After parlaying Capcom's "Resident Evil" into the most successful videogame film franchise in history, coining slightly more than $1.2 billion at the box office, writer & director Paul W.S. Anderson, who penned six of the "Resident Evil" epics but helmed only four, has returned to adapt yet another Capcom videogame for the big screen. Anderson has appropriated the fantasy-themed, escapade-oriented, role-playing videogame "Monster Hunter," featuring dinosaur-sized carnivores of every outlandish description on a heretofore unknown, hostile rock of a planet, for his third videogame adaptation. Least we may have forgotten, Anderson adapted the "Mortal Combat" videogame as his first big screen actioneer. Anderson's "Mortal Combat" (1995) raked in enough receipts to inspire the 1997 sequel "Mortal Combat: Annihilation." Since I've never played the "Monster Hunter" videogame, I cannot verify the film's fidelity to its source material, but I've heard from those who've played it that Anderson's adaptation is faithful enough. Anybody who has been watching sci-fi/horror movies since "Alien" (1979) will recognize the films which Anderson has plundered for this larger-than-life spectacle that is just as silly as it is shallow. No, Anderson veered clear of any "Sharknado" homages, but he has preyed on virtually every other popular sci-fi saga.
Just as she fronted for Anderson in the "Resident Evil" outings, Milla Jovovich stars here as indestructible U.S. Army Ranger Captain Natalie Artemis. She supervises a UN Joint Security Operation rescue mission when everything goes haywire. Not surprisingly the Ukrainian-born actress is every bit as resilient as she was playing Alice in the "Resident Evil" epics. At age 45, Jovovich still looks pretty formidable, even when she is slaying mythical monsters. Anybody who has followed her career knows Jovovich doesn't play weak-kneed women. She'll probably ride "Monster Hunter" into her early sixties if it can recoup its $60-million budget. Remember, 64-year-old Linda Hamilton defied infirmity to reprise her iconic role in "Terminator: Dark Fate" (2019), so why shouldn't Jovovich? "Monster Hunter" will do more for Jovovich's career than for her acrobatic co-star Tony Jaa. Anderson doesn't exploit the Thai martial arts sensation for everything he's worth. Instead, he casts Jaa as an otherworldly alien hunter, christened 'Hunter' by our heroine. Rather than performing his gravity defying Muay Thai stunts from his "Ong-Bak" (2003) trilogy, Jaa wields a huge bow and sports a sword the size of a dinosaur's jawbone. Unlike Jovovich's English speaking Artemis, Jaa's character delivers all his lines in an extraterrestrial, gobbledygook dialect without subtitles, so heroine and hero contend with a daunting language barrier. Mind you, they do communicate, but their conversations remain largely monosyllabic. Almost as an afterthought, Anderson throws in a third hero, the Admiral (Ron Pearlman of "Hellboy") who looks years younger than he should thanks to a fright wig. Unfortunately, Pearlman joins them belatedly near the end of the film.
Since it boasts a PG-13 rating for "for sequences of creature action and violence throughout," this Screen Gems release targets teens and twentysomethings more than mature adults. Of course, some mature adults may still yearn for the movies they enjoyed as teens. Meantime, as incoherent as Anderson's screenplay is, "Monster Hunter" amounts to a visual buffet for the eyes with its spectacular CGI laden combat. The variety of monsters is particularly impressive. One critter resembles an enormous earwig with water buffalo horns. This abomination cruises beneath the desert sands of the inhospitable "New World" where a Bravo Team of U.S. Rangers vanished during an ominous storm without leaving a trace of their departure behind on Earth after having been mysteriously transported to another planet. Indeed, the gateways between the Old World-obviously, Planet Earth-and the New World-wherever it is--resembles those in both "Stargate" (1996) with Kurt Russell and "Doom" (2005) with Dwayne Johnson. Captain Artemis' Alpha unit gets zapped by similar lightning and pursues the Bravo team to the other side. No sooner have they landed in the barren, rocky New World than our heroes and heroines know they're living on borrowed time as they tangle with titanic monsters. A gargantuan dragon emerges near the end as their worst nightmare. Initially, a fully rigged, 18th century galleon ship is shown plying a turbulent desert of sand in "Monster Hunter" as if they were sailing the briny blue, with their destination a dark, mysterious tower shrouded in clouds but illuminated by lightning that has created an Armageddon. Although Artemis, Hunter, and the Admiral make an invincible threesome, our heroine watches in disbelief as this ferocious dragon racks up a double-digit body count and destroys million-dollar Pentagon hardware as if it were dime store toys.
Clearly, Anderson has recycled the monsters from "Dune" (1984) that lurked beneath the sun scorched sands. Artemis also tangles with some rapacious arachnids that rival the spiders in "Starship Troopers" (1997), and at one point she winds up in a digestive tract sac awaiting death, as victims in Anderson's own earlier "Alien vs. Predator" (2004) where similar characters were incubated for dinner. Mind you, none of this supernatural saga makes a lick of sense. Meantime, Anderson orchestrates several colossal battles between our protagonists and their reptilian adversaries with enough gusto to keep us sufficiently diverted for the film's 99-minute length. The casualties are not only suitably violent, but also effusively gory. Despite the sensational CGI wizardry, we know neither humans nor monsters were harmed in the production of this movie. Basically, our protagonists fight the sand monster first, a legion of scorpions second, and ultimately a winged dragon reminiscent of HBO's "Game of Thrones." The dragon constitutes the apex predator. Intimidating as these monstrosities are, "Monster Hunter" drums up little more than formulaic fodder. Anderson doesn't provide adequate closure since the plot lacks a finale. Indeed, our heroes will have to polish off the dragon in a prospective sequel. Anderson pares the dialogue down to exposition and shuns characterization in favor of brute spectacle. Altogether, "Monster Hunter" qualifies as a far-fetched but fair caprice displaying a robust cast and some sterling computer-generated-imagery.
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