Actor Dylan O’Brien raced through “The Maze Runner” trilogy. Now he follows that up with a starring role in Paramount’s post-apocalyptic action/adventure romantic comedy (with some drama too), “Love and Monsters”.
O’Brien plays Joel Dawson. For the past seven years, the 24-year-old has been living in an underground bunker with a dozen fellow survivors. Joel explains (in narration) that seven years ago an asteroid was heading toward Earth. The military destroyed it with rockets, but chemicals released in the explosion infected the planet. This caused many species of insects and small creatures to mutate into giant monsters. At the start of the story 95% of the world’s population has been wiped-out.
But Aimee, Joel’s high school girlfriend, is still alive. She’s is a bunker 85 miles away. Everyone in Joel’s pod has a partner – except for him. And he’s tired of being alone. So he decides to face danger and certain death and go on a romantic quest to reach her.
“Love and Monsters” (a much better title than the original, “Monster Problems”) is produced by Shawn Levy of “Night at the Museum” and “Arrival”. Levy knows how to mash-up genres and create unique character dynamics. And that’s exactly what we get here. There are serious and even tragic moments, but overall the tone of “L&M” is mostly light.
It’s easy to assume this movie is based on a graphic novel, but this is original material. Director Michael Matthews and screenwriters Brian Duffield and Matthew Robinson successfully craft two acts of engaging storytelling, humor and a surprising sense of warmth. The best section is the middle one, in which Joel meets-up with Indiana Jones-esque Clyde (Michael Rooker) and companion Minnow. Ariana Greenblatt proves again that she’s one of the industry’s most promising young actresses (she was also excellent in this summer’s “The One and Only Ivan”).
There are two substantial problems with “Love and Monsters”. First, the CGI creatures are way too cartoony, though it’s clear Matthews did this intentionally to avoid venturing into horror territory. He already had enough genres to deal with. The bigger issue is the third act, when a “rescue team” gets involved. The film goes from innovative and fun to standard and dull, meandering to a predictable conclusion.
Still, O’Brien is likable throughout and the main reason to give this movie a look. We’re with Joel all the way, as he fights-off giant frogs and learns some valuable lessons about life and love.
“Love and Monsters” isn’t a classic, but it’s definitely one of the most pleasant surprises of 2020.
LCJ GRADE: B-
Running Time: 109 min.