Friday, April 19, 2024

Whatever Wednesday: ‘Monster Hunter’

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Monster Hunter is an unreasonably fun movie about people fighting monsters with only the barest hint of caring why. It’s what I’d call a Channel 62 classic. These movies would air on television on a Saturday afternoon and were every bit as dear to me as the so-called serious classics. 

I’m not the biggest fan of Paul W.S. Anderson, but I have to say that Monster Hunter is far and away one of his best. It looks the best, anyway. He also wrote the screenplay, an adaptation of the videogame. 

Anderson’s script could fit on the back of a cocktail napkin. Captain Natalie Artemis (Milla Jovovich) and her platoon of Army Rangers find themselves whisked away to a strange alien planet during a sand storm. Rightfully, the squadron is confused, and things don’t get any clearer when giant bug-like creatures burst from the desert.

From there is all rat-a-tat-tat and, “This s*it is officially above my paygrade.” Though sadly, most of Artemis’s squad is wiped out, including Dash (Meagan Good). Killing off the charismatic and entertaining Good less than thirty minutes into the film is one of the film’s great miscalculations. But it recovers nicely by giving us Tony Jaa and Ron “The Face” Pearlman, so it ends in a wash.

Monster Hunter is the best use of Jaa in America that I’ve seen. Jaa spends the film largely silent, though when he does speak, it is in an alien language. His personality is utilized as well as his physicality. 

Just as Monster Hunter begins to hit the point of checking your watch, Anderson introduces Pearlman. Not since Robert Mitchum has an actor had such a perfect face, in or out of prosthetics. Pearlman shows up and does his Pearlman thing, and we eat it up. 

Well, I did anyway.

Anderson may not be the most visual director, but his work with effects is impressive. Most of Monster Hunter takes place during the day, and to do as much CGI as he does in the bright sunlight as he does, shows not just confidence but competence and ease with computer effects. Not to mention the scenes where Artemis is in the underground bug hive. Their dark, but not so dark we can’t see anything. I’ve seen mega-corporate IP franchise pictures that couldn’t pull that off.

Thankfully, Anderson never feels the need to find convoluted ways for Jovovich and Jaa to be anything other than begrudging allies. I liked how their friendship wasn’t immediate. It’s a barren alien world filled with man-eating monsters with people from other worlds dropping from the sky. The environment does not lend itself to trusting strangers.

But most of all, I appreciated how Anderson gave us a sci-fi/fantasy creature movie without referencing other movies. Monster Hunter is unconcerned with pop-culture references or sick needle drops. In a way, it makes the film almost refreshing.

Monster Hunter is, at times, disgusting fun. One scene has one of Artemis’s comrades discovering that the itch he has is really bug eggs hatching. Not the most original way to go in a monster movie, but effective nonetheless.

Jovovich spends big chunks of the movie by herself. She carries the movie and holds her own in the fights against Jaa. It is a reminder that there is a reason why there are so many Resident Evil movies. Jovovich seems to be having a good time as well as displaying a delightful relish as she kills bug-like monsters.

Unlike most videogame moves, Monster Hunter doesn’t get lost in explaining the lore or even trying to justify why any of this is even happening. It just throws its characters into a scene with monsters, and away we go. I loved it for that.

Image courtesy of Screen Gems

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