I don’t think you could have a more cursed movie than the Monster Hunter movie, directed by Paul W.S Andersen of Resident Evil fame. The movie’s release, especially in Malaysia, has always directly preceded the tightening of lockdown rules, causing the movie to go from releasing in September to only being available in March of the next year, after the movie’s release in the US and Japan.
I should start this out by mentioning two things. One, I really love Monster Hunter. The series has always caught my eye with its fairly plausible monster design, and propensity for the hypest ideas like a sword and shield that turns into a battle axe but also has a buzzsaw mode. Secondly, is that the Transformers movies were a big part of my formative years, and that I have a pretty high tolerance for bad movies, as long as they give me something to work with.
In a nutshell, the Monster Hunter movie is not good. I know there’s lots of pedants who want to whine about game-to-screen inaccuracies like Milla Jovovich using a fire Dual Blades on a Rathalos, but I’m not talking about those. Those are nerdy discussions for nerds to have when they’re taking a break from their never-ending Batman vs Superman who would win arguments.
Out of Gas
The biggest crime Monster Hunter commits is that it’s, well, boring. The second biggest crime it commits is that it actually starts off pretty well- the boredom is a slow decay, meaning by the time you realize nothing’s happening you’re already too far into the movie, so you may as well see it through.
So that opening- we follow Captain Artemis (Milla Jovovich) and her band of Michael Bay-rejects as they’re looking for a lost squad of soldiers in the desert. After discovering some weird monoliths, they’re sucked into a storm, and transported to a different desert instead, with giant skeletons protruding out of the ground.
The movie wastes no time in killing off the soldiers, one of them played by rapper T.I “they call me candle guy”. Ironically, he was not killed by being on fire. This sequence is actually genuinely good, as the squad first avoids a Diablos, before accidentally running into a Nerscylla nest. The Nerscylla portion is especially horrifying, with some really visceral visuals that made me squirm in my seat.
From here on out Artemis meets The Hunter (Tony Jaa), and he teaches her that you need to use monster parts to kill monsters, though thanks to their language barrier we never get to really understand why. He teaches her the basics of the game and they plan a way to use the Nerscylla to kill off the Diablos before heading out in search of The Hunter’s friends.
Up to this point I actually kind of enjoyed the movie. The idea to play up the language barrier between Jaa and Jovovich’s characters was a pretty clever idea, and spared me an hour of poorly written quips that every movie needs to have now. I’m not gonna lie, it gets a little uncomfortable occasionally when you think about the racial overtones of an upright White woman standing over a squatting Chinese man as he devours a bar of chocolate that he’s never seen before, but your mileage may vary on that.
From there we meet The Admiral, played by Ron Perlman in a move that I can only call insulting to Ron Perlman. Seriously, he does nothing cool all movie, aside from being the only character who understands English because to not have Ron Perlman speak would only be a bigger crime against him. They plot to get Milla Jovovich home using the tower that forms the basis of the movie’s plot, before facing off against a laughably oversized Rathalos.
Without spoiling anything, the movie is at its most dull here, since the Rathalos is rarely more than just a screaming fireball generator. Monster Hunter has a good habit of incoporating real-life mannerisms into their animals, it would have been nice to see any of that, but apparently in this universe Rathalos is just a malevolent beast who blames Milla Jovovich for the general mockery of the Resident Evil movies.
All in all, I really liked the ending of the movie though. I’ve been sequel baited so many times and de-isekaid slightly less, it’s nice to see an ending that’s just kind of “well, back to work I guess!”. The Last Jedi has given me PTSD for movies looking like they’re about to end and then dropping another act on you, so the fact that Monster Hunter ends at all is a godsend.
This is in macrocosm what I really love about the movie. It avoids a lot of typical Disneyverse tropes, and it feels very much like someone was in control of how this movie was made, rather than a corporate overlord talking about how focus studies say you need to have the Battle of Hoth at the end of your movie. But then again, perhaps that doesn’t say much about your story if my favorite thing about it was that it ends.
It’s also really hard to talk about the acting in this movie, since nothing really happens. Artemis is a laughably blank slate, with her only characterization being a wedding ring that she keeps in a pillbox. Imagine, a movie where the leading woman spends so much time by herself and they’ve still somehow tied her identity to romance. Tony Jaa is really good as the Hunter though, with a great range of comical expressions and some really impressive acrobatics on his end. Sadly there’s not really much chemistry between the two leads, and any time they talk it feels more like they’re talking in each other’s general direction than with each other. Maybe it’s a reference to the Monster Hunter game’s limited communication features?
Not Gamey At All
I’m gonna level with you. The action sequences in this movie aren’t great. By a longshot. I’m kind of glad they didn’t go too ham on the CGI, and many of the stunts look fairly grounded. The problem is Monster Hunter is a game where you can spin like a buzzsaw down the back of a monster, so seeing someone use said Dual Blades but not do their best Levi impression is quite disheartening, enough to bring it up in your review of the Monster Hunter movie.
I think the worst offender of this, once again, is Ron Perlman. While The Admiral’s weapons have always been a secret in Monster Hunter World (he’s never shown with one, leading fans to joke that he was punching monsters to death) the movie gives him a Switchaxe. The prop they used looks way too thin for what’s supposed to be a giant mechanized axe, and there’s a few scenes of him fighting in the background where he really looks weird with it.
The way they defeat the Rathalos at the end is also really disappointing, as most final fights tend to be nowadays. Still, the actual scene of it dying was pretty cool, and creating the most conflicting feelings I’ve had since deciding what to have for dinner. It’s been said to death but the US military is possibly the most boring recurring character in any movie, and the fact that we couldn’t have the Rathalos showdown without Uncle Sam showing up is probably the only generic thing about this movie.
Still, I’m glad they didn’t go with some kind of chosen one route, since the main thing that kills off the Rathalos is Artemis’ own spite. It’s a small detail but considering how color-by-numbers these movies tend to be I have a lot of gratitude for how a lot of this movie feels like it’s something Paul W.S Anderson wanted to do, rather than what needed to be done for a Covid-delayed Summer Blockbuster.
Proof Of A Monster Hunter Movie
And that kind of leaves me with my conflicted feelings about Monster Hunter. Is the movie good? Snowball’s chance in hell. It’s draggy and boring, and the final fight is so wholly unremarkable that my only memory of it is that thankfully, it ended. But there’s a lot of weird quirks in this movie that I really appreciate, such as the fact that the Monsters themselves sometimes almost look like practical effects.
But for every cool quirk there’s an incredibly dumb quirk. Did I need to see Milla Jovovich cauterize her wound using gunpowder from a bullet? What’s with the generic techno music? And what *is* going on with Ron Perlman’s hair?
At best, Monster Hunter is a B movie. I couldn’t recommend it to anyone whose diet consists solely of summer blockbusters, and I *definitely* couldn’t recommend it to any self-described cinephile. It’s not even good junk food since nothing happens in this movie that makes you cheer, the only target audience I could imagine is people who’d watched the Resident Evil movies and were ready for more Paul W.S Andersen-isms.
As a fan of the Monster Hunter series, don’t expect in any way to be rewarded for your fandom. There’s no big secret that you’ll only know from playing the game, no real easter eggs. It’s more like a movie that’s somehow acquired the rights to use Monster Hunter assets, if anything. They’re good assets though, just like how Nemesis looked impressively loyal to his game counterpart, most of the monsters here look pretty close to theirs. Sure, they’re like three times the size, but it’s better than having Rathalos look more like a generic dragon.
Oh, and the Meowscular Chef looks fine, you guys are just being mean.
If you do want to watch it for yourself though, make sure to watch it in your local cinema, especially if you’re Malaysian.