Review: A funky finish and Milla Jovovich can’t redeem ‘Monster Hunter’
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For roughly two-thirds of its running time, the big-screen video game adaptation “Monster Hunter” feels like an attempt to answer a question no one has asked: What would the “Jurassic Park” movies be like if they were drained of all sense of wonder? The film rallies toward the end with a few genuinely spectacular images, but even its best scenes fail to justify a tedious first hour.
Written and directed by the veteran genre movie impresario Paul W.S. Anderson, “Monster Hunter” stars the battle-tested action-adventure actor Milla Jovovich, who also anchored Anderson’s “Resident Evil” films. She brings her usual spark to the role of Natalie Artemis, a no-nonsense U.S. Army officer who is leading her troops on a desert mission when a sandstorm transports them to another dimension dominated by enormous, predatory, dinosaur-like animals.
After sustaining heavy losses, Artemis makes contact with “The Hunter” (Tony Jaa), who first captures her but then joins forces to try to survive the near-unceasing monster onslaught. Initially, the two can barely communicate with each other until they bond over a mutual love of chocolate.
From the opening scene onward — aside from the few minutes of awkward conversation between Artemis and the Hunter — the action in “Monster Hunter” is pretty nonstop. But that succession of large-scale monster-attack sequences comes at the expense of story and character development. Even the mythology from the “Monster Hunter” video game series is minimized, as the heroes are too busy fighting off creature after creature.
Anderson makes some head-scratching choices with the staging of those big fights. In the first one, the attacker is mostly under the sand. A little later, Artemis fends off a wave of behemoths in a dark cavern. In both cases — and with most of the early action in “Monster Hunter” — the monsters themselves are hard to see, and the strategies and logistics of the skirmishes are difficult to comprehend.
Throughout the picture, Anderson and his editors rely a lot on quick camera moves and quick cuts, effectively killing any sense of flow to the action. (Jaa, an accomplished martial artist, is especially ill-served by a visual approach that chops up and obscures his cool moves.) There’s just not a lot of awe here … and since the days of “King Kong” and “Godzilla,” monster movies have relied on awe.
And yet, just when “Monster Hunter” is looking like a complete waste of time, Artemis meets a grizzled warrior played by Ron Perlman, and at long last the movie starts to get a little funky. As the good guys gear up for a grand clash between human and beast, Artemis learns a bit more about the weird world she’s been visiting, with its sand-bound sailing ships and its humanoid felines.
Almost out of nowhere, the muddled and bland “Monster Hunter” of the first 60 minutes gives way to a movie with much more originality and personality. Even the fight scenes brighten up, culminating in a stunning-looking standoff between a dragon and a high-end military-grade helicopter.
Alas, the good stuff comes too late. To be fair, all this movie promises from the start is monsters and hunters, and Anderson delivers both, from the first frame to the credits. But for way too long, the generic title is matched to generic action.
Rated: PG-13, for sequences of creature action and violence throughout.
Running time: 1 hour, 43 minutes
Playing: Starts Dec. 18 in drive-ins and in limited release where theaters are open
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