Paul W.S. Anderson is the king of live-action video game movies. Not only has he made more than any other filmmaker, he’s arguably made the best ones. (Sure, not all of them are worldbeaters, but the Resident Evil movies are a blast.) So when he adapts Capcom’s Monster Hunter it stars Milla Jovovich (who also happens to be his wife) and Tony Jaa wearing a wild, post-apocalyptic caveman getup, battling giant monsters. You better believe I went in excited. And it does not disappoint. I watched the whole thing with an ear-to-ear grin.
To be honest, a title like Monster Hunter, probably tells most viewers all they need to know. Those intrigued by the idea of hunting monsters with Milla Jovovich will have as much fun with this movie as they hope; those who roll their eyes at such concepts will have all of their suspicions confirmed many times over. This is loud and cheesy and bombastic, but also a damn fine time and generally well done.
The minimal plot of Monster Hunter follows U.S. Army Ranger Captain Natalie Artemis (Milla Jovovich). While searching for a group of mysteriously missing comrades, her squad falls into a portal to another world, one populated by, you guessed it, giant, angry monsters. Once her team gets picked off, she hooks up with The Hunter (Tony Jaa), a local monster fighter. Together they fight monsters and figure out a way to get her home.
Simple, but it delivers precisely what the title promises. This isn’t the 2014 Godzilla, where the big draw only gets a few minutes of actual screen time. No, this is all monsters, right away. Anderson and company go hard on the beasties from the word go and don’t often let up.
Yes, they sacrifice character development and nuance in favor of momentum and monsters, but aren’t monsters really most of the point? And though thin, the characters aren’t as flat and bland as they could have been. There’s no background, but Artemis’ squad, played by a weirdly high-profile collection of actors–like T.I., Meagan Good, and Diego Boneta–for being glorified extras, do enough to be functional. We learn what we need to know about them by how they act, react, and interact, both as a unit and in the face of a sudden external threat.
The soldiers, however, are little more than canon fodder, and Monster Hunter spends the bulk of its time with Milla Jovovich’s Artemis and The Hunter. For two characters who don’t speak the same language, Jovovich and Jaa have strong chemistry. They fight each other, they fight monsters, their goals conflict with one another. They’re like mismatched buddy cops from literally different worlds, only instead of taking down bad guys, they tussle with giant otherworldly creatures.
It’s this action that propels the movie forward. Milla Jovovich proves once again that she’s a total on-screen badass. When most people go toe-to-toe with Tony Jaa, the skill differential shows, but she more than holds her own when they tangle. For his part, Jaa’s mischievous charisma comes through, despite the communications troubles. And he spends plenty of time leaping at massive beasts, swinging an appropriately massive sword, or shooting explosive arrows from his oversized bow.
Once things start, they never truly slow down. In a few moments, it appears the pace may flag, but the script, also written by Anderson, never strays far from the action, to its benefit. And as crazy as things get, once it ramps up toward the climax, they get even more out of hand. Like dragons, a pirate cat with a lightning sword, and Ron Perlman with just the wildest head of hair I’ve ever seen out of hand. This moment, right before the big boss battle, is actually the one spot the momentum slows. With a character who speaks English, even with the world’s flimsiest excuse, there’s a late-in-the-game information dump. Though any pause is thankfully minimal.
Having never played, I can’t comment on how well Milla Jovovich’s Monster Hunter compares to the source. While it never looks like a video game, Anderson captures the propulsion and the constant forward energy many games have. Working with cinematographer Glen MacPherson, they create a soaring, epic scope and feel. And Paul Haslinger’s synth-driven score fits the grand atmosphere while also being reminiscent of something from a video game. It’s a fine line, but the film walks it well.
None of this would matter, however, if the monsters didn’t look good, but fortunately for everyone, they do. When in action, they’re clean and clear and seamlessly blend with their surroundings. Which is extra impressive considering how many of the battles take place in broad daylight in wide open desert spaces; there’s nowhere to hide. The creature design is elaborate and intricate. When battling some spider-like creatures, there are eerie aesthetic nods to both The Hobbit and Alien. (Not terribly surprising considering how much Anderon’s Event Horizon references the latter.)
Monster Hunter is what it is. That’s a horrible cliche, but one that absolutely fits. Anderson and Milla Jovovich’s movie accomplishes exactly what it aims to. It’s ridiculous, light on logic, and silly as all hell, but it’s also really damn fun. Definitely not a movie for everyone, not even close, the people who will enjoy this will enjoy the crap out of it. Come on, there are giant desert worms, flaming swords, and Hershey’s chocolate product placement used as an adorable interdimensional peace offering.
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