Monster Hunter: Visually Arresting Action Epic Entertains (Review)
Monster Hunter ’s story is as simplistic as they come, but for fans of the game and director Paul W.S. Anderson, there’s more than enough exciting action to enjoy.
For most of his career, director Paul W.S. Anderson has almost single-handedly kept the “video game adaptation” subgenre alive. Beginning with 1995’s Mortal Kombat and continuing with his six obscenely successful Resident Evil films, Anderson has commendably cornered this specific cinematic market, and though his movies may often be maligned for their overly simplistic storytelling and deficient character development, they have truly earned the fervent adoration of fans around the world thanks to Anderson’s ability to craft astonishing action extravaganzas that can’t be seen anywhere else. If you’re coming to a Resident Evil movie looking for some meaningful treatise on mortality or the meaning of life itself, you’re looking in the wrong place. However, if you’re in the mood for some manic monster combat, you’ll leave quite pleased. While Monster Hunter can’t fully escape the critiques of Anderson’s overall aesthetic as a filmmaker, those who already appreciate his audacious artistic sensibilities will find much to savor here, as he wholly delivers on what he does best – sensationally showy spectacle that demands to be seen on the big screen.
Monster Hunter begins by following an elite military force – led by the resilient U.S. Army Ranger Captain Artemis (Milla Jovovich, of Resident Evil and The Fifth Element) – on a mission deep in the desert, when the team accidentally stumbles upon a portal to another world after being caught in a chaotic storm. In this strange new setting, the squad immediately encounters monsters of monumental size and strength, who happen to have a hankering for human meals. Though the rest of Artemis’ team becomes bait to these beasts almost right off the bat, she is able to outrun and outwit these belligerent behemoths long enough to encounter a lone hunter (Tony Jaa, of the Ong-Bak trilogy and Furious 7) who was similarly separated from his fellow fighters long ago. Though the two can’t communicate by traditional means, Artemis and The Hunter form an alliance of sorts regardless, and this weathered warrior offers to assist the army ranger in making her way back home, while also teaching her how to properly dispatch of these prodigious pests.
Truthfully, there’s not much more to Monster Hunter other than the aforementioned arousing action sequences and the comedic camaraderie between Jovovich’s Artemis and Jaa’s Hunter, but when the suspense is as sustained as it is here and the chemistry between the two leads is as charming as it turns out to be, it’s difficult to ever be disinterested by any means. Obviously, Anderson is no stranger to shooting stirring setpieces of battle between humans and otherworldly horrors (see the shower fight in Resident Evil: Afterlife, the Moscow chase in Resident Evil: Retribution, etc.), but the baddies that Artemis and The Hunter have to brawl with here are staggering in scale compared to the zombies that Jovovich’s Alice assassinated in the Resident Evil films, allowing Anderson to cultivate scenes of conflict on a more sizable canvas than ever before. Aided by cinematographer Glen MacPherson (Resident Evil’s 4-6, Trick ‘r Treat), Anderson capably captures the sheer scope of these savages thanks to a surplus of wide shots that effectively exhibit the titanic threat they pose to our heroes in their continual clashes.
Though Doobie White’s (Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, Polar) erratic editing can at times interfere with our sight of the strife taking place (particularly in some initial hand-to-hand combat between Artemis and The Hunter), Monster Hunter really wows when Anderson pulls back and lets these skirmishes spread out across the screen without any flashy filmmaking tricks. The visual modelings of the monsters are all quite mesmerizing as well, and even though the film was only made for a budget of $60 million, it’s clear that no expense was spared to bring the video game’s beasts to life, including the dangerous Diablos, the nefarious Nerscylla, and the raucous Rathalos (and even a brief appearance of the cranky Meowscular Chef). Fans will no doubt be captivated with these well-constructed cinematic representations of their cherished creatures.
While Monster Hunter’s Artemis is far less complex a character than Resident Evil’s Alice (with the only hint of her history being a wedding ring she carefully carries with her wherever she goes), Jovovich is as lively as ever in the lead role, commanding the screen with her natural charm and charisma. As always, her physical prowess is in peak form, but she gets to partake in more “playful” beats than usual, harnessing a humor we so rarely see but which seems to be a secret strength for the actress. Most of these entertaining exchanges are with Jaa’s Hunter, as the two warily regard one another as adversaries at first before correcting this culture clash and developing a rollicking repartee. Because Jaa’s Hunter doesn’t speak English, their conversations primarily take place via visual communication, allowing for some broad comedic bits that make up much of the second act. However, Jaa is no mere “silly sidekick,” asserting himself as one of the most skilled stuntmen of his time in every single fight scene with his astounding athleticism.
Monster Hunter’s third act is as outrageous and overblown as one would hope from Anderson, and when a few new allies join the fray – including Ron Perlman’s (Hellboy, Pacific Rim) assertive Admiral, wearing one of the most wonderfully weird wigs put to screen – the possibilities of the picture expand exponentially, allowing for set-up for a sequel that somewhat undercuts this specific story’s conclusion. Regardless, the ending is explosive enough to enthrall audiences anyway, and Paul Haslinger’s (Minority Report, The Perfection) sonorous score evokes the feel of a real epic to keep you entirely engaged. It surely won’t get its just due this awards season, but Haslinger’s retro-based rhythms really are the foundation of the film, imbuing it with an incessant intensity and immersing you in the insanity of this wretched world. You’ll be scrambling to stream his work on Spotify as soon as you leave the theater.
Plain and simple, Monster Hunter is a Paul W.S. Anderson film through and through, and at this point, most audiences will already know if that means this movie is for them or not. Those looking for profound plotting or complex characters won’t find anything of the sort here, but if you can be solely satisfied by earth-shattering action sequences and vibrant visual effects, the manic excitement and entertainment of Monster Hunter should certainly suffice.
Monster Hunter is now playing in select cinemas worldwide.
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