MONSTER HUNTER

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Paul W S Anderson

Stars: Milla Jovovich, Tony Jaa, Ron Perlman, T.I., Meagan Good, Diego Boneto, Josh Helman.

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There has been something of a stigma attached to movie adaptations of video games, especially since the stench surrounding the dire Super Mario Brothers thirty years ago. Thankfully some more recent such adaptations have been much more faithful to the source and have effectively used green screen technology and a more kinetic approach to try and replicate some of the elements of the original source. Films like the Resident Evil series, Lara Croft Tomb Raider and the recent Sonic The Hedgehog have for the most part been successful and have appeased the fans. Paul W S Anderson has been one of the few filmmakers able to bring the environment of a video game to the cinema screen – he adapted Mortal Kombat and his Resident Evil series has grossed over $1.2billion at the box office.

Anderson now turns his attention to Monster Hunter, the video game that was developed by Japanese firm Capcom in 2004. This is something of a passion project for Anderson that has been in development since 2012, and the result is a special effects heavy and kinetically edited mix of fantasy, horror and sci-fi action that remains faithful to the source. Anderson worked closely with the game’s creators Ryozo Tsujimoto and Kaname Fujoka to ensure that most elements of the film – especially the look of the landscapes and the monsters themselves – are accurately drawn from the source material.

Some of the material is also a little reminiscent of Paul Verhoeven’s 1997 action fantasy Starship Troopers or 2000’s Pitch Black.

The film opens with a military unit on routine patrol in a desert region searching for another unit that has seemingly disappeared. The unit is commanded by Army Ranger Captain Natalie Artemis (Milla Jovovich), a character created specifically for this film version. The unit is engulfed by a mysterious and huge electric storm that transports them through a portal and dumps them into a strange alien desert world of primitive landscapes and populated by fearsome reptilian behemoths that are indestructible to modern weaponry. Artemis is the sole survivor after the unit is attacked by nasty creatures that emerge from under the sand and takes refuge inside a cave.

There she meets the titular monster hunter (played by Asian martial arts star Tony Jaa, from Ong Bak, etc), who has been stranded in this world for some time and who reluctantly becomes her ally in the desperate fight for survival. Artemis and the anonymous hunter have little in common but have to learn to communicate and cooperate if they are to survive. The pair manage to cobble together some steampunk weaponry. The pair then have to make their way across the formidable landscape and survive vicious attacks from the CGI-generated prehistoric creatures that inhabit this world and reach a sinister edifice known as the Sky Tower that somehow connects her world with this strange alien dimension. There Artemis will be able to open the portal and return to her world. But first she has to defeat a fire breathing dragon.

The usual problem with most video game adaptations is that, while Anderson is able to recreate many of the encounters from the game itself, the film fails to replicate the actual gaming experience itself. With game playing each time you play the experience and outcome is different, whereas watching the film version unfold is a more passive experience.

The look of Monster Hunter is certainly distinctive – as much as the landscapes of Monument Valley played a key role in the westerns of John Wayne and John Ford, so to does the harsh desert landscape and mountainous terrain here becomes a character in the drama. Much of the film was shot on remote locations in South Africa and Namibia, and there is some great cinematography from Glen MacPherson. And the design of some of the hybrid monsters is quite grotesque.

The action is nonstop but is also a little repetitive and derivative in nature. It is also directed with the usual lack of subtlety and in the frenzied fashion that has become Anderson’s calling card.  And the sound mix has been cranked up to the max, unleashing an aural assault on the senses.

There is little character development to speak of here, but Jovovich, the star of Anderson’s Resident Evil series, has the requisite physicality for the role, and she handles the action stuff with ease. Martial arts star Jaa is also perfectly cast as the taciturn titular character and has plenty of charisma and energy. But the chemistry between the pair is almost non-existent and their prickly relationship is often played for laughs. Ron Perlman (Hellboy, etc) merely phones in his performance as the Admiral, a veteran monster hunter who delivers some much-needed exposition, but his presence is largely wasted.

Very little of this makes sense for the uninitiated. Monster Hunter is popcorn entertainment purely for the fans of the game. Anyone unfamiliar with the source may be a little underwhelmed by it all.

But you’ve got to admire Anderson’s optimism too as he clearly expects this to launch yet another successful franchise for him and the missus.

★★

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