Monster Hunter

As someone who finally got into Paul Wesley Snipes Anderson’s RESIDENT EVIL series pretty close to when it was finally wrapping up, I was thrilled to hear that the director and his wife/star Milla Jovovich (HELLBOY, not the Ron Perlman one) had purchased the film rights to a fresh new video game franchise copyright property trademark. Without any judgment on (or implied knowledge of) the respective video games, I feel that there is potential for a series called MONSTER HUNTER about monsters and hunters who hunt monsters to be better than one about zombies and umbrellas or whatever. And I loved that one!

So I had planned to see this Toho co-production based on the works of Capcom in the biggest, if emptiest theater in Seattle, until shit (the pandemic) happened and that was not possible for me. But as soon as they made it available for digital “purchase” I paid the four-or-five-dollars-more-than-the-movie-ticket-would’ve-cost and now that file access is MINE.

It begins in a world of fantasy. Pirate ships are sailing through sand. Ron Perlman (HELLBOY, the Ron Perlman one) is there. Tony Jaa (KILL ZONE 2) is there. Monsters attack. Tony gets knocked off the boat. It is sand, so he doesn’t drown, but he’s left behind.

Then we switch to a different desert, the type in our world, in our time. It even has latitude and longitude listed on screen. I think they might mention directions and clicks at some point if you want to check your map and follow along at home.

I remember seeing that fans of the video game were mad that the movie involves American soldiers when the games take place entirely in a fantasy world of magic, wonder, etc. Wikipedia says Anderson got the army idea from “a crossover event in the game Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker with Monster Hunter Freedom Unite in 2010, in which a military squad briefly faced monsters from the Monster Hunter series.” Obviously. Duh. But I think it’s a fair complaint, whether it’s coming from gamer purists or people wondering why even a movie about swords and dragons has to show off American military equipment. So I am happy to declare this particular depiction of the US military not propaganda. In fact, I would argue that there’s a little bit of anti-militarism subtext here.

I didn’t catch her name until the end, but Jovovich plays Captain Natalie Artemis of the US Army, leading a small squad on a search for a previous squad that disappeared (hopefully while searching for a previous squad that disappeared while searching for a previous squad that disappeared, etc.). Asked by one of her soldiers about the rows of giant engraved stone markers their convoy passes, Artemis quips, “I’m a ranger, not an archaeologist.”

This incuriosity will cause problems: turns out those things are a magic portal to a land of giant monsters. Whoops. There’s some lightning and they wake up in a strange landscape but at first they choose to believe they just got lost during a storm. You know how sometimes you just get turned around and end up in a place where there’s a skeleton bigger than a dinosaur skeleton.

Oh well. They just keep driving and Artemis taps a beat on the top of the humvee and Lincoln (Tip “T.I.” Harris, CUT THROAT CITY) leads them all in an army song. Macho bonding. I love how it cuts directly from that to a shot of Tony Jaa with his fantasy outfit and haircut and giant bow and arrow, looking down from a stone arch, the score by Paul Haslinger (DEATH RACE, DEATH RACE 2, THE THREE MUSKETEERS) busting out the retro synth riffs. It’s such a jarring cut that it’s perfect. They have no clue that they have no clue what they’ve gotten themselves into.

Jaa’s unnamed character (credited as Hunter) tries to warn them of an approaching monster, a giant horned thing called a Diablos – they don’t get it, and shoot at him. Just like Americans. After they’ve survived one skirmish with the Diablos Artemis says, “I don’t care what that thing is, we do what we do best, we fight and we survive!”

But through the course of the movie she’ll have to care what that thing is. She’ll have to learn what the different monsters are, their abilities and weaknesses. These ones don’t come into light. They inject paralytic poison into you. These ones come out from the sand if they feel vibrations. These ones breathe fire and they’re only vulnerable right before that. Learn those things or perish.

T.I. is pretty fun doing a macho thing. I like when he’s told Artemis has no pulse, and he says, “Unacceptable. Try it again.” And it’s cool to have MC Jin (GALLANTS, THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS) in there because he is literally a video game character from Def Jam: Fight For New York. Meanwhile, Meagan Good (YOU GOT SERVED, BRICK, WAIST DEEP, SHAZAM!) seems pretty wasted to me, playing a role that I think would normally go to someone with much less experience. But the supporting cast is somewhat irrelevant, because most of this movie is just about Milla and Tony, and that’s great. That’s what I want.

Artemis finds herself in a couple different underground hideouts. One belongs to STARSHIP TROOPERS-esque bug monsters, when she busts out of a disgusting, slimy cocoon thing. A good gross-out section that’s more ALIENy than Anderson’s official ALIEN movie from what I remember. The other belongs to the hunter, who doesn’t trust her and captures her.

He’s not nice to her. He drinks water in front of her. When she manages to escape and turn the tables he knocks the water over before she can drink it. Still, it’s a particularly American-imperialist type of thing she does to get back at him: she remembers seeing him pray at a shrine with little figurines and candles, so she knocks it over. It later turns out to be a shrine to his family, not any gods, but it’s clearly sacred to him, and the moment she realizes that she uses it as a pressure point. Cold.

These are two people from different worlds. She covers her wound with gunpowder, he covers his with algae. But their shared danger in this land of giant monsters forces them to work together, then learn from each other, then like each other. For a while it honestly turns into HELL IN THE PACIFIC with giant monsters. They’re speaking different languages but managing to communicate a little, bickering a little in funny ways, but learning to be a team. They both get turns being cool and being goofy. Jaa gets to do lots of flying attacks and even what I think of as kind of a Milla trademark: a limbo duck under a giant monster’s tail.

One more example of this being about American invaders in a foreign land: she butters up his heart and mind by giving him a chocolate bar! It’s pretty powerful to be able to give a couple squares of Hershey’s to someone from a world where chocolate does not exist. We should probly keep that in mind if aliens ever show up.

My only concern going into this was that for RESIDENT EVIL’s final chapter, RESIDENT EVIL: THE FINAL CHAPTER, Anderson got into a disorienting shakycam style that made it the worst of the series. Fortunately he seems to have gotten most of that out of his system, the exception being, unfortunately, in the one scene where Jaa and Jovovich fight each other. Anderson’s camera wobbles around and literally cuts for each movement. Punch – cut – kick – cut – punch – cut – punch – cut – roll- cut – kick – cut. I guess since that’s his wife and he’s directed her in many good action scenes before he must’ve not felt like he could make her look good if he staged it clearly, but it’s too bad. I think a good fight scene with Tony Jaa is an honor Milla deserves. Oh well. The rest of the movie is much better crafted, and it’s more fun to see these two as a buddy team anyway. They have a good chemistry.

A couple odd video game things:

1) I love when she’s walking through the boat and she sees a small humanoid cat cooking meat on a grill and she just says “WHAT?” Later it makes sexually harassy faces at her and she laughs.

2) I read that Milla played the games and chose which weapons she wanted her character to use. She’s playing a customized character! That’s why there’s a part where she learns how to cross two blades and make a magic fire beam or whatever.

In the end, as you’d expect, there’s a BEASTMASTER II: THROUGH THE PORTAL OF TIME type situation. Well, not quite, she doesn’t go to the city, but she makes it back through the portal and is recovered by a military team just in time for a dragon to follow her through and destroy their helicopter. So, again, look at the subtext. Even on her home turf the military is useless. She has to use the Tony Jaa techniques and weapons she got from the other world.

The last scene plays like a redux of the end of Anderson’s own MORTAL KOMBAT: a big operatic buildup to a battle we’re about to go into that we don’t get to see yet. It’s like he got to revisit that cliffhanger finale and polish it with styles and technologies that didn’t exist back then, making it way cooler (even if we don’t get a techno song with a guy yelling “MON-STER HUN-TER!” like we obviously would prefer).

That’s a good reminder of how far things have come since that first Anderson video game adaptation 26 (!) years ago. At that time it was novel but cheesy that they used motion capture digital animation for the character of Reptile. Digital effects still seemed new and exciting and that was one of the first times that many of us realized it could be a bad idea. But now we have that same director doing a movie also based on a video game but the many strange settings and creatures look real enough that you don’t even think about how they did it. It’s a whole new ballgame console (?).

I read that an earlier script set the climactic battle at LAX, which would be cooler than the middle of nowhere, but maybe they should save that type of shit for part 4 or so. I don’t know what the math is for pandemic releases attempting to start new franchises, but I hope this one defies its probable lack of return on investment. I think it would be alot of fun to continue this series in the same manner as the RESIDENT EVILs, with frequent switching of cinematic styles, repeated painting into narrative corners and totally cheating on the followup. It doesn’t have to make much sense – in fact, it’s preferable if it doesn’t – as long as Milla gets to keep playing ever-evolving variations on this asskicker character. And I hope it stays as a partnership between her and Jaa’s Hunter until he decides he’d rather do something else.

Also he should have an elephant type monster that’s his friend.

This entry was posted on Monday, February 22nd, 2021 at 11:23 am and is filed under Action, Fantasy/Swords, Monster, Reviews, Videogame. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

19 Responses to “Monster Hunter”

  1. ” a small humanoid cat cooking meat on a grill ”

    Something tells me that moment is not as awesome as it is in the games. (Which I have never played, but I love those cat people)

    Monster Hunter World All Canteen Cutscenes

    The kitchen of monster hunter world is run by cats called palicos, palicos that helps buff our entire being to face hte monster of the world.

  2. My friend who plays Monster Hunter asked me yesterday if I heard of the movie and said he heard it sucks. My retort was it’s a game where you fight monsters. Anything above that is way more plot than the games have. I guess I can see if hardcore Monster Hunter dorks think the way they defeat the monsters is not how it is in the game or some bullshit.

  3. This movie ruled, your description of that intro with Ron Pearlman was very accurate. He might as well say “Don’t worry, I’m back later!”. It was funny to see Jaa play the oddball character, for all of his precision he did a great job at seeming human and relaxed during the calmer moments. I hope this isn’t a dumb analogy, but the dynamic between Milla and Tony Jaa kind of reminded me of Nicholson and Dern in THE KING OF MARVIN GARDENS.

    I enjoyed this very much, not quite at a Wanda Sykes level of quality but for sure on the level of a Whitman, Slim – a lot of open plains, and with a strangely-unique wavelength to it all even when solidly traditional.

    Is there a version of this with a Milla commentary anywhere? I hope she buys the rights to Parapa the Rappa or Toejam and Earl next.

  4. CJ – Looks like they recreated it pretty faithfully. They definitely have that moment of carefully putting the garnish on top.

  5. I was surprised how much i liked this movie. Lots of cool stuff in a cool world.

    One thing I liked about it was the world felt pretty prehistoric. The only sign of civilization is Ron Pearlman’s sand-ship. That had a very FINAL FANTASY feel to it by the way.

    Also, most of the monster fights were pretty epic. These things seemed really hard to take down. Lots of combinations of things and weak spots. I’m not familair at all with the game, but if these scenes are at all reminiscent of them, these games must be hard as fuck!

  6. Am glad you liked it but I couldn’t stand this one. I haven’t played the game and wasn’t in this for anything beyond a bit of silliness. But this one I found deadly dull. The first half felt like it was a bad version of Riddick. The Hell In The Pacific bit needed a lot more hell. The final third was just incoherent. I was never invested in any action scene. For trash give me Ju Jitsu.

  7. May he forever be know as Paul Wesley Snipes Anderson…

  8. Ha, nice! I hope that if they make a sequel (Who knows how they decide a movie is successful in the days of Covid?), that granny cat shows up too.

  9. In spite of it featuring every vaunted hallmark of a Paul Wife Support Anderson joint (vapid writing, insipid characters, pedestrian direction) I kinda sorta enjoyed MONSTER HUNTERS because they did a few things right:

    – Apparently there were strict instructions on set that under no circumstances was the cameraman to be sodomized while filming nor the editor in the cutting bay, leading to a clarity of shots which linger on your eyeballs long enough for your brains to process them. In other words, fuck RESIDENT EVIL 6 is what I’m saying.

    – Tony Freaking Jaa!!!!! Unlike Jiu Jitsu which trotted him out for some fancy feetwork and then disrespectfully shuffled him off screen, Jaa’s a LEGIT Co-Lead here and he and Milla spark off some nice Riggs/Murtaugh chemistry in Fantastic Beasts Land, which is saying something, given Jaa speaks in an alien language throughout and is sadly not subtitled.

    But on that I note gotta say that Ron Perlman gives one of his worst performances to date, his lethargy approaching late-Seagal levels. He gives off such strong “Rather be anywhere else but here” vibes I can imagine him complaining to Jaa off camera on why they’re not doing SKIN TRADE 2.

  10. A lot of fun has been had with the director’s name, but nobody’s mentioned that he’s from the North of England, so here I go with Paul Worcestershire Sauce Anderson.

  11. That’s a really good one, Pegsman. I’m jealous that I missed it.

  12. Well if you prefer Jiu Jitsu over Monster Hunter I’m going to assume that i’m going to quite enjoy Monster Hunter. The power of the transative properties.

  13. Jiu Jitsu is apparently coming to Netflix in late June.

    Count me in as someone who liked Monster Hunter as well. The fight editing really could be improved though.

  14. Crushinator Jones

    February 23rd, 2021 at 3:51 pm

    Haven’t seen the movie, was reading the review and considering it – then came across that Vern is a Def Jam:Fight for NY fan? You love to see it!

  15. Somehow this hasn’t been mentioned yet, but you gotta love Ron Pearlman’s hair in this!!!

  16. I very VERY VERY rarely stop watching movies before they end. But this is one of them. The feeling of “life is too short / I could be rewatching Die Hard for the 100th time instead” got too strong at the 40 minute mark and I bailed.
    No soul. No life. No interest. No fun. Mediocre cgi up the wazoo. Glad you liked it Vern, but at this point I’m inclined to say that the name “Paul Westworld Seacaptain Anderson” has officialy gone to the “avoid” list for good.

  17. Vern may be on crack, gang. Or he’s just gone soft in his old age.

    Paul What’s Subtext Anderson is the poster boy for poor editing, and this movie is no exception. Tony Scott and Transformers Man want him to hold their beers, but Paul Who Sucks Anderson rejects them with aplomb.

    If this movie had come out 15-20 years ago, I think Vern may have destroyed it. The pros, which don’t extend far beyond two likable leads, are few. The cons, which include a garbage performance from Perlman, are many. Such a sad waste of time.

  18. Watched this again yesterday. I think i like it even more now. Hope we get a sequel.

  19. Watched it yesterday and yeah, that one scene where Milla knocks over Jaa’s shrine was a real headscratcher. Not sure if it was a completely misguided attempt at “Our protagonist’s observation skills and quick thinking gave her an advantage in a fight” or a hint at her being a war criminal, who most likely hasn’t destroyed civilian’s religious icons for the first time.

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