I’m fascinated by Paul W.S. Anderson’s new action-fantasy flick Monster Hunter.
As someone who watched hundreds of movies in 2020, I’ve got to say that this title stands out from any other film I’ve seen this year – hell, the last several years. I can’t think of another movie where so much happens, and yet nothing of consequence happens at all.
Let me explain.
The film delivers on its title’s promise. People hunt monsters. And the title gets bonus points because the monsters hunt people too. It features “monster” hunters. Cool.
Monster hunting is a dope premise I would pay to see in a heartbeat. The issue here is that fighting monsters is all the movie delivers, nothing more, nothing less. Anderson’s script skips over plot, character development, and building the world’s mythology to give you scene after scene after scene after scene of humans shooting and stabbing giant creatures in the face.
You can watch this movie with the sound off and still follow the threadbare plot. The two main protagonists don’t speak the same language, so there’s plenty of long silences. The film features so little dialogue it makes the Mandalorian and Baby Yoda (I know it’s Din Djarin and Grogu) seem like Desus and Mero.
The studio’s intention was to release something marketable to a broad international audience. And rather than crafting a compelling story with universal appeal, they stripped the film of personality and even logic. The aim, it appears, is making something so simple and generic that anyone anywhere can relate. And by making a title to please everyone they ended up with flick that will resonate with no one.
Monster Hunter is adapted from Capcom’s popular video game franchise of the same name. The film stars Milla Jovovich as an Army Ranger named Artemis, leading her battle-tested squad on a recon mission. They’re tasked with tracking down a group of soldiers who went MIA in the region.
Things go off the rails after the squad gets overtaken by a freak sandstorm. Once the storm clears up, they find themselves trapped in a strange new world overrun with Godzilla-sized monsters. When Artemis gets separated from her team, she must join forces with a mysterious nomad (Tony Jaa) if she plans to survive long enough to make it home.
I’m always down to watch a movie paced like a two-hour roller-coaster ride. But if that’s the plan, the film must bring the heat. You have to go all in with the style over substance and give the audience two mind-blowing action-packed hours. This tactic only works when the action delivers. And Monster Hunter’s action sequences aren’t exceptional in any way. They’re fine, even competent. Which is good enough in most cases. But if a film that hangs its hat on action set pieces, it must do better.
Tony Jaa is one of the most talented action stars of the last 20 years. And Jaa’s only hand-to-hand combat sequence in the movie is a bloody travesty. Anderson kills the flow of the scene by using about 700 cuts in a 90-second fight. It’s like watching the world’s greatest dancers perform while some jerk keeps flicking the house lights on and off.
So what works? The monsters. They look great. These giant, hideous monstrosities do a great job menacing the heroes. They’re massive and imposing and have a sense of weight to them, most of the time. You rarely feel like you’re watching a bunch of pixels raging across the screen. I won’t rank them up there with the kaijus in Pacific Rim, but their designs are more creative than the beasts in Rampage and Kong: Skull Island.
Considering the number of video game movie adaptations out there, the genre has a terrible track record when it comes to producing quality films. Monster Hunter does nothing to improve their standing. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a watchable movie. It’s just painfully basic, which is an odd thing to say about a CGI-heavy action flick with kaiju’s destroying tanks, choppers, and planes.
Monster Hunter has most of the elements you want from an epic genre flick – a decent cast, solid special effects, and a wild premise – but fails to use them in thrilling ways. I wouldn’t call this movie good, but it is good enough. I don’t regret watching it and it kept me mildly entertained for almost two hours. Monster Hunter is big and loud and full of spectacle, but also soulless.