Starring Milla Jovovich and Tony Jaa
Now available on digital platforms, coming to DVD March 2
★★ out of five
The opening credits of Monster Hunter are encouraging in that they announce the film is partly a product of Japan’s fabled Toho Studios. The movie automatically gets a little street cred, coming from the company that gave us the original Godzilla.
Alas, the monsters on view here are rote digital creations, and not guys in suits jumping around miniature sets in slow motion.
The project comes from writer-director Paul W.S. Anderson and his missus, actress Milla Jovovich, who collaborated together on the Resident Evil franchise.
With the first Resident Evil, Anderson established himself as the go-to guy to adapt hit video games for the big screen.
So, with the Resident Evil franchise thoroughly sucked dry, Anderson and Jovovich are taking on a new property with Monster Hunter, a Capcom game for PlayStation wherein human warriors figure out ways to take down giant marauding beasts, often employing monster body parts as weapons against other monsters.
Anderson takes pains to connect the game premise to the real world. Hence, we find a unit of Army Rangers out in the desert looking for a lost patrol. Radio communications indicate the missing soldiers vanished into a mysterious storm.
In a matter of a minute, that storm comes calling for Captain Artemis (Jovovich) and her crew. They discover the cosmic weather system is a gateway to another dimension where giant monsters — crab monsters, Starship Troopers-sque creepy-crawlies and fire-breathing dragons — hold sway.
It’s only a few more minutes before Artemis is on her own, at least until the appearance of a primitive-looking guy called "the Hunter" (Thai martial artist Tony Jaa) scopes her fighting monsters with her puny bazookas and machine guns. (The Hunter is more analog when it comes to weaponry. When the two actually meet, they get into a protracted bit of hand-to-hand combat that looks to challenge the They Live fight scene between Roddy Piper and Keith David in the running-out-the-clock fight-scene sweepstakes.)
Inevitably, the two team up, although they don’t speak the same language. They still have to figure out how to get past a giant sandworm (the film’s shout-out to Dune) before they can traverse to a desert oasis where the Hunter hopes to connect with the family from whom he was separated in the movie’s opening scene.
In the current world of moviegoing, some of us are craving the escapism of big, dumb action movies from the beforetimes, and on that score, Monster Hunter certainly delivers the big, dumb action beats.
Indeed, Anderson is something of a master of the form. Since 1997’s Event Horizon, he has shown himself to be a master of assembling components of other better films and creating his own cinematic purée from the results.
Even so, this movie lacks real inspiration. Resident Evil at least had some moments of surreal invention.
Both Jovovich and Jaa (best remembered for the awesome martial arts movie Ong-Bak) try their best to deliver some human charm, but it doesn’t help that the best thing Anderson can do with them is having them fight endlessly for no good reason.
So what we end up with is all monsters all the time. Because most of the action is set in a desert, the movie doesn’t even enjoy the grandeur of, say, Pacific Rim, where the monsters fought men against the scale of a big urban metropolis.
Toho, you should have definitely given notes.
In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.