Monster Hunter

Monster Hunter

The opening few minutes of Paul W.S. Anderson’s “Monster Hunter” are such a delightful eruption of unfettered, goofy-ass, who-cares-what-your-parents-think nerdcore that it seems as if the director of 1995’s “Mortal Kombat” (and the “Resident Evil” series after that) has reset video game movies back to the good old days when they weren’t bogged down by delusions of respectability — when they were memorably bad instead of just dull or “Assassin’s Creed.” If only.

The “Monster Hunter” franchise, which might be helpful for neophytes to think of as the Pepsi to Pokémon’s Coke, has always stood out for its high fantasy trappings, and boy oh boy does Anderson embrace those in a big way right out of the gate. We open on a hilariously self-important quote about “new worlds” that are hidden “behind the perception of our senses” as Paul Haslinger’s glitch-pop score blares in the background, and that’s an excellent start. Cut to: A galleon ship full of sand pirates cutting through a vast desert in the dead of night as a giant subterranean worm of some kind is hot on their tail. Hell yeah.

And it only gets better from there — one of the brigands aboard the boat is Ron Perlman, the “Pottersville” star rocking a leather vest and an anime haircut as he plays a “Monster Hunter” mainstay known as Admiral (imagine someone rolled Sabretooth and Cloud Strife into 300 pounds of tenderized meat and you’ll get a sense of what this looks like). Admiral’s best friends? That’s right: “Ong-Bak” ass-kicker Tony Jaa and a giant, ginsu knife-wielding cat known as a “Meowscular Chef.” Jaa falls overboard, the music swirls around the title card in a maelstrom of hot synth action, and the 2099 Oscar season steels itself for the “Mank” that someone will inevitably write about the making of the Chinese-American co-production that brought the globe’s two biggest superpowers together even as tensions between them grew strained on the world stage.

Alas, some hidden worlds should have stayed behind the perception of our senses, and Paul W.S. Anderson — an occasionally form-bending filmmaker who’s never met a beloved franchise that he couldn’t militarize beyond all interest or recognition — sucks any trace of life out of the “Monster Hunter” series the moment his movie exchanges the cartoon sand pirates of its campy prologue in favor of some generic soldier types on our side of the dimensional rift.

From that point on, “Monster Hunter” is relentlessly terrible even by 2020 standards, as it quickly descends into a dull and colorless bit of bug-hunting that marries the production value of a SyFy Original with the scale of a tutorial level, resulting in one of the drabbest and least imaginative video game movies ever made. Series fans will feel cheated by such a chintzy and incurious take on something they love, while the rest of us will be left wondering how the source material earned itself any fans in the first place.

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