Monster Hunter (2020): Paul W.S. Anderson and Milla Jovovich’s Latest Attempt at Alternating Video Game History
“Monster Hunter” is directed by Paul W.S. Anderson (Resident Evil, Mortal Kombat) and stars Milla Jovovich (The Fifth Element, The Fourth Kind), Tony Jaa (Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior, xXx: Return of Xander Cage), Tip “T.I.” Harris (Ant-Man, Get Hard), Meagan Good (Think Like a Man, Shazam!), Diego Boneta (Terminator: Dark Fate, Scream Queens), John Helman (X-Men: Days of Future Past, Mad Max: Fury Road), Jin Au-Yeung (The Man with the Iron Fists, 2 Fast 2 Furious), and Ron Perlman (Sons of Anarchy, Hellboy). This film is based on the Capcom video game franchise of the same name, where you go on quests to slay or capture monsters. In this 2020 film adaptation, Lt. Artemis and her fellow soldiers transport themselves to an unfamiliar world where they meet The Hunter (Tony Jaa). Together, the crew must survive against giant monsters in an attempt to return home.
First off, I just want to say, just because this is being published on the week of Christmas, Merry Christmas to those who celebrate! Second, “Monster Hunter” is the latest film put out theatrically from Sony. From my experience, Sony has been one of the studios that has been rather reserved during the pandemic. They have yet to put many of their films straight to streaming, although “Greyhound” and “An American Pickle” stand out as a couple exceptions. Although, when “Tenet” came out to somewhat underwhelming statistics, most notably in the United States, which is usually a key market for film, they said they “won’t make the mistake” of releasing a film of that size during the pandemic.
For the record, “Tenet” cost $205 million to make. Box office-wise, the film did well financially given the circumstances of the pandemic, but in normal times, it would not have been considered a success. “Monster Hunter,” to Sony’s benefit, is much less expensive. That film in particular cost $60 million to make. While that is not necessarily the biggest budget in the world, especially compared to the latest Marvel and “Star Wars” fare we have been getting, it is still not exactly cheap. However, it is more expensive than what Sony has been putting out, “The Broken Hearts Gallery” as one such example, since most theatres have been allowed to reopen. This made me wonder… “Why?”
After all, even though I never saw Paul W.S. Anderson’s “Resident Evil,” I am familiar with many of the franchise’s entries being dishonored by critics and even fans of the games. Part of me wondered if Sony just wanted to dump this film into theaters just to get it off its back, and if “Monster Hunter” was just another video game adaptation that felt nothing like the game itself.
Having now seen the film, my expectations were kind of met. Although at the same time, it is still better than I anticipated. Unlike myself, my dad has seen the “Resident Evil” movies, so I figured for this circumstance, I’d invite him to this screening considering it is from the same people. According to him, this movie has a very similar vibe and structure to the “Resident Evil” films. They are not Shakespeare in the least, but they most certainly fall into the guilty pleasure category. It’s not all bad, but holy hell it is not good. Simultaneously, particular points of the film felt like a blast.
I am going to get some negative points out of the way. This movie is definitely not going to win an editing Oscar. Of all the films to have come out this year, this is by far the LEAST qualified to possibly win Best Film Editing. The film manages to revisit a lot of the common problems we face in action films today. Specifically, quick cutting, not being able to tell who is who, and there also seems to be a little more slow-mo than I’d prefer. It’s almost like watching “The Matrix” if they couldn’t tell a story. There is a scene in the film where two people are fighting, and while they do kind of look alike, there was a point where I wondered who was who. If we learned anything from… I dunno, “Taken 3,” it’s that quick cutting is headache-inducing and should be avoided at all costs!
Liam Neeson deserves better!
Another big problem, and I was kind of expecting this from the get go, characterization is not really put at the forefront. Not only do we have a bunch of military soldiers who have nothing to do with the source material at the center of the story, but nearly every character in this film felt disposable. I did not care about anyone, they could get massacred, lose everything and everyone they know, and I still wouldn’t give a crap. That may partially be because the movie does not give us time to get to know anyone. We have these generic soldiers on a mission together, but nobody has a personality, nobody has any special quirks. They all sing together from time to time, but they do not really do anything else that stands out. They’re just these generic soldiers with their generic dialogue in a movie with a world that really should not feel generic! This is a movie with a world where someone fights gigantic monsters as part of a quest! Or… At least that’s what should be happening according to the video games. I do not need all film adaptations to follow the source material 100%, but this almost goes too far away from the original material at times.
This film is 1 hour and 39 minutes long. Thankfully, I never once felt bored throughout that time. I will say though, one surprising critique I will give the film is that I wish it were a minute longer in the runtime. Maybe two or three, but still. I know it does not seem like much, but again, the film failed to impress me character-wise, but if it took just a few more minutes just to have us get to know something about some of the others in the film, “Monster Hunter” might just garner my interest more as it progressed.
Although, thankfully, there is one relationship that defined the film and made it worth my time, and that is the relationship between Lt. Artemis (Milla Jovovich) and the Hunter (Tony Jaa). What made their relationship intriguing is the foreign aspect that came with each side. For Lt. Artemis, she spends much of the film in a world she has never once thought would be possible. When she tries to adapt to this unusual reality, she comes across the Hunter, and she tries to befriend him. Granted, it is through blatantly obvious Hershey’s product placement, but it is true that chocolate wins people over, even if they have never seen or heard of it. Why do you think “The Big Bang Theory” made an entire episode revolving around chocolate being used as positive reinforcement?
If you are a fan of the “Monster Hunter” games, I cannot guarantee that you will walk out of this movie saying it is just like the games. This sort of feels like a Michael Bay “Transformers” movie, where it is less about Transformers and more about the military and the government and how they deal with Transformers. Granted, this has a significantly tinier budget, a smaller cast, and I would even say that the military emphasis in this film is greater, because it never cuts away from the military to average civilians to Transformers doing their own s*it. One positive about the film, even though the story and characterization is lackluster, is that the film does not convolute itself with too many things going on. There is a certain beauty in the simplicity, albeit small, but it is there. If anything, this feels like “Predator” meets “Pacific Rim.” You have two worlds, one side enters the other one, and you have these soldiers trying to survive against giant creatures. Granted, both of those movies are much more watchable, but I rest my case.
In the end, “Monster Hunter” just reinforces what we have learned from “Superintelligence,” directed by Ben Falcone and starring Melissa McCarthy. If a husband and wife team direct and star in a film. Maybe it is not worth watching. I have not seen this duo’s bunch of “Resident Evil” films they did together, but I have heard from my dad that “Monster Hunter” falls in the same realm. If you want big action that falls into the guilty pleasure category, “Monster Hunter” may be for you. If you like the games and expect this film to be a solid “adaptation” of the source material, I am not sure if you will be satisfied. Yes, the effects look nice. There is some cool action. But is not enough to make a good movie. If you want to have a good time at the movies, just wait for “Wonder Woman 1984.” I have not seen it, so I cannot confirm if it is good, but it sure looks it! I’m going to give “Monster Hunter” a 4/10.
“Monster Hunter” is now playing in theaters in 2D, and is also available in premium large formats including Dolby Cinema, Cinemark XD, and IMAX.
Thanks for reading this review! Next week I will have my review up for “Wonder Woman 1984,” which will be in theatres and on HBO Max this Christmas. I also plan to watch and review “Soul” on Disney+, but I also do not plan to leave out “I’m Your Woman” on Prime Video, and “Wolfwalkers” on Apple TV+. There are also films exclusively in theaters I want to tackle such as “News of the World” starring Tom Hanks. There is a lot to watch through the holiday season so I cannot guarantee I will get to everything. But we shall see! Be sure to follow Scene Before either with an email or WordPress account so you can stay tuned for more great content! Also, check out my Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Monster Hunter?” What did you think about it? Or, have you seen any of the other video game to movie adaptations directed by Paul W.S. Anderson? Tell me your thoughts on those! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!