When the first stills from the Monster Hunter film adaption were released, I was one of those who had a deep trepidation for the project. Seeing star Milla Jovovich running around with a machine gun was so far out of the realm of possibility for this video game franchise that it was easy to assume what writer-director Paul W.S. Anderson had in store. Like most video game adaptions, including his own Resident Evil films, creators forego the established game’s story to try and make the film version different. Who can forget the ill-conceived Super Mario Bros. film adaption from 1993?
But, like Anderson’s Resident Evil films, he was somehow able to pull off something that was more than watchable, and dare I say it, it was even fun.
The Monster Hunter games have a very simple story of a player-created “hunter,” who is assigned to a village and has a handler that aids them in their duties. Those duties include hunting big, dinosaur-like creatures to protect the village, and to farm for supplies to build new weapons and armor to hunt bigger and better monsters. Players can team up with up to four other players for more of a challenge, and Capcom’s franchise is one of the biggest, most popular games in the world.
The Monster Hunter film retains some of that simplicity. The production opens in the “other” world as a massive sand ship is navigating a dune sea on its way to a mysterious tower in the distance. On board the boat are the admiral (Ron Perlman), a handler (Hirona Yamazaki) and various hunters, including the main “hunter,” played by martial arts star Tony Jaa (Ong-Bak). When a dastardly black Diablos appears from beneath the sand and attacks the ship, the Hunter is thrown overboard and the ship and his fellow crew members are presumed lost.
The film then cuts to “our” world where Lieutenant Natalie Artemis (Jovovich) and her team are in the middle of the desert looking for Bravo team, who mysteriously disappeared. When a storm appears out of nowhere, Artemis and her team are sucked into a vortex and end up in the other world, and the fun truly begins.
Tired Wizard of Oz trope aside, Monster Hunter doesn’t spend too much time in “our” world, which is fine with me. The majority of the film is spent in the other world, with Artemis and the Hunter having to join forces and share battle techniques and weapons to take out the black Diablos and an assortment of other monsters, including the spider-like Nerscyclla, and even the powerful Rathalos, as they make their way to the tower.
Anderson is able to highlight many classic Monster Hunter staples, including weapon and gear building and upgrading, cooking harvested meat (“so tasty!”), Palico chefs creating culinary masterpieces, and the characters using various tools to debuff the bigger monsters to make them easier to kill.
The monsters are all game-authentic in the way they look and behave, and I found myself with the urge to pick up my trusty switch-axe to join in the hunt. Because of that, I was able to overlook some of the inadequacies in the script, including the horrible military-infused dialogue and the silly, overlong courting period between Artemis and the Hunter before they join forces.
At its heart, Monster Hunter stays true to the core principles of the game franchise, even though Artemis has .50 caliber guns and rocket launchers at her disposal. The film ends just as the story gets going, which was was both fun and infuriating.
Fans of the film can only hope that Monster Hunter gets a sequel to explain the tower’s significance, and to show more epic battles, including one hinted at as a mighty Gore Magala appears at the very end, just as the title card and credits begin to roll. There’s even a mid-credits scene, setting up more mysteries, so a sequel has to happen.
I can admit that I fully expected to hate this film, and I say that as a gamer who has thousands of hours tied into this game franchise over six different game systems. I was markedly surprised by how much fun I had with the film version of Monster Hunter, and I can’t believe I’m sitting here hoping for more live-action insanity from Anderson, Jovovich, and Jaa.
It’s not a perfect film, and it might not be for everyone, but the Monster Hunter game franchise has a massive following, and the film doesn’t do anything to crap on that. We can only hope that machine guns don’t make their way to the game in the future, as using the primitive weapons and teamwork is what makes this game so much fun. And somehow and some way, that fun has transcended to the big screen and I can’t believe that I want more.
Monster Hunter is rated PG-13 and is in theaters now. All images courtesy of Sony.