On paper, the latest video game (by Capcom, I’m told) turned feature film, Monster Hunter, has elements that should at least make it tolerable for me, despite the fact that it forces me to sit through yet another game adaptation by writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson (Mortal Kombat, the Resident Evil series). In case you hadn’t heard, Anderson is married to actress Milla Jovovich, so she is frequently featured in his works, including this one, in which she plays Lt. Artemis, who leads a group of dedicated soldiers (including ones played by T.I., Meghan Good, and Diego Boneta) into the desert in search of the previous group who went into the region to investigate some strange goings-on and never came back. They find tire tracks that seem to end suddenly and are left perplexed.
The group is suddenly set upon by a massive sandstorm, which they attempt to escape. But within the wall of swirling sand, strange blue lightning strikes all around them, and when the storm is gone, they have been transported to a much different stretch of sand where gigantic monsters live under the ground, ready to pop out and eat you at the slightest vibration. But when the soldiers make it to a seemingly safe patch of land, they discover that at night, the location becomes swarmed by oversized spiders with scorpion-like stingers also interested in turning you into a snack. Luckily, Artemis discovers a human survivor in the area who doesn’t speak English and ends up going only by The Hunter (the Thai martial arts master Tony Jaa).
The Hunter trains Artemis on the ways of fighting the local species and even shows her how it may be possible to kill the larger, sand-dwelling creatures. Over the course of this part of the film, Artemis and The Hunter attempt to teach each other parts of their language, so that we can have a laugh over misunderstandings throughout the film. There’s a strange turn when what would have been the climax in any other film turns out to be about the two-thirds point in Monster Hunter, and only then are we reintroduced to a character we met in a quick pre-credits sequence, the Admiral (and The Hunter’s boss), played by the lovely and talented Ron Perlman, and a few other members of his team, who eventually become eager to get Artemis back to her world while also stopping their world’s monsters from crossing over into our world via a time-space rift. Got it? Now explain it to me. I may have been drunk, but I think there’s also a human-size cat person in this movie.
There’s nothing especially original about Monster Hunter as a creature feature or a buddy movie or a fish-out-of-water story. At this point with these second-tier genre titles, we all understand that no character’s life is sacred, so no one should be shocked when someone important dies. More importantly, and a big reason the film is watchable on any level, Jovovich and Jaa’s time on screen takes up the bulk of the film; it’s funny and exciting, and it lends a welcome personal touch to the standard-issue big action moments. Even still, Anderson isn’t a talented enough filmmaker to make us believe something is good and worth watching when it isn’t.
I spent large portions of Monster Hunter being bored, uninspired and waiting for the banter to be over and the climactic dragon creature to come out of hiding and burn it all to the ground. It’s not even that I disliked this movie, but it did bother me how utterly predictable, unoriginal, and staggeringly familiar everything felt. I expect better than that from even the hackiest scam artist, but Anderson never fails to let us down in some way. The creature designs are promising without being special, which is a perfect description of how I viewed this movie as well.
Monster Hunters opens Friday in theaters, wherever theaters are open.
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