If you listen hard enough, you can almost hear the collective sigh from critics when a new video game adaptation is announced. Although hugely popular with fans, films like Assassin’s Creed and this year’s Mortal Kombat have given the genre a reputation for sloppy storytelling. Paul W.S. Anderson’s Monster Hunter hopes to turn things around.
It’s set in the New World – a place where humans coexist with giant, vicious creatures and hunters aim to hunt and kill these beasts. Two timelines collide when a U.S. Army Ranger, Captain Natalie Artemis (Milla Jovovich), and her team on earth are pulled into a strange portal in the middle of the desert while on a mission searching for missing soldiers. Now faced with a completely new environment, they manage to navigate its dangers while providing moments of bombastic CGI action and a surprising amount of levity.
Anderson is no stranger to this type of movie – his CV features a long list of adapted properties like the original Mortal Kombat (1995) and the Resident Evil franchise (which he and Jovovich, who are married, built from the ground up). Some may stick their noses up at such a list but Anderson’s critically acclaimed sci-fi Event Horizon shows there’s some finesse there amid the milieu of monsters. Jovovich, meanwhile, is completely at home in her role as a gets-the-job-done hero.
However, as much as Monster Hunter is a fun popcorn flick, there’s little substance to its quieter bits. Minimal effort is put into building up the lore of New World – and it’s hard to connect to characters in a meaningful way when we aren’t told much about them. Despite the ridiculous set pieces that look impressive for the first few minutes, the stakes are never very high either. Even at her lowest ebb, we all know that Artemis is going to pull through.
Sadly, this is where a lot of blockbusters like this fall down – too much focus on blowing the roof of the multiplex, not enough attention to narrative. It all feels a bit pointless. Of course, Monster Hunter isn’t out to win an Oscar, but if Terminator 2 can make the audience genuinely feel something for a hulking robot with a monosyllabic Austrian accent, then surely we can do better?
If you’re already a fan of the game – and want to see Jovovich at her baddie-squashing best, then you’re in for a treat. And a little brainless escapism never hurt the rest of us either.
- Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
- Starring: Milla Jovovich, Tony Jaa, Ron Perlman
- Release date: June 18 (in UK cinemas)