have survived a global catastrophe, living in under ground bunkers, getting by with canned goods and defending themselves with whatever little ammo they have left and some homemade weapons.
The screenplay to the new apocalyptic romantic comedy “Love and Monsters” has all of that, but also has the feel of a graphic novel adaption. Screenwriter Brian Duffield had apparently written “Love and Monsters” as a speculative screenplay. The somewhat familiar story feels like it was based on pre-existing material and it’s largely due to director Michael Matthews’ affectionate love and fan base of other films from the post apocalyptic and coming of age genres. This is where a large sum of “Love and Monsters”, showcase a representation to a homage of past apocalyptic films.
Imagine a John Hughes film meets “Zombieland” or the sweet heartiness and the sharp writing of the zombie romantic comedy “Warm Bodies”, with the fun and hip action of “Scouts Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse”. Then you’ve got “Love and Monsters”. The new film from Michael Matthews, the director of the excellent 2017 South African western, “Five Fingers for Marseilles”. Matthews doesn’t have much film credits under his belt but “Five Fingers for Marseille” had proved that he could handle genre fare and “Love and Monsters” is further proof of that.
In “Love and Monsters”, an asteroid is speeding towards Earth and mankind launches nukes on it, saving the planet from imminent doom…while also damning it. The nuclear fallout has caused animal life to react in a catastrophic manner, mutating them into over sized creatures, much like a kaiju. Humans have retreated to underground bunkers, fighting to stay alive in small colonies. Joel (Dylan O’ Brien) feels pushed out of his community dynamic as the other survivors sexually pair up, leaving him feeling lonely, useless and only best appreciated for his minestrone soup recipe.
Joel also comes to realize that Aimee, the girl he loves is only eighty miles west. So he decides to trek out and find her. Although his chances are slim, as he’s often considered the weakest member of the colony. With the aid of a canine companion named Boy, some other survivors and a lot of self discovery. Joel stands a better chance than he or anyone ever thought.
“Love and Monsters” has a spirited beginning and while it has creature sequences, with detailed CGI. “Love and Monsters” doesn’t overwhelm the film with a visual effects extravaganza and instead tries to keep things as earthbound as possible with Joel, canine Boy and his determination to reach Aimee. Michael Rooker pops up as a gruff old survivor, who also serves as the surrogate father to scene stealer Ariana Greenblatt’s Minnow. The two use their wits to stay alive on the surface and help teach Joel the ways of having sharpened instincts and a precise aim.
The best screen partner that O’Brien shares a scene with, is with MAV1S. An empathic robot offering its last moments of battery power to help Joel contact Aimee, show him a past life he once had and hear his confessions of grief and doubt. The moment only gets sweeter as MAV1S uses her programming to play Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” as the two look on at glowing floating Jellyfish. It’s a terrific scene and for me, the films best sequence.
Joel’s canine Boy is played by three different dogs (named Hero, Dodge and Helen) and is the beating heart of the movie. Boy has been left behind by an owner and tags along with Joel throughout the entirety of the film. The canine is sharp and intuitive and Matthews and screenwriter Duffield relies a lot on the emotion between Joel and Boy. The two are reminiscent of Will Smith and his canine from “I Am Legend”.
Leading man Dylan O’Brien is instantly likable and oozes charisma from the get go. He committed to his performance in helping to make him one of the most lovable protagonists in a long time. O’Brien has a line in the movie, after blowing up a monster and diving for safety. He comes up to the surface and says “I feel like Tom Cruise” and feeling like Tom Cruise he should. O’ Brien has the potential to become the next Cruise. He has the action chops that was evident in “American Assassin” (where like Cruise he did his own stunts and even got hurt, causing a delay in the project).
His most famous role was in the “Maze Runner” trilogy, while he gave a mature dramatic performance in “Deepwater Horizon”. In “Love and Monsters”, O’ Brien extends his acting chops further as the film relies on his abilities as a drama, action and romantic comedy star. O’Brien is successful at transitioning Joel from scared and vulnerable to a young man you can sympathize with.
Director Shawn Levy (“Night At The Museum”, “Real Steel”) who is a producer on “Stranger Things”, also serves as a producer on “Love and Monsters”. He brings his cinematographer from “Stranger Things”, Lachlan Milne and manages to perfectly capture the vast of the wilderness and an 80’s apocalyptic look masterfully. Matthews struggles with the films third act. He keeps it sloppy and has a hard time to keep it humorous, but sets it up for a second go around. Duffield has a natural ending to Joel’s adventure, but he feels the need to tack on an unnecessary action thriller twist, pushing to give the movie one last hurrah of excitement. It doesn’t really work and should have just stayed in the films human level connection, that worked so well in the rest of the film. It just manages to shave off the charm of the film, with Matthews trying to finish on a blockbuster-ish finale.
What really cooks along with Dylan O’Briens performance is the films script from Brian Duffield. Duffield has a good 2020 year professionally with scripting the Kirsten Stewart vehicle “Underwater” and the sleeper hit “Spontaneous”. While director Michael Matthews takes the heartwarming and fantastical script and translates it magnificently to the screen. “Love and Monsters” is at its core about love, friendship and self confidence. Matthews and Duffield is able to bring an apocalyptic world, but make it look majestic. Showcasing expertly structured moments of sentimentality and fun monster action that mixes well with the kind natured message of love and hope in a time when we need it the most.
GRADE: ★★★☆☆ (3 out of 5)