Review by C.J. Bunce
Possibly the biggest surprise of Resident Evil director Paul W.S. Anderson’s latest action spectacle Monster Hunter is that Milla Jovovich isn’t the title character. That role goes to Furious 7’s Tony Jaa, a Mandalorian-meets-Bone Tomahawk or Predators brand of survivor and monster hunter, who Jovovich and a band of soldiers in our time meet after they get sucked into a portal to a very different place. The plot of this latest adaptation of a video game series is like Planet of the Apes, with a team falling into a world of beasts that are a cross of Jurassic Park and Starship Troopers. It has a Ray Harryhausen look, which is good for those who like vintage monster nostalgia, but perhaps not so good for those after impeccable, cutting-edge visual effects. In the opening scenes we meet Jovovich as Captain Artemis, a believable unit commander leading soldiers in Humvees looking for a missing squad. For the most part this is a showcase of the Resident Evil heroine in action mode with bits of goofy humor, with Jaa’s Hunter showing off his stealth survival. But really it’s about framing the star actress in increasingly cooler action shots. Monster Hunter is now streaming on Starz, Hulu, and other platforms, and you might want to check it out.
The twisted world of this story has elements in common with that of John Carter or Flash Gordon or Waterworld, complete with Ron Perlman as a ship skipper on a vessel traversing a vast sea of sand, not water. Those creatures in the sand aren’t the best we’ve seen but good enough, more exciting then their brethren in Dune. Anderson knows how to adapt games to movies, with an arsenal of films in his corner that he wrote and/or directed, from several Resident Alien films to Mortal Kombat. Plus add in Event Horizon and Alien vs. Predator and its easy to see how he was tapped for a big-budget, kaiju-style feast for the eyes. Art director Guy Potgieter (District 9, Dark Tower, Resident Evil, Homeland), with production designer Edward Thomas (Doctor Who, Sherlock) has this looking at times like Jurassic Park creations with some nicely realized dino-monster Starship Trooper-level battles realized by special effects studio Mr. X VFX.
Where did this world come from and why? Is it another Stargate? Plot points suggest a tie to the ancient past as in Jovovich’s The Fifth Element. Ultimately it’s a mix of folklore like Grimm, with stranger and stranger new elements unfurled along the journey–the peak being a cat-man pirate called Palico and a dragon with a Jaws-like vendetta against Captain Artemis. A brief bit with Artemis coming to the aid of the Hunter hints at a chummy Enemy Mine-inspired plot thread, but unfortunately nothing comes of it. In the final scene audiences get what they want, a team-up of the best of the show’s heroes, but it’s all just a set-up for a sequel, along with a nifty coda for those who enjoyed what they just watched.
Keep an eye out for soldiers played by Ant-Man’s Tip T.I. Harris, Shazam!’s Meagan Good, X-Men: Days of Future Past’s Josh Helman, Terminator: Dark Fate’s Diego Boneta, and 2 Fast 2 Furious’s Jin Au-Yeung.
It has its fun parts, like Jaa’s Hunter using Jovovich’s character as bait for the monsters. Monster Hunter is better than Jovovich’s last big fantasy outing in Hellboy, but at times Anderson seems to lose his direction and it veers toward the noisy mess of I, Frankenstein. The bottom line? Audiences will know if this is for them in the first 15 minutes. Primarily for fans of Jovovich action flicks, of video games and video game tie-in movies, Monster Hunter is streaming now on Starz and other video platforms.