Anything I know about the “Monster Hunter” video game series is found in Paul W.S. Anderson’s big-screen version of the franchise, “Monster Hunter.” There will be reviewers who will tell you who these characters are, or what’s wrong with the “new world” where monsters exist, or why all of us in the “old world” should be concerned about them, Although the detail is not provided in this visually fascinating but narratively anemic film (or the press releases, for that matter), so please accept my apologies in advance. This analysis is likely to be as cohesive as the film itself.
Milla Jovovich, who is married to Anderson and appeared in six of his “Resident Evil” movies (four of which he directed), finished up the franchise a few years ago and could use another. Here she’s playing the U.S. Army Ranger (the papers refer to her as “Lt. Artemis,” but her squad calls her “captain”) on some U.N. Task to trace the loss of the Bravo Squad. They were missing in the middle of the desert somewhere in “our world”—according to the coordinates given on-screen (latitude: 33° 56′ 2.54′′ N, longitude: 67° 42′′ 12.35′ N), it’s the location of the Sheep and Chicken Store in Ghawcqol, Afghanistan, while South Africa provides the other-dimensional areas of the film.
Suddenly, a dark C.G. sandstorm emerges on the horizon, flashing blue lightning and closing quickly. The digital phenomenon overtakes Artemis and her unit (a short-lived bunch that includes Tip “T.I.” Harris), transporting them, Dorothy style, to another desert—one that appears like Middle Earth, with only much whiter sand. A Mordor-like “Sky Tower” is looming in the distance.
Artemis and her unit are driving around a little, humming until they’re on a massive skeleton. Whatever that creature may have been, it was so tall. And when he ate, it was a lot bigger.
It won’t take long for Artemis and her squad to encounter this freaky sand-swimming reptile, who is a pretty awesome C.G. creature, “Diablo.” That’s what the Thai martial arts star Tony Jaa (who’s just named “Hunter”) calls half an hour later, but first, Diablo has to gobble, stomp and impale a few Artemis guys. They sprint to the cliffs, where some giant bug creatures attack (they look like the monsters in the vintage Vin Diesel movie “Pitch Black”).
There are more gobbling, stomping, and impaling. This is the location where Ranger Artemis meets Hunter No-Name. The two don’t talk the same language, and the chemistry between them is… uncomfortable. The battle, then join forces, upgrade to larger arms. Their goal is to enter the Sky Tower, which is to cross the desert of Diablo.
So you’re not reading this overview story analysis, are you? “Monster Hunter” is one of the few comparatively significant launches of the 2020 budget that has not been forced off the calendar by the “China virus” (though it has been pushed off the schedule by the Chinese government, Driven from theatres in that country for a racial joke that has since been edited out of the film). I can think of some more stuff that could be left out of the script, but it might be a lot more cohesive if Anderson and editor Doobie White wanted to add some scenes back in.
As a filmmaker, Anderson has a take-it-or-leave-it approach that confuses many. Still, he pleases enough to maintain a career in hyper-visual effects-heavy movies that play like feature-length trailers: “Event Horizon,” “Alien vs. Predator,” “Pompeii” and the four above-mentioned “Resident Evil” movies. “Monster Hunter” is no different except that it marches forward at a smooth pace, with all but the most rudimentary plot descriptions to enhance the viewers’ enthusiasm. In other words, it was striking designs and carnage. Much of the time, during action sequences, you can’t say what’s going on. Still, it seems to make sense to the actors. The overripe sound design (which sounds like someone assaulting a baseball bat sofa or breaking a grocery store) provides a sort of continuity by Cuisinart’s cutting. A little more of a plot: after beating Diablo, the Ranger and the Hunter enter an oasis where they come across a few more monster races, as well as another squad that looks like pirates headed by Ron Perlman, the “Hellboy” actor whose appearance gives the project a weird kind of credibility.
If I had to guess, I’d suggest that Perlman’s character, the Admiral—and his mostly nameless fellow pirates, including a human-sized C.G. cat—are presumably monster game hunters. At the same time, Jovovich is somebody who’s been invented for the movie. Maybe they were all invented. It doesn’t matter because they’re barely eligible as characters.
Artemis has some numbers tattooed on the back of her neck and keeps a ring with the word “Forever” etched inside the circle, but that’s all we hear about her. Admiral’s squad appears like they mean business, even though they vanish somewhere during the showdowns with the Rathalos, a soaring, fire-breathing supermonster, so they can’t be that important. Between the moment Artemis and Admiral set off for the Sky Tower and the scene where they got there, Anderson gives us three long-distance beauty shots covering about the same distance Peter Jackson took to the “Lord of the Rings” movie.
This guy might say “Around the World in the Eighty Days” in 80 seconds. So he’s not an Uwe Boll (another video game director with an even worse track record). A better comparison would be Justin Kurzel, who made the movie “Assassin’s Creed.” Tiny “Monster Hunter” makes sense, but it’s at least visually entertaining and not fun to stream at home with a friend, ask questions and crack jokes along the way.