Certain directors carry with them a certain weight of expectation. Paul WS Anderson isn’t really one of those directors. The British filmmaker has never really concerned himself with the thoughts of critics – but perhaps that’s because, on the whole, he doesn’t make very good movies. His latest is no exception.
Monster Hunter, an adaptation of the long-running video game series of the same name, is a fantasy action movie brimming with ideas, but one that never quite brings them all together in a meaningful way. This is a movie in which Milla Jovovich (the Resident Evil franchise, of which husband Anderson directed four instalments) fights big monsters with a big sword. It should be a lot of fun, and it’s disappointing that it isn’t. Monster Hunter certainly isn’t without its merits, but on the whole it’s something of a dud.
In the Monster Hunter games, the player takes the role of a Hunter tasked with killing monsters terrorising locals – think Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but with more beasties. In theory, this should make a good movie – but it’s too simple for Anderson, who decides that what his screenplay needs is some uninteresting US army soldiers who find themselves displaced into the world of the monster hunters for some reason. Led by Jovovich’s Captain Artemis (an early contender for most ridiculous character name of 2021), the group must fight to get home before one of the many monsters gets to them first.
At least that’s the plot of the first 40 minutes, because one of the strangest things about Monster Hunter is that it’s like three different movies squished into one. Each act feels like it could be its own 90-minute movie, but because they’re cramped together, none of them gets anywhere near enough development. It’s a strange screenwriting choice from Anderson, and results in the whole film feeling disjointed.
Some decent characters would be a saving grace, but sadly you won’t find any here. The cast are mostly fine – Jovovich is fun, and Tony Jaa is clearly having a great time – but they’re not given anything of note to work with. Ron Perlman is the most hard done by; he appears for about three seconds in the film’s prologue, disappears for the next 70 minutes, and looks extremely bored as he spouts some vague exposition at Jovovich (“It’s vulnerable right before it breathes fire”? What does that even mean?).
Having said that, it isn’t all bad. The creatures are particularly impressive, and do feel like big threats when they need to thanks to some great designs and solid visual effects. They’re helped along by Paul Haslinger’s genuinely incredible score, which balances synths and strings in a way that most composers don’t manage to – it’s a score that honestly belongs in a much better movie.
It’s also mostly a decent-looking flick, with some nice locations and largely solid action scenes making up for a smidge of the boredom – but even here, there are exceptions. The big final act changes location halfway through from somewhere visually interesting to somewhere dull, and there isn’t really an excuse for it. There are also a handful of particularly awfully edited hand-to-hand combat scenes scattered throughout; if you thought Bourne was bad, just you wait.
It’s a shame, because Monster Hunter could have at least been a fun, dumb action movie, but what we’re left with is a messy and uninteresting flick that’s too afraid to go full camp and have fun with itself. Still, we can be thankful it’s only 93 minutes long – it won’t waste too much of your time, at least.Monster Hunter is in cinemas from June 18th.