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ALL MILLA, BUT NO THRILLER
Monster Hunter (12A)
Review: Dave Stephens
And so we're back to rubbish video game adaptions on the big screen again. After the enjoyable-but-flawed reboot of Mortal Kombat, here's the troubled production that got batted around between four different release dates in the States before opening to critical raspberries and an indifferent covid-wary audience. What made it even worse was that a juvenile gag in the movie went down like a lead balloon in Chinese territories, and that also impacted the box office. Sheesh. And yet, it follows a potential formula for success. It was written by Paul W.S. Anderson, who made the Resident Evil movie franchise so commercially profitable and performed a similar trick on the 1995 Mortal Kombat film. It has Milla Jovovich in the lead role, and she revels in parts like this, where her fan-girl sensibilities are allowed free reign to beat the crap out of the bad guys. It even has Tony Jaa and Ron Perlman for support. More than that, although it is not on par with brands like Call of Duty or Resident Evil, Monster Hunter is a game franchise that is well-known to the console and PC community on a worldwide basis. So what went wrong then?
We get a brief prologue on a "new world", where The Admiral (Perlman wearing a Marilyn Monroe wig to try and look like the video game character) finds his sand-surfing ship under attack by a monster and loses contact with his companion Hunter (Jaa). Then we are introduced to US Army Ranger Captain Natalie Artemis (Jovovich) and her UN squaddies in "our world". Quickly sucked into an unfamiliar setting via a humongous lightning storm, they soon encounter the deadly creatures that inhabit this landscape. Artemis must learn the ways of this culture with the help of Hunter… close the dimensional rift … find a way home … yadda, yadda, yadda.
If that seems unfairly dismissive, that's because it was meant to be. By a very long distance, the biggest problem with this movie is the lack of any kind of story. Even the Resident Evil films had an overall arc and some progression made in their plots. Here, characters are (literally) just dumped into the scene and have to get on with it. "It" being either hordes of spider/scorpion things, a dune-borrowing horned behemoth, or a dragon. We'll put our hands up here and say that we're not at all familiar with the "Monster Hunter" lore and characters. So we aren't going to "fan-boy" much over cat dudes ("felynes") winking at Artemis, massive fiery swords being swung around, or appearances by trademarked monsters. As a result, it's just an empty experience. There is absolutely no depth to the plot at all. Characters are cruelly offed without even learning their names or backgrounds ("Hunter" isn't even given a proper name ferchrissakes!).
The whole thing is just a slog from Point A to Point B… where they don't even reach Point B at the end! Like the recent Mortal Kombat, it feels unfinished and just a prelude to a proper film. We don't ask much as genre film fans, but can we please at least get endings instead of teasers and slow-motion sequences. Speaking of "slow-motion",… Too much!! At least 10 minutes is added to the running time due to entirely unnecessary slo-mo filming. Yeah, they were cool in the Resident Evil movies to an extent, but it's used to ridiculous lengths in scenes where characters are just standing up or turning their head (think Michael Bay).
It's something of a shame because the film does nail a lot of stuff pretty well. The retro soundtrack (Paul Haslinger from Tangerine Dream) is awesome, the CGI is incredibly solid and good-looking (especially on the "Diablos" monster), Jovovich and Jaa play well off each other and perform the stunts athletically, and some of the action is pretty cool. But at the end of the day, you're getting a slightly shoddy version of Tremors meets Pitch Black, just four different types of monster (one of which is a bog-standard GOT-type dragon), absolutely no "hunting" whatsoever, and an incomplete story. It's really not good enough considering the material's potential and the people working in the cast and crew. Still, in the screening we attended, there were a lot of kids, and several of the little tykes barrelled out of the cinema with enormous grins and "Best. Film. Ever" exclamations. It's a 12A in the UK, so perhaps it will find an audience as a "family" film for those with budding little horror fans. For the rest of us, though… not such a good experience.
Despite some decent visuals, a good soundtrack, Jaa's support, and Milla's usual exuberant kick-assery… this is a bust. The main problem is that it doesn't tell any kind of story and just bounces around between boss fights. Too much slow-motion and no narrative. We deserve better from video game films by now. Also, no monster-hunting and no ending… Kids seem to like it, though.
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