Monster HunterReviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 12/17/20 11:36:57
Thanks to its combination of a hyper-kinetic visual style, admittedly berserk plotting and the undeniable charisma of its star, the “Resident Evil” films managed to become an enormously popular franchise and established Milla Jovovich and husband Paul W. S. Anderson (who produced all the films and directed four of them) as the Dietrich and von Sternberg of goofball big-screen video game adaptations. Like many good things in life, that series came to an end in 2016 (the reboot is already in the works) and with “Monster Hunter,” a CGI-heavy action spectacular based on the popular Capcom video game, Jovovich and Anderson are clearly hoping for lightning to strike twice—hell, lightning even winds up serving as an important plot element here. This time around, however, the combination is off for the most part and while things do begin to perk up a bit in the last third or so, the rest of the film never comes close to achieving the gorgeously goofy pop-art craziness of the “RE” saga.This time around, Jovovich plays Captain Artemis, the leader of a squad of Army Rangers who are out in the middle of a remote desert investigating the mysterious disappearance of another squad. Suddenly, she and her squad are overtaken by a strange electrical sandstorm that manages to zap them into another dimension where they land on yet another desert landscape. This difference is that on this one, the squad is immediately attack by a gigantic sandwort-type creature that is surely a million miles removed from the similar creatures featured in “Dune.” After battling this beast, they take refuge in a cave structure and are then set upon by a new assortment of creatures that look like the monsters from “Starship Troopers,” reproduce like the monsters from “Alien” and fear the sunlight like the monsters in “Pitch Black.” You will notice that I have not mentioned any of the other members of the squad, even though they are played by such reasonably familiar faces as Megan Goode, Diego Boneto and T.I. Put it this way—don’t get too attached to any of them.
After barely surviving these skirmishes, even cauterizing a wound with gunpowder just like Rambo did, Artemis is determined to figure out a way to get back home. She soon encounters an unnamed Hunter (Tony Jaa), who seems to be a member of a crew of sand pirates whom we saw being attacked by various creatures in the prologue. Their initial encounter does not go well—they engage in an extended fistfight that seems to go on about as long as the one in “They Live” and which causes about as much damage as the skirmishes that Inspector Clouseau used to get into with Cato—but they finally manage to bond after Artemis shares a piece of a Hershey bar with him. Despite the lack of a common language, he manages to explain the various monsters to her and she manages to explain her need to get home. They set off on a dangerous trek to a distant tower that seems to be behind the mysterious lightning and along the way, they encounter the rest of Hunter’s fellow pirates, who are led by the Admiral (Ron Perlman) and include one crew member who is so strange that I genuinely thought I was hallucinating for a moment. This all leads uo to the big finale where Artemis finds herself up against a massive dragon-like creature that serves as the story’s Big Boss monster because hey, something has to fit that bill.
Well, at least I think that is more or less what happens—Anderson’s screenplay is one of those strange contraptions that somehow manages to come across as both unfathomably confusing and incredibly threadbare and features dialogue that would require approximately a dozen punch-ups to reach the level of boilerplate. Having never played the video game on which it is based on before, I have absolutely no idea as to the degree of fidelity that “Monster Hunter” has to its source. Some might suggest that this should disqualify me from writing about the film altogether but I dunno—to this day, I have never played any version of “Resident Evil” and I was still able to figure out and appreciate what was going on there.
And yet, even though “Monster Hunter” follows the same basic template established by the “Resident Evil” films, Anderson never figures out how to bring the elements together in the way he did in the past. While those films started off pretty high on the crazy scale, bringing together zombie thrills, paranoid conspiracies and over-the-top action, and only got nuttier as things progressed, this one has a too-familiar feel to it at practically every turn—it is hard to get too worked up over the elaborate monsters on display when you spend all your time thinking about the past movies from which they have been borrowed. Of course, one doesn’t go to a film like “Monster Hunter” for the bracing narrative—you go for the kind of super-stylish eye candy (not limited to Jovovich) on display in the wild and oftentimes hallucinatory action beats put together in an undeniably inventive manner that somehow bridged the gap between cheap thrills and avant-garde art. Here, the action scenes are noisy and frantic but they lack the spark of deranged imagination that is Anderson’s true distinguishing mark as a filmmaker. If his best efforts, like the “RE” films, suggest what might result if a 12-year-old boy was given the resources to make an expensive video game movie, this one feels more like it was made by an adult trying to put himself into the mindset of a 12-year-old with limited success.The weirdest thing about “Monster Hunter” is that about two-thirds of the way through, Anderson seems to have finally recognized its deficiencies and it switches gears to embrace a more overtly nutball tone that does come closer to approximating the “RE” ideal, starting with the arrival of Perlman in a looney outfit that makes him looks like a cross between a viking and one of the Croods and culminating with a final battle in which the influence of the legendary Toho Studios, who served as one of the numerous co-producers, can finally be felt. Besides that, the only thing that the film really has going for it is Jovovich, who is still a compelling screen personality and brings more of a sense of panache to the proceedings than they probably deserve. Ultimately, “Monster Hunter” wants to be nothing more than brainless entertainment but ends up stressing the “brainless” aspect instead of the “entertainment” part. This isn’t to say that I wouldn’t sign up to watch another one if it somehow made enough money in the current environment to justify a sequel at some point. I just hope that if another one does come along, it follows the freaky tone of its final section instead of the banality of the stuff preceding it.
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