Writer-director Paul W. S. Anderson and actress Milla Jovovich are no strangers to movies based on video games. The husband and wife first met in 2002 on the set of “Resident Evil”, an action-horror flick based on Capcom’s popular video game franchise. Since then the two have collaborated in some way on five sequels. And while I would never be so bold as to call those films “great”, they are very honest and self-aware and are made with a very particular audience in mind.
Their latest video game-to-big screen venture is “Monster Hunter”, yet another popular Capcom franchise but one lacking the movie genre allure of something like “Resident Evil”. Still it caters to the same audience and will likely live or die based on how that group turns out for it. That’s because there’s simply not much there for those with no connections to the games or for anyone in need of the slightest bit of depth. “Monster Hunter” is far more interested in cranking up a new franchise than creating relatable well-conceived characters and giving them a good story to tell.
Jovovich stars as Captain Natalie Artemis, a US Army Ranger and head of a United Nations joint task force. She leads a team of interesting faces but dull and forgettable personalities who sport macho military handles like Axe, Link, Dealer, and Dash. And if you’re interested in learning more about them, don’t be. “Monster Hunter” certainly isn’t. Instead all we get is some laughably bad soldier banter. Nothing of substance. Even Jovovich’s Artemis, the clear star of the movie, is paper-thin and woefully underwritten. All we’re allowed to learn about her is that she’s tough, she can fight, and she can adapt. That’s it.
Stationed in some unidentified desert country, Artemis and her unit are sent out to find Bravo Team who never reported back following their last patrol. During their search they encounter a sandstorm that’s actually hiding a mysterious portal. In a snap the team is sucked in and transported to another dimension. One with a considerably vaster desert and one massive creature who doesn’t like trespassers. The outmatched soldiers quickly learn they don’t have the firepower to fight such a beast so they hightail it towards a lone rocky island in the ocean of sand with the mammoth monster nipping at their heels.
As they tend to do in movies like this, the team members are picked off one by one. Meanwhile on the rocky refuge (yea right) is Tony Jaa playing a character simply called the Hunter. He spends the first half of the movie jumping from boulder to boulder watching Artemis and her team in various states of peril and shooting the occasional exploding arrow at a monster. When Artemis is the only one left, the Hunter (who has been stranded there for who knows how long) reveals himself, not with a handshake and a “help me get off this rock.” Instead his first impulse is to attack her which leads to a pointless series of fight scenes that just delay their inevitable come-together moment. That’s the only way to kill the sand monster and to find a way home. Oh, and there’s that ominous tower in the distance that’s sure to have some part in all of this, right?
Sarcasm and snark aside, “Monster Hunter” actually delivers exactly what it promises and criticizing it for not delivering more seems a little unfair. It’s silly, bombastic, get-away entertainment. Nothing more, nothing less. Anderson and his effects team put together some really impressive set pieces and visually there are a lot of interesting things going on. And later the film opens up some intriguing new environments. Also Anderson seems to have a real reverence for his source material. His film drips with fan service from the sets, the monsters, the weapons, the attire. And can we take a quick second to appreciate Ron Perlman who shows up later with￼ the most hilariously dreadful wig I’ve ever seen in a movie (and yes, I’m counting that as a plus).
But I also can’t begrudge anyone who wants interesting characters or some semblance of a coherent story. There are a few decent moments between Jovovich and Jaa when the film briefly turns into a buddy survival adventure. But otherwise the story leaves nothing worth talking about. And you can bet its eye-rolling non-ending will leave some feeling annoyed and unsatisfied. And while the creature effects and bigger set pieces range from good to great, some of the more up-close action must have been hacked to pieces in the editing room. The frantic quick-cuts make the scenes borderline indecipherable.
While I am an unapologetic player and appreciator of video games, they don’t exactly have a glowing track record when it comes to big screen adaptations. I don’t think “Monster Hunter” will do much to change that. But honestly I don’t think Anderson and company care. They’ve set out to make a certain kind of movie for a certain kind of moviegoer. If nothing else, some people will enjoy it just for the non-stop action and CGI spectacle. But that doesn’t hide the glaring lack of story and character development. Or the frustrating non-ending that seems much more interested in teasing a future movie rather than finishing this one. “Monster Hunter” is now showing in theaters.
VERDICT- 2.5 STARS