· Platform: Theatrical Release
· Release Date: 05/02/2021
· Cast: Milla Jovovich, Tony Jaa, Ron Perlman
· Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
· Rating: 2/5 (2 out of 5 Stars)
I had no intentions of watching Monster Hunter as I knew all too well what to expect from a film directed by Paul W.S. Anderson and starring his wife and muse Milla Jovovich in the titular role. I have seen enough Resident Evil films to learn my lessons. However, the arrival of a dear old friend and our continual efforts to watch a film together on the big screen started to take its toll on our finer sense of judgment.
The fact that he had played the game on which the movie was based and was interested to see how the game transitioned to the big screen made us seriously consider giving this film a try. It must also be noted that there were no new releases in at least two weeks and I had to somehow satisfy the growing itch of visiting a theater and enjoying a large screen experience.
Thus, Monster Hunter, it was to be and I was prepared to have a bucket of faeces hurled at my face in the name of cinema.
The film starts with the character played by Tony Jaa traveling in a gigantic wooden ship through a sea of sand and the ship being attacked by an even larger Kaiju. The ship is badly wrecked and it seems apparent that all the passengers must have been devoured by the monster but Tony Jaa survives even after being hurled out of the ship and falling face down on the sand. The characters, including Jaa, in this portion, are dressed and behave in a manner that makes it abundantly clear that they are from a different world, planet, time, or universe. What it is is never made clear. The film then introduces us to a company of US Rangers and their strangely quirky leader Artemis (Milla Jovovich) who are in a desert landscape looking for a missing patrol team. In their search, they come up against an inexplicable storm that devours them and in some strange way teleports them to the world, planet, time, or Universe inhabited by Tony Jaa and the gigantic monster that destroyed his ship.
From here on, it’s one boss fight after another as Artemis tries to figure out what world she is in, what are the rules of it, how to destroy the monster, and get back to her base. She also finds it exceedingly difficult to save the lives of her crew who continually keep getting picked out by one monster after another. She soon crosses path with Jaa who doesn’t understand a word of what she is saying, attacks her and takes her hostage. The two gradually learn to understand and respect the need of each other to survive the nightmare that they are in and form an uncomfortable alliance.
I was surprised by how close Monster Hunter came to not being bad. The action sequences are done pretty well. It has very little to do with the actual game and would in fact make purists “laugh out loud” but for the uninitiated, the action sequences may work. It is a mishmash of many great Hollywood concepts, ideas, and things that we have enjoyed before. It is executed well enough to make us stand up and take notice and not give a feeling of being a cheap copy of something that was done better in the past. The sequences involving giant spider-like monsters crawled under my skin instantly. It is the kind of horror that you have to do very little to evoke fear and trigger nightmares and Anderson seems to have figured that out. Using darkness as an added element and the exponential number of the spiders and their slimy presence as a means to scare the Jesus out of the viewers, he designs and executes these sequences effectively making the passage of time somewhat unnoticeable.
Even the two primary Kaijus are wonderfully envisioned and realized. The final boss fight against the Kaiju that closely resembles a dragon is exasperating. The fact that the monster is nearly indestructible adds to the tension of the fight and makes the monster even more imposing. The manner in which the other Kaiju in the desert is slain by Jaa and Jovovich is interesting to watch. My friend tells me that in the game, four or more characters have to work in sync to bring down each of the 12 or more monsters. While the takedown here was no way close to those levels of complexity, it did offer considerable thrill and excitement.
Where the film falls flat on its face is in the performances, the story, and the sense of urgency that we expect from characters that are in a similar situation. Throughout the film, I could hear my friend giggle away, and when I asked him the reasons for it during the interval his reply was, “it takes considerable power and effort to render such an interesting concept and game in such a bland and boring manner, kudos to Anderson”, and then he laughed uncontrollably. In my own opinion, the performances by Jaa and Jovovich stick out like sore thumbs. They are so inept in their evocation of the tension and the panic that their respective characters must be experiencing that it brings down the believability and seriousness of the entire film with them. Also, the dialogues that are given to Jovovich are so bad that they are more cringe-worthy than a standard TikTok video. The ineptitude of the director shows in the sequences where we see the two characters interact. These scenes are executed so poorly that at best it will make the people laugh and that too not in a good way.
Ron Perlman is merely there and when he finally makes an appearance, the lines that his character is made to mouth made me roll with laughter. It was as if the director just wanted to end the film in the most conducive and reckless manner possible and just went with the first idea that came to his mind. For a film that was building up to a crescendo, the ending comes like a sucker punch to the solar plexus that knocked the wind out of my chest. Also, it made so little sense that it turned comical which is never good for a film that is called Monster Hunter. It also gave ominous signs of hurling a sequel at us if enough people watch this film in the first place. Apart from ruining the mythology of the popular game, the film doesn’t give us anything interesting that might have made up for the lack of the usage of the existing elements of the game in the first place.
Monster Hunter had a lot of things working in its favor but Paul W.S. Anderson’s curiously apathetic approach to the film made it one of those films that you want to forget almost instantaneously after walking out of the theater and never want to accept to have watched in theaters just so that you are not mocked at. There were flashes of hope here and there but they were never enough to make this crumbling ship a safe vessel for passage through cinematic hell.