Principal Cast : Milla Jovovich, Tony Jaa, Clifford “TI” Harris, Ron Perlman, Diego Boneta, Megan Good, Josh Helman, Jin Au-Yeung, Hirona Yamazaki, Nic Rasenti, Nanda Costa, Aaron Beelner.
Synopsis: When Lt. Artemis and her loyal soldiers are transported to a new world, they engage in a desperate battle for survival against enormous enemies with incredible powers.
This review contains spoilers.
It occurred to me whilst watching Monster Hunter that whilst it may appear and succeed at “mindless fun” in requiring you to disconnect the critical thinking centres of your brain, at no point do you ever worry about having to turn your brain back on afterwards. Monster Hunter, a film in which there are copious monsters and a whole swag of hunting, delivers what it says on the box in spades – so I guess it meets the most basic criteria for a film – but does it entertain? Does it satisfy the expectation of a viewer coming into this hoping to see Milla Jovovich kick butt against an avalanche of visual effects and grand Hollywood spectacle?
To be honest, not really. As dumb as a box of rocks, Monster Hunter is a cacophonous orgy of sand, explosions, Godzilla-sized creatures of a far-flung other world, and a limited internal vocabulary. Based on a long-running video game of the same name, Monster Hunter’s vapid premise and join-the-dots plot make for far-fetched but fairly fatuous viewing, and even the solid work of Anderson’s long-suffering wife can’t support what little coherence the film might offer. It’s an idea in search of something for an audience to hang its hat on, some kind of empathetic hook or emotional throughline – Jovovich’s character, the inexcusably named Captain Natalie Artemis, lacks either the gravitas or the wherewithal to provide aspirational focus for the story, although the actress can hardly be blamed in this now nepotistic relationship she has with her projects. Fucking the director to star in a major motion picture has worn very, very thin for Jovovich, who first blasted onto our screens in The Fifth Element and then met Anderson on 200’s Resident Evil, with her role here lacking vitality or vigour or even chemistry with her on-screen co-stars. Pack it in, love: your acting chops aren’t enough to carry a film this dumb, and in today’s market looks alone won’t work either.
The film primarily takes place on some “other world”, mysteriously linked to ours via a wibbly-wobbly energy portal of some kind, transplanting poor unsuspecting Earthlings there to become a feast for the variety of hideous, oversized monsters populating the largely desert landscape. As Captain Artemis, Jovovich costars with Indonesian action icon Tony Jaa, who plays a cross between a more violent Tom Hanks in Cast Away and kinetic Robin Williams in Jumanji, as together they fight for survival in an unforgiving alien landscape. Throw in Ron Perlman as some kind of warrior king and a CG anthropomorphised human-sized cat chef (fans of the game series will likely appreciate this more than I did) and you have the makings for a bonkers visual effects smorgasbord that could have delivered quite a fun time at the movies.
Sadly, however, Monster Hunter is destitute even its own worthwhile internal logic and sense. A film that isn’t to be taken seriously can still work when the things within the film conform to a set of rules or understandable physics, established early enough that the viewer can appreciate the story or characters working through even the most insane of plot premises. Monster Hunter seems to have very little intrinsic reality, throwing all manner of gigantic set-pieces and vague horror tropes at the screen in the hope that simply by blasting an incredible score (by Paul Haslinger – perhaps the best thing about the whole film) over an obnoxiously pummelling sound mix of gunfire, screaming, monster roars and general sci-fi hurly-burly, we’ll be “entertained”. Sadly for everyone involved, including the audience, we are not.
Jovovich ekes out a cavalier but unrewarding central character, a human whose sole reason to exist or survive appears simply to make it to the next preposterous battle-with-monsters sequence, and Anderson’s hyperbolic action style leans heavily into disorienting the audience without paying off any kind of revelation. She matters not, at one point appearing to die early in the first act to which I merely shrugged my shoulders and figured the whole film was a bait-and-switch to finally give Jaa a starring role in a Hollywood blockbuster. Even as the character learns more about the new world she’s landed in, I simply didn’t give a shit, the clues and rules of this Earth-approximate coming in such limited supply I gave up any pretence of caring quite quickly. The opening act sees Jovovich leading her US Army Ranger unit through a desert, before they’re all swallowed up by an enormous lighting-and-sand storm, only to be roundly annihilated by a gigantic creature promptly upon arriving on the other side of the portal. We spend ten to fifteen minutes with this group, working out who’s who and what each of their personalities are, before they’re offed in such brutal and thankless fashion? Yeah, there’s no shock value here, at least for the film. I was only shocked I didn’t switch off then.
The film endeavours to plant a mystery early on – what is this strange world, how does it connect with our own, ad what do all these enormous building-sized monsters eat when there aren’t any humans to chomp on? – but can’t sustain it, and I suspect Anderson, who wrote the script as well as directing, just decided to make a film purely for fans of the game to enjoy. I mean, it’s a film so lacking in coherence and motive it’s impossible for somebody unfamiliar with the game series to know what’s going on, and Anderson doesn’t even try to let us in. Mystery in a film can draw a viewer in, our natural curiosity working for a film’s reveal or twist if it’s developed enough. Monster Hunter is in absolutely no way mysterious, despite initial appearances. The film doesn’t care if you want to know what’s happening, it just point-blank refuses to give you that information, and when it does trickle out some backstory you’re too confused and ready to punch a wall to care.
Monster Hunter is obnoxiously stupid and barely coherent trash, a waste of time and money so egregious The Asylum should seek compensation for its trouble to parody. For a film packing some normally squeal-inducing imagery and fantasy work, for me it’s a crushing, soul-destroying disappointment. Mixing parts of Warner Bros’ popular Monsterverse with a sprinkling of Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth, and an absolute fuckton of gorgeous creature design wasted in such drivel, Monster Hunter is a debacle of epic proportions and quite possibly the most astonishingly asinine film of 2020.