If there’s one filmmaker who has dominated the niche subgenre of video game adaptation more than anyone else, it’s Paul W. S. Anderson. He’s the writer and four-time director behind the Resident Evil series and has basically made a career purely out of dumb schlock fests. Anderson’s other big video game adaptation is 1995’s Mortal Kombat, while he’s also ventured into other IP-based properties including the maligned Alien vs. Predator and 2011’s The Three Musketeers. One Anderson film that has received a cult following is 1997’s Event Horizon, which feels very similar to Alien, basically being a meld of that film and The Shining. However, it’s Resident Evil that Anderson is most known for, and he has teamed up once again with that series’ lead star (and his wife) Milla Jovovich to adapt another very big video game property.
Monster Hunter follows US Army Ranger Natalie Artemis (Milla Jovovich), who falls through a portal with her elite military force that strands them on a barren desert planet referred to as ‘New World’ populated with, you guessed it, giant monsters. She teams up with a character simply known as ‘The Hunter’ (Tony Jaa) to help her survive and find her way home. It’s really as simple as that. There’s nothing more.
You know there’s something weird and not right when the film opens with a self-important quote that’s attributed to no one. Maybe it would’ve been on the nose if Anderson just credited it to himself. He launches us straight into this planet by introducing a leader in the new world known as ‘The Admiral’, played by Ron Pearlman looking more like a grizzled lion than ever before. Unfortunately, the promise of a wild Pearlman is halted by the film’s focus on a painfully generic military team led by Artemis. It’s this part of the film that is the most dull. Anderson has never been a master of dialogue, but this first act contains some of his worst ever. It’s so stilted and unfunny that I was praying for a terribly edited action scene to begin so we wouldn’t have to hear these characters speak.
There’s such an inconsistent range of quality in the visuals throughout this film that it’s more interesting to consider where its budget went than to actually follow the non-existent story. At points it feels like a SyFy Channel original movie while at other, rarer times, especially when the film’s big monster known as the Black Diablos is on screen, it actually feels like some effort has been put in. Any chance that Anderson has at creating a well-crafted action set piece, however, is completely ruined by some of the most inconsistent and choppy editing I’ve seen in a big-budget movie since Taken 3. This technique of rapid editing using seemingly as many camera angles as possible in the one action scene has been employed by Anderson many times before. He’s clearly a filmmaker who can’t take any constructive feedback—this is his style and he’s not altering it. The first three films in the Jason Bourne series use frantic editing in combination with shaky cam to emphasise the panicked nature of the character and the situations he’s trying to escape, but Anderson simply uses it as a tool to created so-called energy when it’s mainly just incoherent and disorientating.
There’s one really great set up for a suspense set piece where Artemis is trying to crawl out of a tight cave, and it would’ve worked brilliantly if it wasn’t for Anderson choosing to cut every quarter of a second. It’s even more frustrating because Jovovich is an experienced performer who could sell this action if it weren’t so overly edited. It’s clear Anderson was inspired by Mad Max: Fury Road because there are shots early on that feel directly ripped from George Miller’s masterpiece. There’s one particular shot of cars travelling into a large storm which felt so shamelessly plugged from Fury Road that I immediately wished I were watching that instead of Monster Hunter.
If there’s a part of this film that isn’t completely inert and embarrassing, it’s the rapport between Artemis and The Hunter, who have a cheeky one-upmanship that would’ve worked really well in a film that wasn’t loaded with personality-deprived action and flat dialogue. There’s one exchange that feels like it’s out of a different film. As they’re about to go into battle, Artemis sternly and confidently says ‘let’s do this’, to which The Hunter simply replies, ‘huh?’. She responds, saying ‘never mind’, and the terrible action recommences. It’s almost as if Anderson is satirising Jovovich’s badass action movie type, but this self-awareness doesn’t ring true nearly as much as it should considering how seriously this film takes itself on the surface. If there’s any standout, it’s Jaa—who seems to know what film he’s in.
Monster Hunter is also one of the worst structured blockbusters I’ve seen in a long time. The pacing of action scenes is just completely off. There are action scenes in the middle of the film that are shot and scored to feel like the finale, only to be followed by something tamer and smaller. Normally I wouldn’t have an issue with this at all, but in a film where there’s absolutely no plot, it just disrupts the rhythm of the whole film. Then there’s the disastrous third act that feels as if it has four separate endings. When the first big action scene of the third act was finished it felt like it was over… then there were another two on from there! As I said, it’s exhausting. Just when you finally believe it’s over, Anderson delivers one final action sequence and dramatically ends the film in the middle of said scene, delivering a tepid cliff-hanger to set up a sequel that we probably won’t get anyway. It’s one of the worst cases of sequel bait I’ve seen, alongside The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (which also ends mid action sequence) and 2018’s terrible Robin Hood.
Video game adaptations have been notoriously cursed forever. Monster Hunter is just another in the collection of video game movies that will be forgotten by the masses and likely never thought of again. At least it wasn’t as disappointing as Assassin’s Creed—which had brilliant Australian director Justin Kurzel and Michael Fassbender headlining. While I haven’t played the game, I was told that this film didn’t even use one of the main musical themes from the game. If you’re trying to please fans, that’s one of the easiest things you can do as a filmmaker, and Anderson doesn’t even do that. His brand of schlock has its ardent fans, I’m just not one of them. If you want to see a CGI cat that’s also a master chef, however, Monster Hunter will be your film of the year. If not, you may struggle to find anything of note in this inert adaptation. Although that visual was still less confusing than anything in Cats…
Monster Hunter is showing at Perth cinemas now.