Video game movies tend to be pretty hit or miss. Director Paul W.S. Anderson is no stranger to that, having been behind quite a few of the better ones out there (MORTAL KOMBAT, RESIDENT EVIL). Both of those successes did have a rather large pool of stories to draw from as inspiration. Can he do the same with a game where the main action is killing monsters again and again so that you can upgrade your equipment to kill better monsters? The answer to that is a resounding…sort of.
The story revolves around Captain Natalie Artemis (Milla Jovovich) and her team, who are searching for missing soldiers in the desert. A strange storm transports them into a new world, which is imaginatively called New World. There they encounter strange and giant monsters that their conventional weapons don’t do much against, resulting in the death of several of their team. After fighting creatures called Nerscyllas, Artemis wakes up in their lair and find the rest of her team dead or dying. She manages to escape with the aid of a man known as Hunter (Tony Jaa). Hunter trains her in the ways of giant monster combat to prepare to fight Diabolos, the first monster that Artemis saw there and the one responsible for Hunter being stranded there as well, so that they may reach a tower off in the distance to find a way home.
Ok, so it’s not exactly high art, but MONSTER HUNTER does offer some decent thrills and action for its 103 minute runtime. Fans of the video game will be happy to see some of their favorite giant monsters show up to cause some havoc, if not for long. The effects are well done and some of the set-pieces are downright frightening, particularly that with the Nerscyllas, as they are some nasty-looking giant spiders. The creature design looks much like the game so those with a passing familiarity with them will get a kick out of it. However, the action leaves something to be desired, particularly in the editing department where fights can feel haphazard and disjointed. That’s a damn shame when you have Tony Jaa on hand and can’t manage to show off his martial arts skills properly.
With the decimation of the soldiers early on, we are left with Jovovich and Jaa on their own for much of the runtime. Fortunately, Artemis is an engaging character thanks to the efforts of the always-likable and talented Jovovich, so even if she is just talking to herself, it is pretty entertaining. Once she and Jaa get going, despite the language barrier between Hunter and Artemis, things are kept lively and interesting and they have a good chemistry together. Ron Perlman shows up later after a brief appearance in the beginning when Hunter is swept overboard off the sand ship and he’s always a delight, no matter the movie and he has anime hair, which is awesome.
The movie gives us enough story and closure but leaves things wide open for a sequel with a possible villain and some more mysteries to explore. MONSTER HUNTER didn’t exactly light up the box office but it would be a worthy successor to RESIDENT EVIL as a Milla Jovovich franchise as she is always a delight on screen. And the more Tony Jaa we get in movies, the better. Perhaps they’ll let him really strut his stuff next time.
Check it out.