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'Monster Hunter' Review: Who needs scripted depth when you can smash things?

Paul W.S. Anderson's 'Monster Hunter' opens a world of mysticism, larger-than-life monsters, and more fun than you'd expect to have with this fight-first thrill ride.

Milla Jovovich in 'Monster Hunter.'
(Image: © Sony Pictures)

Our Verdict

'Monster Hunter' sails the sandy seas of adventure with an emphasis on exactly what the title sells, in this more-enjoyable-than-it-should-be video game adaptation.

For

  • ⚔️ The monster hunting.
  • ⚔️ Tony Jaa as "The Hunter."
  • ⚔️ Grand monster designs.
  • ⚔️ Action-forward mindset.

Against

  • ⚔️ More worried about franchise futures than in-moment storytelling.
  • ⚔️ Might be too shallow for some.
  • ⚔️ Requires a "sure, why not" mentality.

Monster Hunter is currently only available to watch in theaters (as of December 18th 2020). Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we recommend checking it out at your local drive-in. If one isn’t available, please be sure to check out state and CDC guidelines before watching in an enclosed space.

There’s nothing more refreshing in the thick of awards season binges than a booming, explosive blockbuster that knows precisely what it is. Paul W.S. Anderson continues to excel at oft-maligned video game adaptations, especially with extravagant budgets, and Monster Hunter stands against his most entertaining. Those familiar with Capcom’s luscious fantasy oasis with novelty-sized weapons and awe-striking creatures may find themselves in uncharted territories due to creative updates. However, Anderson’s still here to bring the imagination, the weirdness, and all the monster hunting your heart desires. The man knows big, dumb, stupid fun. That’s not an insult by any stretch.

Milla Jovovich stars as Captain Artemis, a US military operative transported into an alternate reality via a lightning storm where monsters exist. Her squad is wiped clean by a stampeding “Diablo” and subterranean desert arachnid behemoths. Just as Artemis seems out of options, “The Hunter” (Tony Jaa) swoops in for the rescue. After internal quarrels based on language barriers, their cooperation becomes a unifying trait that eventually sets the duo on a course to send Artemis back home and The Hunter towards his sand-pirate-ship driving crew led by Admiral (Ron Perlman).

At the onset, you might wonder why Anderson opts for a militarized update to an otherwise extravagant alternate reality where bodybuilder kitten chefs and blazing iron weapons are commonplace. Lines blur between “New World” and “Old World” limits, while it’s eventually exposition-dumped that some “Sky Tower” powered by lava is opening portals that only “Ancients” can frequently passage. TL:DR, Anderson needed to introduce a grounding mechanism to the otherwise idyllic lost world where dino-adjacent predators roam. Where danger lurks under granular dunes, along river beds, and pretty much anywhere trackers might misstep. Narrative depth isn’t the strength of this no-hiding-intentions franchise-starter that fast-forwards to establish the sequel that’ll pay off all those teased goodies.

Even so, at a manageable ballparked ninety minutes (just over), Monster Hunter flexes its action muscles and executes buddy road-trip yucks through another dimension’s lens.

After the likes of Meagan Good and T.I. are sacrificed as Artemis’ doomed platoon, because how else would we understand Artemis faces hopeless odds, Mr. Hunter parkours his way down smoothed African canyons inspired by the games’ Wildspire Wastes. Jaa and Jovovich are playing characters who can’t communicate through speech. Still, they form a bond between chocolate offerings, a humorous game to Jaa’s huntsman where he uses Jovovich’s outsider as bait without warning, or good-old beastly beatdowns. Jaa’s primitive, barbarian’s abandon and Jovovich’s tumble-rough soldier both ham the hell out of their cultural shortcomings but nail the combat beats with intensity.

As perils introduce themselves in the form of flame-throwing dragon swoopers, tunneling Graboid-on-steroids berserkers, and other exceptionally formidable foes, Monster Hunter dedicates itself to selling big-screen thrills. This isn’t Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, where dizzying edits decimate any possibility of beholding the film’s hallmark fight sequences. Anderson gets a little vehicle happy, continually falling back onto the same gyroscope shot of characters bouncing around flipping humvees, but the video game-inspired RPG attacks brighten screen violence. Whether that’s Artemis twirling her incendiary blades like she’s directing traffic or Admiral’s aflame axe that shoots a heatwave shock towards its opposing brutes. Artemis opts for tactical rocket launchers while The Hunter fashions poison fangs ripped from slain enemies as arrow tips he launches from his oversized bow, both effective between aerial dodges like the two are Shadow Of The Colossus acrobats. Anderson knows why we're here, and he damn-well invests all his efforts into appeasing our hunger for slow-mo smashy, chompy, tank-busty insanity.

That’s what you’ll get, too. Between all the gateway hopping and minimal attention paid to any characters beyond Artemis, Hunter, and Admiral, Monster Hunter paves basic building blocks that rush towards gamer callbacks worth future excitement. The inclusion of one such fuzzball culinary master is a laugh-out-loud reveal that translates into just the tease we need to crave sequel installments. The same goes for other one-off sidekicks like Pointy Orange Hair Dude and Mechanic Engineer Girl, who are swatted away like flies with a newspaper while Artemis stabs adversaries in the flippin’ mouth without nary a scratch. That said, in comparison to something like Alita: Battle Angel, Monster Hunter never overcomplicates and remains dutifully focused. It might be a slight focus, but critical benchmarks are always treated as such.

If Monster Hunter is merely the appetizer, as Paul W.S. Anderson has confirmed, consider me on board to get adequately stuffed. Bring on more of Ron Perlman’s sensational goldish locks and inexplicable ability to be where he needs whenever possible. Sign me up for another Rathalos showdown between human and magic realms. Allow Anderson to keep churning out gonzo video game adaptations that he’s passionately invested in, especially since his ambitions for vastly more expansive sequels will allow richer handlings of themes and locales merely grazed in this essential starting point. Let Milla Jovovich and Tony Jaa bonk many, many more Jurassic hybrids on their noggins until the lands are littered with fallen foes, because Monster Hunter is the unexpected jolt of adventure we didn’t know would end 2020 on a higher note than expected.

Monster Hunter will release theatrically December 18th, 2020.