Director: Paul W. S. Anderson
Stars: Milla Jovovich, Tony Jaa, Hirona Yamazaki
I’ve never played a Monster Hunter game and couldn’t tell you a thing about them. Thing is, when it comes to Paul W. S. Anderson adapting a video game to the big screen (something he has a habit of doing), it rarely really matters. His Resident Evil series bares scant resemblance to the long-running survival horror franchise. Rather, he retools and elaborates the elements that interest him, spinning them out to form his own unpredictable territories (mainly, it seems, to forefront his wife and perennial star Milla Jovovich).
PWSA is a bit of a volatile one, capable of greatness but equally notorious for missing the mark. I’m an outed fan of those aforementioned Resident Evil movies… but only some of them (3, 4 and especially 5). Consistency hasn’t been the man’s strong suit, though. As a result, each new proposition arrives with anticipation and apprehension in equal measure. Which PWSA are we getting?
For Monster Hunter its a typically chaotic and much-caveated report.
Jovovich stars as Artemis, an army captain heading up a squad…. somewhere. The non-descript Middle-East we’d assume from the terrain. On encountering an unusually forceful lightning storm, Artemis and company are swept up and through a vortex to another dimension, landing in a sandier desert teeming with giant monsters quite keen on tearing them to pieces. An onslaught that steals hungrily from Dune, Aliens, Pitch Black and more rapidly whittles down Artemis’ crew, leaving her stranded, injured and (seemingly) alone. The farthest woman from home.
Enter a nameless hunter (Tony Jaa); a native of this parched and violent world. With no common language, the middle of the film plays as a taciturn two-hander between these warriors, one that uneasily leans on the ‘silly native’ trope a little too heavily. In spite of this, it’s where Monster Hunter really flourishes as a rough, crude but admirably lean buddy picture. It’s incredibly fun to give yourself over to it. Breathlessly driven to keep pushing forward, shorn of dialogue or exposition, it evokes the raw post-apocalyptic energies of George Miller (only, to be clear, nowhere near as good as that).
PWSA’s eye for a starkly beautiful frame remains keen… but so does his recurring fondness for punishingly rapid editing, meaning that you never quite get to appreciate anything for as long as you’d like. As mentioned, the mid-section garners much good will… but it’s sandwiched between lumpen first and third acts that feel obliged to make as much noise as possible. It’s a tale of two movies, then. One of them naff, clunking and cacophonous, the other, well…. less so.
If that sounds like damning something with faint praise, it’s also an undersell of how much of a good time I had here. Monster Hunter has many, many faults (don’t get me started on the cat…), but I’m ready to forgive almost all of them. The key facet to unlocking how or why might be Paul Haslinger’s TRON-loving soundtrack; a dazzling carnival of synth sounds and percussive rhythms that pitch Monster Hunter as a cult gem in the making; the kind of movie ‘rediscovered’ a decade or two after its dismissal and held dear by fans who look back on it through lenses both ironic and utterly sincere. Ron Perlman’s daft turn as ‘The Admiral’ leans into this feeling too; the kind of kitsch future-proofing that Thor: Ragnarok clamoured for so wantonly.
With so much big-budget Hollywood fantasy spectacle smoothed to the Nth degree, there’s something a little heartening in the gung-ho tastelessness of a PWSA picture. Of course, he’s as eager as you’d expect to spin this thing into yet another multi-movie cash-cow (the tale is left willfully open-ended), but his gleefully crass approach remains oddly charming. He’s like a kid smashing toy dumper trucks together in a sandpit. A Peter Pan of video game cinema who continues to get a perverse pleasure out of punishing his wife on camera.
Jovovich, for her part, is as full-throttle with a physically demanding role as she’s ever been, and her Artemis is a strange bird; stubbornly, even psychotically committed to battle. Of course, this is a PWSA joint, so there’s barely a whisper of character, but this isn’t just RE‘s Alice given a hasty remix. She’s channeling something else here.
What else can I say about this clattering ball of junk? It’s noisy, stupid, blithely incoherent, tonally chaotic, maddeningly inconsistent and one of the best times I’ve had in a multiplex since cinemas reopened. And the most PWSA that a PWSA picture can be. Take that as a positive, take that as a stern warning. Just know that I’ve been very disciplined with the score below. Objectively, its almost certainly worth fewer points. Subjectively, I’d eagerly nudge it higher. So let’s split the difference.
Did it make me want to play a Monster Hunter game? No.
Would I watch it again, or rush to a sequel? In a heartbeat.