Monster Hunter is one of my favorite series. It’s second only to Pokémon in sheer volume of monsters and focus on them, and unlike Pokémon, I actually still play the games. So when I saw there was going to be a movie, I knew that I had to watch it. And here’s where I get my biases out of the way; I also expected it to be bad. There were plenty of warning signs. For one, it was directed by Paul W. S. Anderson, the guy who made all the awful Resident Evil movies. Anderson isn’t a very good director. He uses shaky cam and slow motion to cover up his bad action, and he doesn’t care if his scripts are complete gibberish so long as they put his wife in sexy outfits. He has also permanently maimed a stuntwoman and killed a stuntman with his cost-cutting and sloppiness. I do not like him professionally or as a person.
The second thing that stood out was the addition of our real world into Monster Hunter’s lore. For those who didn’t read any of my other articles on the series and don’t play the games, Monster Hunter takes place entirely within its own fictional universe. There are no travelers from our world and no reason for there to be any. Extradimensional travel isn’t totally unknown in the series, but it’s pretty much just an excuse to have crossovers. This isn’t Narnia.
So with all that said, I think I can still make a case that this movie is terrible all on its own merits. Let’s start with characters and story structure, the meat and bones of the script. Well, saying the movie has any characters is kind of a stretch. Our starting cast is blatantly slated for death from the moment you see them, lacking anything resembling defining characteristics or personalities. You won’t feel anything as they are picked off by a raging Black Diablos and ravenous Nerscylla. The only thing that sets our lead Artemis apart is that she’s played by the director’s wife, so you know she’s the main character.
The natives of Monster Hunter’s world are given no more development. There are vague intimations that Tony Jaa’s character has a family that he misses, but the fact that he speaks another language means the amount he can communicate about himself is limited. Jaa’s performance is engaging for what he’s given, but he can only do so much with what amounts to no dialogue. The only character who can speak English is the Admiral, played by Ron Pearlman, and he gets nothing to work with either. All of his lines are the most basic possible exposition.
This issue with making the actual Monster Hunter characters not speak English leaks into the story structure as well. The only advantage I can see to making the main character from our world is to have an audience stand-in who doesn’t know anything about the Monster Hunter universe, letting them explain things to an audience who hasn’t played the games. I expected them to do this, even if I think there are better ways to explain your world. Instead, we spend most of the movie with a character who can’t explain anything about the world and when we get one who can, he doesn’t. If somebody goes in with no knowledge of the series, they will leave just as ignorant.
This leaves the world we see not the rich, strange one of the actual series, but an indistinct and generic one. The Black Diablos is reduced to a mindlessly aggressive monster. We don’t get to learn that it’s in the throes of what is effectively its equivalent of an elephant’s musth, a violent rage brought on by the mating season. Rathalos is equally lacking in personality and context. The most famous feature of Rathalos is its power couple dynamic with Rathian, its female counterpart, but Rathian is completely missing from the movie. The flagship monster of the series is reduced to a pawn guarding a McGuffin.
Especially annoying to me, Nerscylla, one of my favorite monsters, is unrecognizable, turned into a thoroughly forgettable swarm of generic spiders. And despite their venom being shown effective on Diablos and them being ravenously hungry to the point of nonsense, they never go out to hunt the Diablos. Instead they just keep trying to catch two humans who won’t provide enough meat for more than about three of them. What hints of a complex ecology we get in the games is completely missing here.
This leaves the action. If all somebody wants out of the movie is some dumb monster action, perhaps they will be satisfied. The multiple skirmishes with Black Diablos are actually pretty good, selling just what an unstoppable brute it is. Having some pointless extras to off lets it really wreak some havoc, and it can be fun to watch. Unfortunately, the rest of the action is lacking.
The fights between humans seem like they might have some decent martial arts and stunts, but it’s hard to tell because they’re all shot in the dark from about a foot away, then edited by a butcher high on bath salts. It’s not fun to look at and you’re going to spend most of the time just trying to read what they’re doing instead of being impressed by the physicality of the actors. It’s a shame, because both Tony Jaa and Milla Jovovich seem to actually be very physically capable. Maybe one or the other couldn’t do some of the stunts and that’s why it was cut so badly?
I also found the fights with other monsters unsatisfying, but perhaps that’s just me? Some people might get a kick out of the scene where Rathalos casually demolishes the army trying to fight it, and the Nerscylla could work as a low-grade Starship Troopers knockoff if you’re into that. I just found that nobody was doing anything interesting, and Anderson was trying to hide that with slow motion and explosions. Especially odd was the fact that they didn’t use the canon weaknesses of the major monsters. Diablos is notoriously weak to sonic weapons and Rathalos to flash bombs, but the movie instead invents an entirely new weakness for Rathalos. It’s weird, but hey, the movie doesn’t care about the series, so I don’t know what I expected.
If you just want to get drunk and watch people get killed by monsters, this movie might work for you. If you want anything like the series, or a good movie in general, watch something else.