There is something to be said for the big, dumb blockbuster - a film that's loud and silly with giant monsters or robots or whatever, smashing stuff and roaring a lot, while being chased by some sort of military person with a demon on their shoulder (either literally or metaphorically; life is hard, man). Even amongst all that sound and fury signifying nothing, you can find some enjoyment in the process of switching your brain off and submitting to the chaos. The strange thing about these kinds of films though is that they kinda have to invite you in, and give you permission to bask in their bedlam. That's certainly what 'Monster Hunter' thinks it's doing. The problem is that when these films are too loud or too obnoxious, they can come across less as harmless fun and more like an aggressive sensory assault.
So Artemis (get it, because she's a hunter - Milla Jovovich, the 'Resident Evil' series) is leading a rescue mission in the desert somewhere with a bunch of the most macho UN peacekeeping soldiers you've ever seen (why does the UN need peacekeeping soldiers that looked like they just left the SAS?), when a weird thunderstorm transports them to another world and the rest of the team gets munched up by giant monsters, including the most fucked-up spider things this side of Skull Island. Of course, Artemis survives (because she needs to become the titular Monster Hunter) and is rescued by The Hunter (not the titular Monster Hunter, that's Artemis - Tony Jaa, 'Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior', who frankly deserves better). Together, they must make it to a large dark tower in the distance (aha) where the thunderstorm came from (yep) that holds together multiple worlds (there we go, someone call Stephen King), while avoiding the various monsters and teaming up with Ron Perlman in a crazy wig and a bunch of young hot people in the process.
Look, like most of Paul W. S. Anderson's films (the guy who did 'Pompeii' and 'AVP: Alien vs. Predator', not 'There Will Be Blood' and 'Phantom Thread'), it's hard to take 'Monster Hunter' seriously. I didn't even know he'd made it, but when his name appeared at the end as writer and director, my friend and I burst out laughing - of course he directed this, who else could it have been? The fact it's based on a video game is very obvious, even if (like me) you've never heard of this one. It doesn't so much have scenes as levels, where Artemis (the titular Monster Hunter) has to defeat said monsters through trial and error before moving to the next sequence/level. This could have been fun, certainly with how bonkers some of these setups are, but the film itself is nothing but level after level. There's no real story, no significant character development, or really has anything of any significance to say.
"Ah, but Daniel," I hear you say, "isn't 'Mad Max: Fury Road' an action film without a narrative?" An back in 2015, you lost your shit over it and called it a masterpiece and a revelation in that hyperbolic way you do?" And yes, you're right, I did say that. But while 'Fury Road' rejected a traditional narrative structure, it was still very firmly a character piece with conflict and tension at its centre. More importantly though, it was insanely well-made. The biggest problem with 'Monster Hunter' is that its rhythm, pace, editing and cinematography are so aggressive that trying to follow anything in this film is essentially impossible. The editing is a nightmare, cutting so furiously that it's hard to follow any of the visual storytelling at any point or to even get your bearings geographically. Seriously, even Tom Hooper would look at the pace of this editing and be like, "I'm out" - and that from a man who puts everything through an auto-edit machine set at three seconds. If there was an award for Most Editing, this would win by default. And on top of that - and I don't know if this was just my cinema - but it's so friggin' loud - not "Fuck yeah, The Rock is fighting an earthquake!" loud or "It's a bloody megalodon!" loud, more "Jesus, my ears are bleeding and my eardrums are shaking, make this end!" loud. Seriously, anyone complaining about the volume in 'Tenet' needs to sit through this aural torture.
At least with 'Tenet', Nolan had the foresight to mix it so you couldn't hear the wooden dialogue. Here, it's on display in all its horrid glory. Now, I don't have anything against a good cliché - especially when employed for particularly entertaining effect - but the clichés in 'Monster Hunter' (the Monster Hunter in question being Artemis) are astoundingly lazy. Artemis (said Monster Hunter) has no backstory other than that she's a hard-ass, except for a ring she keeps in a small metal box with the word "forever" on it that she looks at and cries over, which makes her not just a hunter, but a human being, you see. The dialogue sounds like it was written by an AI emulating 80s action dialogue, all of it entirely exposition or stating the thundering obvious. Also, let's not forget that a film released in 2021 features a scene where the white woman offers the person of colour a piece of chocolate as a peace offering while over-annunciating the word "CHO-CO-LATE!", which he responds to with cooing gratitude. Even in 'Monster Hunter', the myths of colonialism are alive and well.
If there was an award for Most Editing, this would win by default.
Are there redeeming qualities to 'Monster Hunter'? Sure! The image of a wooden ship sailing across the sand like an ocean is pretty cool. The monsters are big and yell a lot (loudly). Ron Perlman is in it. Tony Jaa is kinda hot. And Milla Jovovich (Artemis, named from the Greek goddess of the hunt, in this case, of monsters) has a natural charisma that goes a long way when the camera stops long enough for us to actually take any of her performance in. Yet any degree of fun that might be possible in this film is drowned out by the overwhelming sound and fury, in this case going beyond signifying nothing and moving into the negative.
Now you might assume that I'm probably not the kind of person predisposed to like this film. Daniel doesn't have fun. He writes pages waxing lyrical on a film like 'Roma' that starts with a five-minute sequence of someone cleaning up dog poo, or 'A Hidden Life' that's 60% glorious shots of landscapes. But hey! I can have fun! I loved 'The Meg'! I lost my mind in the first Transformers film! When The Rock rode up a tsunami, avoiding an oil tanker that then took out the Golden Gate Bridge in 'San Andreas', I was on my feet in the cinema cheering! This film though? This isn't fun. It's too loud, too hard to follow, too bonkers to be appealing, and not anywhere near bonkers enough to be charming or good for a laugh. It's a film that basically yells at you for an hour and a half in the most aggressive, hyper-masculine way, and leaves you feeling like you've been stuck in a corner at a party for three hours having some guy tell you all about the screenplay he's going to write that will finally, finally be a good video game adaptation and never taking the hint you want a drink or a pee or a change in conversation or to run screaming from the room. I went into Paul W. S. Anderson's latest film (the guy who made 'Mortal Combat' and 'Death Race', not 'Boogie Nights' and 'Punch-Drunk Love') totally prepared to have a blast, but it gave me no time, space or inclination to do so. And then this stupid film that doesn't know whether it wants to be a bad 'Godzilla' or a shitty reimagining of 'The Dark Tower' has the audacity to set itself up for a sequel! (But hey, we're in the End Times, so it only makes sense that we would get a sequel to this trash instead of another season of 'Mindhunter'). I'm sure some people are going to get a kick out of this saga about Artemis (Hunter, of Monsters, titular) fighting big asshole spiders and being the saviour white woman to a far more impressive person of colour and crying over some ring (it was for "forever", remember). For me? The whole thing is too loud and aggressive and dull to be the best kind of dumb fun.