Reviewers, as a rule, are a cynical bunch. Looking at a movie event like Monsters vs. Aliens you can tick off all the points that are worthy of cynicism. It's CGI. It's formulaic. All the good jokes were in the trailer. There's insipid celebrity voice talent. And it riffs off classic movie monsters to the point of plagiarism.
But it is also in 3-D. Let us not forget (at least not so soon into the multi-dimensional entertainment arms race) that 3-D is awesome. The misty distance technique is particularly effective, giving the movie screen the appearance of a window looking out into a CGI landscape. There's a paddle-ball sequence in the very first scene they put there just to remind you why you paid those extra couple of bucks for those snazzy glasses.
I could have watched that paddle-ball sling itself at my face all day long, but unfortunately, they had to put some other stuff in the movie.
Here's the plot: a bride-to-be gets hit by a meteor and becomes what amounts to the title character from Attack of the Fifty Foot Woman. Then the government captures her and puts her in a cell with what amounts to the title characters from The Fly, Creature From the Black Lagoon, The Blob, and Mothra. Except that all these characters are either A.) wisecracky or B.) dumb.
And then a space squid shows up, which was never really a classic movie, but space squid have become such a part of popular culture (thank you, Margaret Atwood!) that we should allow it as an exception.
The human characters appear in the current CGI animation style, where creepily realistic skin textures are mapped over grotesquely deformed and spastically plastic bodies. And then the characters are "characterized" by celebrity voice talent. Why do all these movies do that? How can it be anything other than distracting? Does anyone really watch a cartoon because they want to listen to Hugh Laurie's voice?
The question is further complicated when the voices are unrecognizable as the celebrity. I mean, would you really buy a ticket to hear Kiefer Sutherland do a different voice from his own, so he sounds like anyone other than Kiefer Sutherland? It might not be him, and no one would ever know.
For the first thirty minutes it seems like the writers over at Dreamworks were going to gloss over the whole crypto-feminist message of Attack of the Fifty-Foot Woman, but thankfully they give it a nod, by showing that a woman can accomplish anything without a man (as long as she's enormous). There's a scene between the fifty-foot Susan and her normal-sized fiance that copied almost word for word the breakup scene between Daryl Hannah and Daniel Baldwin in the 1993 remake of Attack of the Fifty Foot Woman, only without the obscene reference to a wetsuit.
But you didn't think that an animated kids movie would get into the mechanics of a relationship between giant Susan and her fiance. This isn't that sort of movie. It's a movie that has nothing challenging and nothing controversial and nothing at its core other than 3-D explosions and special effects.
But it doesn't really need much else. It's in 3-D.
And 3-D is awesome.