Ever since Mario and Luigi made their awkward big-screen transition (seriously, what were they thinking with those Goombas), video game movies have served as cannon-fodder for critics and diehard gamers alike. Between bad filmmakers’ clumsy-conceived visions (looking at you Uwe Boll) and a lackluster understanding of what makes the respective source material work, studios continue to cycle through properties with mostly disastrous results. Leave it to shlock extraordinaire Paul WS Anderson, who served as the primary visionary behind six Resident Evil films, to crack the video game curse with his latest Monster Hunter. Anderson’s colorfully crafted popcorn film hits that guilty-pleasure itch through its over-indulgent spectacle.
Monster Hunter follows Lieutenant Artemis (Milla Jovovich), a decorated special forces leader who is suddenly transported into a different world. When she and her team discover gargantuan creatures, they must fight for their survival while teaming with a mysterious hunter (Tony Jaa) to plot their escape.
Most video game movies can’t convey their source’s unique strengths, often truncating a thoughtfully-constructed narrative into an underbaked mess. Considering the Monster Hunter games exist as a vessel for conquering larger-than-life creatures, the brand makes an ideal canvas for Anderson to unleash his signature carnage. The director’s shamelessly kinetic voice finds a perfect partner within the monster movie genre’s vibrant appeals. A well-tuned balance between broadly self-aware setpieces and daffy comedic frames ensures this B-movie never drifts into falsely self-serious territory.
Anderson is not foreign to criticism for his presentation choices, with audiences often dividing over his big-screen offerings (the Resident Evil franchise is equally beloved and loathed by fans). While some of his efforts present untamed technical prowess, Monster Hunter finds Anderson creating an assured blend of controlled chaos. His mixture of wide-shots and intimately framed shaky cam presents the impressive design work while throwing audiences into the flurry of each action beat. The sped-up slow-motion and frenetic edits won’t please everyone, but I love the ways Anderson gleefully embraces the excess of big-screen blockbusters. Big props also to Anderson’s design crew, as the team transform this barren desert landscape into an intriguing steam-punk flavored world.
Monster Hunter’s cheeky appeals could easily fall apart in the wrong hands, but star Milla Jovovich ably carries the narrative on her shoulders. This is a part Jovovich could perform in her sleep at this point, continuing her run as one of the genre’s most composed action stars. Her firm presence adds gravitas to Artemis’ shallow journey home, while co-star Tony Jaa operates as an effective comedic foil to Jovovich’s stern persona. The supporting cast also has fun within their archetype roles, including Ron Pearlman boasting a hilariously convoluted hairstyle (the second you see him with a mullet and sideburns will lead to instant laughter).
Monster Hunter is a joy to watch, but Paul WS Anderson’s abilities as a director are often undercut by his faults as a screenwriter. I don’t take issue with the film’s straight-forward, video game-esque plotting, but Anderson fails to bring much personality to the materials’ formula. Most of the characters serve as blandly-coated stereotypes while the few humorous frames land with a clunky corniness. When the action isn’t flying onscreen, Anderson struggles to keep his routine narrative engaging.
Thankfully for audiences, Monster Hunter’s relentless pace rarely ensures much boredom. Equally opulent and mindless, Anderson crafts an endearingly silly blockbuster for genre fans to embrace.