Monster Hunter

Monster Hunter ★★★½

This movie is a ridiculous bit of fun for the end of 2020! I’ve never played the video game, although I have heard of it. I know that Paul W.S. Anderson is known for doing video game adaptations. Primarily his Mortal Kombat adaptation from the 90s and his Resident Evil film saga. He didn’t direct the entirety of the Resident Evil films even though his stamp is felt through the entire franchise. I can’t speak to how influential his style is to the Resident Evil films because I haven’t seen all of them, but judging from the trailers and the fact that Milla Jovovich has headlined all of them, I would imagine that the series hasn’t waned too far from the tone Paul W.S. Anderson established with the first film. I bring up these prior efforts because it seems to me that Paul has dedicated himself to trying to figure how to do the proper video game adaptation, a sub genre in the action sci-fi side of cinema that for some reason filmmakers can’t seem to crack. I think Anderson is tenacious with his never ending enthusiasm for a genre that to this day is still considered disreputable even though video games as an art form of entertainment has grown in the pop culture zeitgeist. I recall when Roger Ebert got into a feud with renowned novelist and horror filmmaker Clive Barker over whether or not video games should be considered high art. Ebert felt that video games aren’t art. Barker felt that they are Art. It’s interesting that now Roger Ebert’s very own website, which is this amazing collection of gifted film critics and writers, now actually writes reviews for video games. Would Roger approve? I guess we will never really know, however, even with games now being accorded with more respect, even by todays respected critics, it seems that the jury is still out on whether video games can make for good cinema. 
    Is Monster Hunter a cinematic gem? Hell no!!!!! Is it a fun stupid, loud, action extravaganza? I would say yes!! That’s just me though. I found myself enjoying the movie even though it’s very derivative of so many other things that have been done far better by better movie directors. Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson, John Carpenter, Sam Raimi, George Miller, and Guillermo Del Toro are filmmakers that come to mind when you watch a film like Monster Hunter. It’s like, imagine if all the aforementioned filmmakers had a special dumpster where they threw all of their rejected ideas from films such as Mad Max, The ThingJurassic Park, Pacific Rim, The Lord of the Rings saga, and the Evil Dead trilogy. And then Paul W.S. Anderson went dumpster diving in that very dumpster of ideas! What would come out of that dumpster diving is Monster Hunter! And frankly, a film full of rejected derivative ideas can be a very fun way to pass the time, at least for me! I really enjoyed this trash heap of a movie! So, the story of the film is that there are these special rune stones or hieroglyphs that glow blue thanks to this magic tower that was built by an extinct race of human beings. Since this race died out, no one is watching this special tower that on its own generates lightning storms that temporarily opens portals between the monster world (for lack of a better title) and our world. The movie refers to the monster world as The New World. In this New World ships travel across plain and open deserts. If you can recall the scene from the third film in the original Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, the scene when the Black Pearl is traveling over the desert, then you can imagine how this works. The movie never explains how the ship sails over sand. It just does. Frankly, I just didn’t care. I went with it. 
     The captain of the ship is none other than a character that’s referred to as The Admiral (Ron Perlman) in the credits. Taking a close look at Ron in this movie, it appears that he’s reprising a more intelligent version of his character from Quest for Fire. Oh, and Tony Jaa is on the ship. He plays a character only known as The Hunter. The ship gets attacked by monsters that swim through the sand, a lot like the sand worms from Frank Herbert’s Dune. The Hunter is knocked off the ship and stranded in the sand. The most dangerous place a human being could be stranded in in this monster world is the open desert, the hunting grounds for most of these creatures.
     In our world Milla Jovovich is Artemis, she’s the convoy commander for a unit of rangers. I forget where they exactly are in the movie. I was still trying to wrap my head around that crazy prologue! Anyway, it doesn’t take long before Artemis and her crew, comprised of Link(T.I), Meagan Good, Diego Boneta, Josh Helman, and Jin Au-Yeung, are caught up in one of the magic storms. I can’t remember any of the character names that comprise the army unit, and IMDB doesn’t list the names. For good reason. Eventually they end up in Monster Land where they have to fight to survive against the ugly beasties! Do I need to reveal more about this movies plot? 
     Eventually the film turns into a fish out of water buddy comedy between Artemis and The Hunter. They fight horrible desert spiders that are the size of Army tanks and go up against a giant horned desert swimming monster. And then there’s the big fire breathing dragon thing. I don’t remember what its called. Again, I didn’t really care. All that mattered was how long can Paul W.S. Anderson keep treading water in this stupendous example of Hollywood hackery! The answer is for almost 2 hours! And it went by pretty fast. Perhaps Anderson’s reputation proceeds him?! I think I went into this and properly calibrated my expectations for the movie. I mean it’s not exactly lighting the film critic hemisphere on fire right now. That’s not even mentioning the scandal in which the film has been cancelled in China! Everything points to this movie absolutely sucking! However, that all really depends on how you approach watching this spectacle. I went in hoping for exactly what I got. A dumb, loud monster movie with very sloppy filmmaking. I suffered from a mild case of eye strain. However, I kept shrugging it off. I expected it. I wish that Anderson avoided a lot of his basest impulses, like always being too close to the fight choreography. I couldn’t get a good bead on all of the movements being made by Jovovich and Jaa. With that being said, so help me God, I think that Jaa and Jovovich have chemistry together. Their prolonged fight scene reminded me of the fight scene between Keith David and Roddy Piper in John Carpenter’s They Live. Just like those two characters had an interminable fight in an alleyway over a pair of sunglasses, Jovovich and Jaa fight over the simple fact that they can’t understand each other. And it’s glorious!! The actual monster fights aren’t too shabby! I like that Anderson was disciplined enough to save the biggest and best monster for last! 
     Eventually there’s a full ensemble of characters that fills out the rest of the movie. I like that Jovovich has another action vehicle that takes full advantage of her action heroine bonafides. Jaa is an unexpected, and yet welcome screen partner for Jovovich. I don’t know if he’s the best person to have fighting monsters, considering that he’s so darn good at beating up human beings to a bloody pulp, but surprisingly he distinguishes himself very well in a sci-fi monster movie. Perlman brings his rich cinematic history of monster fighting to the movie, and it all coalesces into a very satisfying adventure. I think this is my favorite Paul W.S. Anderson movie to date. That might not be saying much, but it’s been a rough year. Perhaps that had some bearing on how much I enjoyed this movie, since I am coming from a long dry spell of visiting the cinema. I just wanted to see images on the biggest canvass I can experience them on. I enjoyed myself and I’m glad I was able to see this on the big screen. The final end credits stinger is really, really stupid. Still, the stinger makes we want to see the sequel! Fingers crossed!

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