New To Blu: Monster Hunter (2020)-Reviewed

(Image Courtesy of Screen Gems)

So many blockbusters these days feel homogeneous. Too controlled, too concerned with setting up universes. Too enamored with their own perceived importance. It’s that last point, the gravitas, that’s really taken the fun out of big budget tent poles. Marvel, by virtue of how expansive and all-encompassing their reign has been, present their very goofy comic book movies with so much po-faced pomp and circumstance and I often find the fun is sapped right out of the whole experience. 

In recent years, I’ve found myself gravitating to massive-in-scope, slightly dopey and tremendously open-hearted blockbusters like Alita Battle Angel or this year’s wonderful Space Sweepers. The unfortunate reality with films like these is that they often underperform. Audiences have been trained to take all of this ridiculous mythology so seriously that they seem to recoil when a big, goofy film like Monster Hunter comes along. A film that has zero interest in whether you’re keeping up with its info-dump of goofy lore; it has places to be and monsters to slay. 

(Image Courtesy of Screen Gems)

Monster Hunter (based on the video game series of the same name) follows Lt. Artemis (Milla Jovovich) as she and her elite team of soldiers are thrust through a portal that opens in the desert during a routine mission. Waking up on the other side, Artemis and her team are immediately attacked by a massive horned monster. A mysterious man with a bow and arrow known only as The Hunter (Tony Jaa) appears and attacks the creature. After initially butting heads (which culminates in a terrific fight between Jovovich and Jaa), the two must work together to fend off a world filled with giant spiders and dragons, and get Artemis home. 

Here’s the thing: Monster Hunter knows casual audiences aren’t here to be bogged down by convoluted mythos, and that fans of the game are already aware of the rules of its universe. Paul W. S. Anderson has been doing this for far too long to mistake why an audience shows up for a movie like this. Instead of grinding the film to a halt with endless exposition that might set up later movies, Anderson has you hit the ground running and almost never lets up. It’s a gorgeous, goofy blast and full of boundless heart. 

When making a wacky movie like this, there’s a fine line between being in on the joke and inadvertent self-sabotage. Too many films mistake an ironic wink and nudge to be charming. There’s almost always a character commenting on how silly everything is (you’re never going to top Han Solo, sorry) and in turn, you can’t fully invest in how much fun the film wants you to have because it’s actively telling you “look, we know this is dumb”.  Monster Hunter is refreshing because it does none of this. Jovovich’s Artemis assesses her profoundly weird situation and goes right along with it. Her only concern is survival. She doesn’t have time to make wry comments about the giant spider that wants to lay eggs in her. This embracing of silliness has an infectious charm to it that never feels like pastiche. It’s a real deal, honest-to-goodness fun blockbuster with just enough stakes and character to keep audiences invested amidst the tremendously entertaining action. 

(Image Courtesy of Screen Gems)

Jovovich and Jaa are delightful together. Spending the first half hour kicking the absolute hell out of one another due to a language barrier, the two soon develop a great rapport. Two of the best action stars we have, they’re right at home launching themselves at massive CGI behemoths and tumbling down breathtaking mountainsides. When you’re making a film this earnestly silly, it’s always going to be better to cast people who can actually handle the action. 

For his part, Anderson might be at his best here. After years spent in Resident Evil hell to mixed results, he leaves nothing on the bone. This thing moves, only stopping here or there for a very brief info-dump before throwing us back into the thick of it. He’s a garish filmmaker but one that deserves far more credit that we give him. His propensity for slo-mo, his adoration of CG, it’s all so deliriously delightful. There’s a through line between him and guys like Zack Snyder, these mega-budgeted, high octane romps that treat even the silliest of imagery with the reverence of a Greek statue. 

You want to laugh but you can’t help but be taken in by the sincerity. Again, with something like Marvel, the reverence is manufactured all the way down the ridiculously long and triumphant logo that opens each film. You can’t fake earnestness and Paul W. S. Anderson’s Monster Hunter is a joyous throwback to when blockbusters were allowed to be light-hearted, self-contained thrills of color and joy.

Out now on 4K and Blu-Ray, Monster Hunter is filled with making-of extras (yet another piece of a bygone era of film) that drive home just how much fun everyone had making this thing. Unsurprisingly, it looks stunning in 4K. If nothing else, Anderson can direct the hell out of an epic. Paul Haslinger’s score is a synthy, thumping jolt that propels you along through cavernous spider nests and impossibly spacious deserts. Monster Hunter brings the goods. Through sheer force of joyous will, it’s an intoxicating bit of fun removed from any lore or self-importance. The kind of big budget film I’ll happily take ten more of. 

-Brandon Streussnig