Synopsis – When Lt. Artemis and her loyal soldiers are transported to a new world, they engage in a desperate battle for survival against enormous enemies with incredible powers. Feature film based on the video game by Capcom.
My Take – Barring a very few exceptions (like this year’s Sonic the Hedgehog), film adaptions of video games generally have a notorious reputation for being, simply put, downright terrible.
But if you could pick one filmmaker who has built his career on such adaptions, it has to be writer-director Paul W.S. Anderson, who upon becoming a success story with Mortal Kombat (1995) has spent the better part of his career steering the six-film Resident Evil franchise led by his wife Milla Jovovich, writing each entry and directing four of the lot, towards a global gross of $1.233 billion, that too despite vile critical response. Hence it made perfect sense that Capcom would also put another massively successful series for big screen adaption, in his hands, with Jovovich returning in a starring role.
Personally I enjoy director Anderson‘s films, mainly as I have come to understand that subtlety isn’t his thing, as he openly favors style and action spectacle over everything else, aiming to turn the end result, no matter how soulless, into a fun, loud, crazy and entertaining time on the lines of the source video game.
So without any surprise his latest too is exactly the type of big blockbuster spectacle one has come to expect from him. Delivering precisely on its title, the film is mainly about hunting monsters, with a little things thrown in here and there to appease fans loyal to the source material. It’s not self-aware enough to qualify as camp, or self-satisfied enough to be smug. It simply aims low and delivers, and considering the expectations attached to it, I guess that’s enough.
While the film found itself in muddy waters in China for an unnecessary inclusion of an offensive joke which by no means has any connection to the plot or anything transpiring on screen, hereby damaging its future box office prospects in the country, I for one am glad for not passing up on the opportunity to watch it on the big screen, as Diablos itself is worth every penny for admission.
The story follows Captain Natalie Artemis (Milla Jovovich), a US Army Ranger member of a United Nations military team, who along with her unit, which consists of Lincoln (Clifford “T.I.” Harris, Jr.), Dash (Meagan Good), Marshall (Diego Boneta), Steeler (Josh Helman) and Axe (Jin Au-Yeung), is deep in search for Bravo team that disappeared without a trace during patrol.
However, the mystery is solved for them when a sandstorm appears and whiskers away the whole team into a strange and hostile land filled with deadly monsters. Fortunately for Artemis, she ends up forming a begrudging alliance with the mysterious Hunter (Tony Jaa), who may hold the key to helping her get back home alive.
While the opening scene acts as a sneak peek into the fantasy world of the Capcom video game, it also establishes the film’s breakneck pace, as it zips along from action set piece to action set piece, very rarely slowing down to give room to digest. That’s for the better, here. As I mentioned above, director Anderson’s latest is exactly what you expect it to be, without any pretense. High on energy and fun, but with a pared-back simplicity in every other way.
The mythology is as uncomplicated and straightforward as its characters, that there are giant monsters and they are all bad. Director Anderson may have rebuilt the story and perspective, but there is no short-changing on the monsters. Especially in the first half hour of the film which mainly revolves around Artemis and her team getting stranded, avoiding a Diablos only to be picked off by a horde of spiders called Nerscylla, both species familiar to fans of the game, and given plenty of impressive and creepy screen time here.
The designers deserve credit for coming up with all sorts of beasts that menacingly walk or stomp through the screen. To further satisfy action fans, there’s also a lengthy fight sequence between Jaa and Jovovich that could have been pulled straight out of a 1980s martial arts comedy.
In every way, the film feels designed by someone who loves the games, and director Anderson adapts enough to create a giant sandbox in which he gets to play around however he pleases, complete with creating goofy cut scenes and spectacular showcase of monsters.
Whereas grand spectacle might be director Anderson’s wheelhouse, as one has come to know by now, writing is most certainly not. Here, the dialogue is often clunky at best and cringe-worthy in its worst moments. Character arcs or depth are nonexistent, save for a few fleeting nonverbal moments. Especially Artemis’s unit who are mostly given jokey lines and reaction shots before they’re completely dispatched.
Even the middle half seems to tank when the film decides to cram in another wave of disposable characters, and a massive exposition dump intended to wedge in all the world-building so assiduously avoided in the opening. It’s a predictable slog you’ve come to expect from director Anderson’s film, and if you’re fine with that then this one is definitely worth your time.
Performance wise, this is yet another vehicle for Milla Jovovich to show off her physical prowess as a resilient heroine that takes beating after beating from the harsh terrain and even more hellish monsters. And as always she delivers. Tony Jaa, the renowned martial artist also gets plenty of moments to show off his action chops, and surprising a humorous side too.
Ron Perlman is always a delight to watch, however, his primary role here is to spout exposition. However, Clifford “T.I.” Harris, Jr., Meagan Good, Diego Boneta, Josh Helman and Jin Au-Yeung get nothing to do here. On the whole, ‘Monster Hunter’ is a big dumb blockbuster created to provide escapism entertainment irrespective of anything else.
Directed – Paul W.S. Anderson
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 99 minutes