One can say this for director Paul W.S. Anderson: he’s consistent. His quarter-century-old filmography is one long litany of mediocrity or worse, often veering into unwatchability, and the fact that six of the 13 films he’s directed, including the new Monster Hunter, are based on video games tells you all you need to know about his esthetic.
Monster Hunter, which Screen Gems is releasing into theaters as the COVID-19 pandemic rages worse than ever, is based on the 16-year-old video game franchise of the same name from Capcom (it happens to be the publisher’s second-best selling series after Resident Evil, for which Anderson has also steered the six-film movie franchise to box office success). Like so many other video game adaptations, including the ones Anderson has besieged us with, it’s junk.
Shot two years ago in South Africa and starring Anderson’s wife, muse, and frequent creative partner, Milla Jovovich, it’s a 93-minute compendium of tropes taken from the game, plus plenty of other movies, all mashed together into an action fantasy slog that is as meaningless as it is tedious. Take a drink every time you spot an image lifted from Alien, Game of Thrones, Starship Troopers, and plenty of others and you’ll be pleasantly trashed by the end.
The film establishes in a prologue that there is another dimension right next door to ours that seems to be one big CG desert, through which we see poor, disinterested Ron Perlman (in a Vince Neil heavy metal singer wig) sail a CG-ship across CG sand before the craft gets attacked by a large CG monster. Cut to our world, where Jovovich’s Captain Artemis is leading a generic military team on a “joint security operation” in another featureless, unnamed desert somewhere.
Her team encounters a freakish CG storm and before you know it, the crew and their vehicles fall through more pixels to land in the other dimension. All of them except Artemis (including Tip “T.I.” Harris, Meagan Good, and Diego Boneta) are slaughtered within 15 minutes by more sand monsters plus some spider-like things that look like someone pulled Shelob off the old The Lord of the Rings hard drive. Since we barely met these folks anyway, we couldn’t care less.
Still, Artemis is rescued by the Hunter (Tony Jaa). After distrusting each other for a few minutes they decide to be friends and head across the desert to fight more monsters.
If that plot sounds so basic that a six-year-old could follow it, then you understand the mentality at work here. Everything in Monster Hunter is pitched to the lowest intelligence level possible, from the dialogue to the simplistic world-building that never really establishes anything about the parallel dimension except that it’s full of monsters, a few humans and, inexplicably, a human-sized cat that is the ship’s chef (which I have since learned is a character from the game, but comes across as jarring to the uninformed).
It’s possible that fans of the Capcom game might get serviced pleasurably enough by Anderson’s clear devotion to the franchise (and make no mistake, he wants to build a film series out of this as well, ending the film on a goddamn cliffhanger followed by a mid-credits tease), but even their patience might be tested by the sloppy editing, utter lack of investment in the characters, and abundantly cheap-looking visuals.
The only actor to make much of an impression here is Jaa while the rest are either completely forgettable or are dispatched before one can even remember what they look like. As for Jovovich, she says her lines like she would rather be home and is doing her hubby a favor just by showing up. “C’mon, Milla,” we can almost see Anderson saying at the dinner table, “Just star in one more for me, and I promise we’ll go to Tahiti for our anniversary…”
The Anderson-Jovovich clan has almost certainly made a fuckton of money from the endless Resident Evil assembly line, but one wonders if Monster Hunter even has a chance with little to no competition at the pandemic-ravaged box office. This would surely be a direct-to-video release in any other year, but perhaps the studio thought it had a chance to earn a few bucks around the holidays with only Wonder Woman 1984 coming to whatever screens are open a week later.
Or maybe shoving the thing into theaters has ironically become the way to hide a film instead of pushing it on the streaming platforms. Whatever the case, we advise you not to track this one down. It’s a monster in all the wrong ways.
Monster Hunter is out in theaters on Friday, Dec. 18.