Monster Hunter

Monster Hunter ★★★½

During a search for missing soldiers in the desert, Artemis, a U.S. Army Ranger captain played by Milla Jovovich, and her U.N. security team are inexplicably transported through a portal to an apparent parallel universe by a lightening storm. In this “New World”, our unwitting protagonists are attacked by a massive subterranean monster that tunnels underneath sand dunes, by giant spiders that use human bodies as food sources for larvae, and even by a fierce fire-breathing dragon. Never one to let a temporary setback ruin her day, however, Artemis is soon fighting side alongside a New World hunter, played by Tony Jaa, and using her dual sword blades to teach the supersized creatures a lesson.

The 2020 sci-fi action extravaganza, Monster Hunter, is not the first time that Jovovich and her husband, director Paul W.S. Anderson, have collaborated on a film adaptation of a video game, both of them having worked together on the Resident Evil franchise, so most fans will know exactly what they are getting themselves into. We've got choppy editing, we've got seemingly invincible human characters who routinely perform feats that would leave most of us crumbled on the ground with pulled muscles, broken ribs, and twisted ankles, and we've got witty one-liners uttered at every turn by these heroes when they are not busy jumping on top of huge Godzilla-like demons.

For the life of me, though, I cannot understand the level of derision that critics have thrown at this particular movie. Sometimes, a popcorn screen story about likable people in remarkably picturesque settings facing down against special effects creations that I could only dream about seeing during my youth is just what the doctor ordered. Monster Hunter is a hella fun rollercoaster ride that delivers on everything that its title promises. Academy Award nominees like Manchester by the Sea, Lady Bird, and Marriage Story all have their undeniable merits when it comes to insightful meditations on the human condition, but they do not feature scenes where a dragon is tearing apart Army tanks and helicopters with its talons and turning the occupants into Saturday afternoon barbecue delicacies.

As with the Resident Evil movies, I have never played the titular video game, but I am nonetheless drawn into the story full-tilt, guided along the way by explosions, ghastly villains, and Milla Jovovich's roundhouse kicks. Tony Jaa is a joy to watch in this one as well, especially since he excels at natural comedy just as he excels at physical stunts. Finally, when Ron Perlman shows up during a scene, I know that things are about to get real.

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