Monster Hunter (2020) Review
BLAND, BORING, AND UTTERLY FORGETFUL
The premise of a video game film adaptation has been a somewhat “double-edged” sword and proven multiple times over that statement throughout the past thirty some odd years. The idea of translating a popular / bestselling video game into a cinematic tales has definitely has an alluring effect and can take viewers on a new journey to some of video game’s beloved stories / characters. However, much of the results and / or outcomes of such ambitions has been met with difficulties and mixed results, which is combination of variants, including odd narrative choices, troubled productions, character substance / development, and the simplistic nature of translating the “video game” experience immersion to the big-screen and to audience everywhere. Some I have definitely achieved this concept idea (better than others) such as 2002’s Resident Evil, 2018’s Tomb Raider, 2019’s Pokémon Detective Pikachu, 2020’s Sonic the Hedgehog, while others such as 1997’s Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, 2005’s Doom, 2015’s Pixels, and 2016’s Assassin’s Creed at the opposite end of the spectrum. Now, Sony Pictures (as well as Screen Gems) and director Paul W.S. Anderson present the latest video game movie adaptation with the release of Monster Hunter; based on the video game series of the same name by Capcom. Does this film break the so-called “video game curse” or does it fail to translate the fun of fighting against giant monster within its bland presentation?
United States Army Ranger Captain Natalie Artemis (Milla Jovovich) and her unit squad search for missing soldiers amid a barren desert territory. As their search proves fruitless as they engage in back-and-forth banter with each other, the group is suddenly swept into a dust storm that proves an unnatural one; transporting them to a desert region that appears to be in a whole other dimension. Remnants of a massive skeleton bone structures causes confusions amongst the unit, who also find the severely charred bodies of their lost comrades, caused by something so infernally hot that it has turned sand to glass shards. Soon, the group is attack by giant sand-traveling beast and crab-like spider creatures; picking up off the group one by one and causing mayhem as the team scrambles for safety. Artemis soon finds unexpected ally within a local, an unnamed “Hunter” (Tony Jaa), a skilled warrior who knows how to attack and evade the monsters in the nearby vicinity. With danger encroaching around them, Artemis and the Hunter team up and battle monsters together; making their way to a mystical spire in the distance, which holds the key of the Army Ranger returning to her world.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
As I’ve stated previously, I do like video games. I’m not a hardcore gamer, but I do like playing a few games here and there on occasion (i.e., a causal video gamer). So, naturally, the marriage between video games and movies is something that I do like and eager await some releases. However, as I said above, most ambitions for these types of film adaptations have been somewhat mixed to bad; finding most to be difficultly in bridging a proper medium between video game and movie. Of course, there has been some that have been entertaining such as some of my personal favorite ones like Sonic the Hedgehog and Tomb Raider, but then there are some that are just plain bad like Mortal Kombat Annihilation (although one scene in the movie I like) and almost completely unrecognizable to its source material like 1993’s Super Mario Bros.; something that put a “nail in the coffin” from Nintendo in translating their games into feature films. Another problem of video game adaptations are in its appeal to the masses vs. its fanbase; collectively creating problems to a more singular grouping of viewers out there that might not cater to the general moviegoer populace. Prime example of this problem can be found in Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children or Warcraft. Both are good movies (in my opinion), but feel more dedicated to its fanbase rather than general viewers. Still, for better or worse, adapting popular video games into movies is something that Hollywood isn’t going to stop anytime soon; aiming to one day claim to break the so-called “video game movie curse”.
Naturally, this circles back around to my review for the film Monster Hunters, a 2020 live-action feature film that is based on the bestselling video game series by game developer Capcom. I’ll admit…I actually haven’t played a single Monster Hunter game before (yes, that’s true). However, I do know plenty about it and seeing it being played, so I get the allure and fascination to the games and why it has become quite a bestselling game for years. I do remember hearing that a film adaptation was announced and in development, which definitely drew interest to the project, and became an intended look by many (via online) when the movie was to be released. To me, even though I haven’t played the games, I was a little bit intrigued, especially since the video games are ripped for large-scale blockbuster action on to the big-screen (a sure delight for visual appeal to see). When the film’s movie trailer dropped, I was a little bit interested, but a little bit skeptical as the movie looked like a lot like the past Resident Evil movies (a lot of nonsensical action with a weak plot). Still, I was curious to see it, especially since the movie was gonna be released in theaters at the end of 2020 and wasn’t going to be moved to a streaming platform and / or delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic (like so many 2020 movies did). Thus, one of the last movies I saw in the 2020 year was Monster Hunter as I went to my local movie theater (one that I was still open) to see the film. And what did I think of it? Well, it wasn’t that great. Despite some interesting aspects, Monster Hunter is almost dead-on arrival; failing to spark interest within its cinematic (yet nonsensically blaring) adaptation of the video game series. The attempt is there, but it is a weak one with very little joy and / or fun for the viewing experience.
Monster Hunter is directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, whose previous directorial works include such movies like the Resident Evil film franchise as well as other projects like Mortal Kombat, Death Race, and Pompeii. Considering his involvement and creative direction for helming the Resident Evil movie franchise, Anderson seems like the most suitable choice for directing Monster Hunter: a project that almost seems right up the director’s line of work. In this context, Anderson does somewhat succeed by approaching the source material with his own sense of certain style that speaks to his past body of work; generating a somewhat “gung-ho” action fantasy feature that delivers on its premise of large-scale monsters and battle action sequences. In a nutshell, Anderson makes the feature have kind of an “old school” throwback feeling as if Monster Hunter is like 90s fantasy action movies: something almost akin to his 1995’s adaptation of Mortal Kombat. As to be expected, Anderson does prove plenty of nods and winks to the video game series, including the warrior-like Hunter as one of the main characters of the film (obviously), but also using a variety fantasy-esque weaponry to take down the monsters (i.e., swords, lances, axes, hammers, daggers, and the like) as well as film’s monster that are featured in the presentation like the herbivores Apceros, the arachnid-like Nerscylla, the sand burrowing predator Diablos, and the draconian winged beast Rathalos. Plus, I thought that the appearance of the Mewoscular Chef was featured in the movie was pretty good. However, I kind of wish that Anderson put the character more into the movie rather than a glorified cameo. Nevertheless, I like the nod to the iconic Monster Hunter character. Additionally, does feel very lean in its runtime and sticks to a very “breezy” experience as I felt the movie flew by, especially considering the movie has a runtime of 88 minutes (one hour and twenty-eight minutes). All in all, there is a certain type of fun to feature that Anderson brings to the proceedings and creates a very mindless entertainment to Monster Hunter (for better or worse).
Presentation-wise, Monster Hunter is something that I would expect from a video game film adaptation, which does offer a lot of “visuals” to the feature and creates a lot of CGI action sequences. Again, there is a certain type of amusement fun to those moments that work, but it isn’t quite enough, with this portion bleeding into the movie’s problems. However, more on that below. For the most part, the presentation of Monster Hunter is okay and I think the film’s set productions and costumes designs are appropriate for the film. Thus, the “behind the scenes” team, including film’s art direction team as well as Danielle Knox (costume design) give a decent job for their efforts in the movie’s look and feel. Plus, I thought that the cinematography work by Glen MacPherson gives Monster Hunter a decent job in creating some visually cinematics in a few pockets areas that help elevate the film’s dynamic fantasy action. Lastly, the film’s music, which was composed by Paul Haslinger, gives a fitting musical composition to the feature, including a few themes that have a sort of “retro” video game feeling (musically speaking). However, there are some pieces in Haslinger’s music that are so blaring and jarring that it becomes ear-splitting; clashing and almost overtaken some of the feature’s bigger moments.
Of course, this leads into Monster Hunter’s problems and (unfortunately) there are numerous and glaring throughout the film; making the movie itself riddled with criticisms. Where to begin? Well, perhaps the first and most prevalent is in the movie’s narrative department, which there is none to be had. Naturally, I wasn’t expecting something big, expansive, and intricate fantasy narrative like The Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones, but the film story, while rather straightforward and has been done many times before, but what’s presented feels very shortchanged and quite simplistic….and not in a good way. The result is something that ultimately lacks substance and, while having a proven idea of someone from our world travel to another world and trying to get home in the process, left empty and lifeless. Perhaps this stems from the feature’s script handling, which was done by Anderson himself. In a nutshell, the script for Monster Hunter quite an empty husk, with very little giving to the film for a narrative story beyond the initial setup. This problem causes the movie to feel like everything is being glossed over, including story, characters, and world building. This part is quite numerous in the movie and creates a lot of points that don’t really make any sense and / or leaves things unsaid / vaguely. The character of Artemis holds a sentimental object piece that she carries for…. but why? The portal between worlds holds the key by some ancient people…. why? Those are just some things that Anderson never fully addresses in the movie and it becomes a problem throughout.
Speaking of world building, the movie woefully under develops this particular aspect…in spades. What do I mean? Well, Anderson just struggles in encompassing and / or creating a lively world in the “New World” (i.e., the world where majority of the film takes place in). Heck, a great portion of the movie is spent in the desert wasteland area (one particular area) and leaves a lot of unfilled potential for Anderson to generate a very organic / fantasy-esque cinematic world building for this “New World”. There are spurts of it, but not enough. Another problem is that the movie is mostly consisting of just noisy. What do I mean? People yelling and screaming and monsters roaring and screeching. That’s all! The whole feature is just one big “blaring” noise fest, with the sound department team for Monster Hunter cranking up the effect noises to 11 and just becoming a rowdy and audio cluttering display to the ears that begins to grate on the ears. Also, the script is riddled with silly dialogue and questionable decisions (both characters and narrative aspects), which continues to drag the film down even further.
As for the film’s visuals…. well…there subpar. Granted, I wasn’t expecting high caliber blockbuster visuals from a big studio tentpole endeavor, but the CGI in Monster Hunter does feel dated, especially being a release in 2020. Yes, I did like a lot of the film’s creatures designs, which are quite imaginary, but how they are all rendered is disappointing. Heck, I think the graphics in the most recent game of when this review is being done (Monster Hunter World) are better than what’s presented in the movie. Plus, the movie only features a handful of creatures from the video game series, which is strange, especially since there is a great host of bestiary from the Monster Hunter games.
Additionally, the ending of the movie leaves an unsatisfying taste in the viewing experience. While I won’t spoil it, the film kind of sort of ends on a mid-battle cliffhanger ending; leaving the possibility for a potential sequel installment. If you don’t know what I mean…. think of 1995’s Mortal Kombat ending. However, while Anderson’s Mortal Kombat offered up a better conclusion to its main characters and larger story, the ending of Monster Hunter feels like inconclusive as if Anderson is leaving out a huge narrative chunk of the movie on the cutting room floor. This results in the ending piece of the film hampering the feature even more; feeling rushed, haphazard, and not at all satisfying. Yes, closing moments shot is quite cool (I won’t deny that), but not one that leaves a bitter closure.
The cast in Monster Hunter is decent, but there’s not really much to their fictional on-screen character to make them either memorable or beloved. Of course, the acting talents give their best to elevate their characters, so I least given them credit for that. However, there’s only so much that they can do with such thinly written characters and wooden-like dialogue moments. Leading the charge in the movie is actress Milla Jovovich, who plays the role of protagonist character of Natalie Artemis. Jovovich, who is married to Anderson as well as being known for her roles in The Fifth Element, The Three Musketeers, and the Resident Evil film series, has proven herself to be the almost stereotypical badass female action lead character in a lot of her past roles; nailing the bravado, stamina, and getup of this particular type of character. So, given that background, Jovovich is good in the role of Artemis by showcasing an almost atypical performance for the actress in the role of Artemis from onset to conclusion. However, looking beyond that, the character of Artemis is rather bland and almost generic, with the script failing to prove depth into this protagonist. Thus, the character falters and ends up being almost stock-like female hero characterizations. Again, Jovovich is decent in the role and definitely works in the film’s favor, but the written character feels hollow and thinly-sketched.
The second main character in the movie is the unnamed character known as “The Hunter”, a warrior who is stranded in the desert wasteland and who befriends Natalie Artemis, who is played by actor Tony Jaa. Known for his roles in Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior, XXX: Return of Xander Cage, and Triple Threat, Jaa has been capable and profound master stunt / choreographer of films in karate martial arts and proves that motto once again in this movie. Interestingly, I think that Jaa is the better equipped for this movie than Jovovich (I’m just saying) as he looks and acts the part of the otherworldly warrior hunter in his characters that adept to the harsh environment around him and the deadly beasts that roam the area. However, much like Jovovich’s Artemis, the character of the Hunter is rather underdeveloped and little is no about him, especially since he doesn’t speak the same language as Natalie does. Speaking of that, the moments between where the Hunter and Artemis try to communicate with each other, though amusing in how they learn to talk, feels rather weak and almost forced dialogue moments. Thus, despite the role of the Hunter, the almost main focal point of the Monster Hunter video game series, being important, the movie just seems to more interested in Artemis, which is strange and a bit disappointing; sliding the character for a more secondary role with little substance beyond his physical battle prowess.
Perhaps the only supporting player in the entire movie would be actor Ron Perlman (Hellboy and Sons of Anarchy), who plays the role of character named The Admiral, a seasoned warrior leader who is part of the Hunter’s clan. Naturally, Perlman’s is fine in the role as his screen presence works (especially in this type of movie), but he comes at the tail of the feature and is only in a handful of scenes. Thus, the character of The Admiral is left pretty generic and is only in the for expositional dumps (more or less).
The rest of the cast, including musician rapper / actor Clifford “T.I.” Harris. Jr. (Takers and Ant-Man and the Wasp) as Link, actress Meagan Good (Think like a Man and Brick) as Dash, actor Diego Boneta (Rock of Ages and Scream Queens) as Marshall, and actor Josh Helman (The Pacific and X-Men: Days of Future Past) as Steeler, are pretty much the minor supporting players in the movie. However, much of these characters are delegated to the stereotypical “cannon fodder” in the feature’s narrative and / or the atypical military soldiers of a squad; creating nonsensical banter between each other. To be honest, I wasn’t really expecting much from these characters, but it’s a bit strange to have them frontloaded in the movie and that’s it, which (again) is disappointing in supporting characters for the movie.
Journeying into an unknown world, US army ranger Captain Natalie Artemis must battle against large-scaled monsters, team up with local warrior hunters, and find a way home in the movie Monster Hunter. Director Paul W.S. Anderson’s latest film takes the popular video game series from Capcom and translates it to the big screen for a blockbuster-esque fantasy action feature that has several nods and winks to the source material. However, despite those references to the games as well as feeling to a throwback 90s flick and a lean runtime, the movie itself can sustain itself with its numerous problems, including a barebone and thinly written story / script, questionable narrative choices, lackluster world building, nonsensical moments, cliché dialogue, flat character development, iffy CGI, and bland conclusion. Personally, I didn’t like this movie. I get the idea that Anderson was going for this movie, but the movie was just all-around boring, blaring, and utterly forgetful. Some might argue that its so bad its good type of thing, but I can’t even see that. Thus, recommendation for this movie is a definite “skip it” as it’s not even worth your time to go to see and just simply picking up one of the video games would be better. As mentioned, the movie’s ending leaves the possibility open for a Monster Hunter sequel, but, given the negative to mixed reception, I hardly doubt that second entry will be greenlit. In the end, Monster Hunter just another failed video game film adaptation that showcases an empty and mindless endeavor that can’t muster the cinematic challenge in its own noisy and thinly-sketched presentation.
1.8 Out of 5 (Skip It)
Released On: December 18th, 2020
Reviewed On: January 14th, 2021
Monster Hunter is 103 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for sequences of creatures action and violence throughout