Monster Hunter, a Genre Curse Hangs on

Previously shared on The Film Experience

2020 has been a banner year for monster movies, be they funny and romantic (Love & Monsters), purely for kids (A Babysitter’s Guide to Monster Hunting on Netflix), or in the case of Monster Hunter, mindless action. Paul W.S. Anderson (Mortal Kombat, Resident Evil) returns to the other genre that made him, the genre he never really left: video game adaptations. He and wife Milla Jovovich are the king of them, such that there can be a king of a genre that has yet to truly take off after three decades of trying. Folks, including myself, keep saying they’re the next big thing in Hollywood after superhero movies, and while valiant attempts have been made, they’re seemingly cursed. Even when talented people aboard (Jake Gyllenhaal in Prince of Persia, Justin Kurzel and Fassy/Cotillard in Assassin’s Creed), they just don’t pan out. Like all the rest, Monster Hunter ain’t exactly the ticket to Hollywood genre royalty. 

After a desert storm ransacks their outfit, a group of Army rangers are plunged into another dimension, one populated with its own denizens and, more importantly, gargantuan monsters with a taste for human flesh. Jovovich is the outfit’s captain, and she dutifully fills a pair of shoes that are quite familiar to us and to her as an actress: the badass heroine with a vague backstory. We know nothing about her outside of a wedding ring she carries with her and a desire to get home, so this is bare-bones character work we’re talking about here, even by action movie standards. She eventually meets a local warrior (Tony Jaa) who knows the land and the large predators after them: a giant bull that burrows through sand like a worm outta Tremors and looks like the living embodiment of El Diablo (they call it Diablos), plus a nest of car-sized spiders that come out at night and forage for prey to paralyze and capture.  

The first hour and change is spent following them as they struggle to fend off arachnids and get past Diablos who covets the dunes surrounding their rock bed, makeshift home. So much time is spent on it that you’d be forgiven for thinking the movie might be over once they succeed in killing them. However, there’s another thirty minutes left of deus ex machina foes with throaty voices and crazy wigs (Ron Perlman), as well as dragons to boot. Story-telling wise, it’s never a good idea to introduce a new, bigger monster heretofore not mentioned at all or even implied. Milla and Mysterious Warrior bond over enemy blood spilt, the pair becoming tentative buddies in monster hunting while a pretty cool electronic score booms over them, often evoking the Nintendo tunes of old. They’re a good pair, so it’s mildly enjoyable watching them tag-team such beastly enemies. That being said, they’re not miracle workers. The movie drags in spite of the onslaught of creature feature action or the relatively short runtime, and that’s coming from a guy who doesn’t mind long runtimes. The truly arresting images are all-too-brief amid the visual chaos, and the characters all-too-thin to matter. What Monster Hunter lacks in feelings it could’ve made up for in atmosphere, and there’s not much of the latter either. The industry will just have to keep looking for a film that can break this genre out of its hard, vapid shell.

P.S. A humanoid cat doubling as a sea boat chef is a hoot.

Grade: D+

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