East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

School of hard knocks: Monster Hunter (2020)

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I did not have great expectations when I started watching Monster Hunter, the 2020 movie based on a popular videogame property by Capcom. I never played the videogames, and I had a very sketchy idea of the setup. All I knew was there is Milla Jovovich in it – and I quite like her – and that it was written and directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, a man that should be hanged and quartered for what he did to the Three Musketeers.
So, you get an idea of what I was expecting.

The basic premise: a team of ranger corps somewhere in Afghanistan (judging by the coordinates given on screen), fall into a space-time anomaly and end-up on a desert world where huge monsters proceed to make dead meat of all of them, except for their commanding officer, Captain Artemis. Striking an uneasy alliance with a local hunter (martial artist Tony Jaa), Artemis tries to stay alive and make sense of where she is.

And that’s basically it.

Monster Hunter offers us a sort-of planetary romance venue, and opens with a premise that’s close to old man Burroughs’ classic: an earthling dropped in the midst of an alien world filled with monsters.
A story would have been nice, but as it is the series of set-pieces we’re offered work just fine.
Milla Jovovich is more than adequate to the part, and is always a pleasure to watch – we feel a bit of pity for the poor girl, whose fate seems to be to be thrown into hellholes filled with hostile critters and have to kick her way out of there. But she can do it, and it’s fun to follow her.
This being a Japanese property, the heroes wield swords that look like surfboards, on fire, and that’s OK.
There’s lots of explosions, people being thrown across the desert by hard knocks, and military-grade hardware being mangled by giant monsters. It’s what we came to see, and it’s what we were given, and it’s fine.

My friend Lucy called this “Anderson’s take on Hell in the Pacific“, and that’s indeed the structure of the first two thirds of the film – and the first two thirds of the film are the best part. The raw, almost dialog-free scenes with the two leads facing the monsters are effective and entertaining.
As soon as Ron Perlman (in an embarrassing wig) steps into the scene to provide exposition, the movie loses momentum, and turns into More of the Same, Episode Sixteen.

Which is a pity, because the set-up has a lot of potential, Jovovich and Jaa are good, and we’d like to see more of the cat-folk (it’s Japanese, it has to have cat-people in it). The finale sets up a possible sequel, complete with Mysterious Guy in a Hood(R), and it’s likely we’ll get one: it’s not like Anderson has any shame when it comes to milk a successful game-based property.

All in all, a fun time-waster that is (mostly) entertaining, and if it sags at the bottom, it does not overstay its welcome.
Anderson still deserves to be hanged and quartered for what he did to the Three Musketeers.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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