For the uninitiated, Monster Hunter has been a popular franchise for Capcom since 2004, depicting a pre-industrial world where monsters dwell and players take on the role of the titular Hunter to track down and kill a menagerie of strange and deadly beasts. Especially given the huge success of Monster Hunter: World in 2018, which reinvigorated the series on modern consoles, it’s not hard to see why both Capcom and Sony thought there was cinematic gold in them thar monster-filled hills, especially when their previous pairing on Resident Evil seemed to work out well for both. (At least commercially, as the Resident Evil franchise has been largely critically panned but earned $1.2 billion worldwide, making it the highest-grossing film series based on a video game.)
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As such, it’s also easy to see why they took the plunge on Anderson’s vision, and why his wife Milla Jovovich, who previously headlined the Resident Evil movies (most recently in 2017’s abysmal Resident Evil: The Final Chapter), was enlisted into the lead role of badass UN military commander Natalie Artemis. The problem, in addition to Artemis being a wholly original creation unconnected to the game and thus a strange person to ask fans to get on board with as the main character, is that “badass soldier” is where her character development began and ended. How do we know Artemis is a badass? Because she dismissively calls the men under her command “ladies.” Get it? Because she’s a girl! What a badass. Oh, she also has a wedding ring she keeps in her pocket and occasionally gazes at longingly, but don’t worry: it won’t matter in even the slightest way.
Artemis and her team (including actors Tip “T.I.” Harris and Meagan Good, among others) are on a mission in an anonymous stretch of desert for the United Nations when a mystical portal shunts them over to another dimension. There, they’re beset by a Black Diablos before ending up facing Nerscylla. It’s not long before attrition and Darwinism leads to Milla becoming the Final Girl, at which point she finally makes the acquaintance of the Hunter, played by renowned martial artist Tony Jaa (Ong Bak).
Okay, so here’s a big problem: Tony Jaa is clearly the lead. Or at least he should be. That’s no slight on Jovovich’s action or acting chops, both of which are fine, but it is an acknowledgment that, within the world of the story, the actual Monster Hunter should be our central focus in a movie called, y’know, Monster Hunter.But by resting the story on Artemis, who is herself not particularly interesting, we’re looking at the Hunter from the outside in, and we never get a sense of his motivations beyond immediate survival. And while this is obviously meant as an “origin” of sorts to see Artemis take on that Monster Hunter role (we even get a hurried training montage), that journey doesn’t feel particularly earned or necessary, nor does it culminate meaningfully. And the limited amount of screentime given to Jaa just draws attention to a more interesting story we’re not getting.
Also not helping is the language barrier between Artemis and Hunter as they try to work together, leading to long stretches of the two communicating in grunts and glances. Then Ron Perlman shows up. (Yep, Hellboy is in this too!) And though we see him (and Jaa) briefly in the prologue, Perlman’s arrival about two-thirds of the way in (as a character from the games called the Admiral) still manages to feel completely tonally dissonant from everything we’ve seen before, bordering on high camp as opposed to what seemed to be an earnest but failed attempt at a serious story.
And truth told, if this was 100 minutes of campy Ron Perlman in a bad anime wig, it might have worked better. But his appearance here, speaking perfect English (he made a study of it, you see, from previous Earth people who came through the portal, you see) makes you wonder why they’d wait so long to add the one character who can meaningfully lay out the world and its rules (none of which make very much sense anyway) for the audience. As it is, most will likely have lost interest well before that point.
What follows is a final showdown with a lot of dodgy CGI, quick-cuts, and some mystic hugger-mugger about closing the portal between the two worlds because, as Perlman makes clear, he doesn’t want Earth folks ending up over there making a mess of things (which, not for nothing, feels like missing the forest for the trees considering his world is the one with all the ravenous monsters that immediately made a mess of Artemis’ team). In the end, we have a dull-looking film that pays lip service to its underlying source material while striving mightily to make it palatable to a larger audience it seems doubtful will even show up. So, who is this movie aimed at?
Every IGN Monster Hunter Review