Monsters Vs. Aliens Rob Letterman and Conrad Vernon

Monsters Vs. Aliens Rob Letterman and Conrad Vernon
In premise, Monsters Vs. Aliens has some intriguing thematic material to play with: when aliens land on the planet Earth and invade, the government uses monsters—ostensibly social outsiders—to wage battle. While the idea of those on the social periphery holding the fate of humanity in their hands is ubiquitous throughout the comic book genre, the idea of resting that decision on the shoulders of those that have good reason to turn against mankind has some volatile and highly exploitable implicit subtext.

But because this is, a) a kid's movie; and b) not a Pixar kid's movie, these potentially sticky issues are side-barred for a little rudimentary feminism.

Susan (Reese Witherspoon) is a weak-willed, diffident shell of a human being. Her dreams of moving to Paris rest solely on the shoulders of the man in her a life, a newscaster that mostly keeps her as a plaything to use and show off to others as an indicator of his social status.

When she's hit by a meteor and turns into a giant, their relationship is inevitably put to the test while Susan adapts to life on the outside of things with a gang of monsters that help her learn to assert her own will and take charge of her own destiny, when they're forced to wage battle against an alien race by the American government.

The arc of the movie revolves around this bit of self-actualization, leaving everything else to rest on the occasionally snarky jokes and heavy-reliance on Seth Rogen as a brainless blob capable of dissolving items in his jelly-like form. References to other alien movies fly about—most related to Spielberg's lexicon—as do gags about the wounded male ego in relation to feminine empowerment.

There's nothing wrong with Monsters Vs. Aliens--it entertains and caters to the lowest common denominator while having a more literate the usual central template—but there's nothing spectacular about it either. The themes are superficial even for a children's movie and the action is pretty average and perfunctory for the genre.

Monsters Vs. Aliens screens at the TIFF Bell Lightbox as part of the Comic Book Heroes retrospective at 1pm on March 16th, 2013. (Dreamworks)