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More an expensive VFX demo reel than a story, the latest Paul W.S. Anderson film hopes to take yet another video game, Capcom’s Monster Hunter, and turn it into a money-minting movie franchise. Teaming again with wife Milla Jovovich, star of his hugely successful Resident Evil series (also based on a Capcom franchise), the writer-director tacitly acknowledges his lack of interest in dialogue by introducing a co-star, Tony Jaa, whose character speaks no English. A few flashes of amused chemistry between the two actors represent all the human interest in this unimaginative sci-fi actioner, but that doesn’t mean the pic’s relentless focus on giant-monster battles won’t please the director’s fans.
Jovovich plays an Army Ranger, Captain Artemis, who’s leading a search in unidentified desert territory for soldiers who disappeared mysteriously. Suddenly, her team is set upon by an approaching desert dust storm that might look cool to viewers who haven’t seen Fury Road. “Things might get kinetic,” the captain tersely warns her subordinates. Well, they’re certainly not about to get cerebral.
Release date: Dec 18, 2020
Artemis and company get zapped by some lightning and wake up in a much vaster desert than the one they’re supposed to be in. They don’t know it yet, but they’re in another dimension, where giant sailing ships somehow move about on dunes instead of water and remnants of an ancient alien civilization cause headaches for humans. They find the bodies of their lost comrades, incinerated by flames hot enough to turn the sand to glass. Being from the real world, they don’t recognize a dragon’s handiwork when they see it.
A lot of people die, or at least get taken out of the action, when a swarm of giant crab-spider things attack out of nowhere. If the overall action here doesn’t merit a letter home to mom, the pic’s attempt to one-up Alien‘s chest-burster will at least make viewers squirm for a minute. By the time the goosebumps settle down, Artemis is on her own, trying to make sense of a world teeming with mostly unrecognizable giant monsters.
Jaa’s unnamed character, called Hunter in end credits, has been stranded in this wasteland for a while, with no hope of getting home. Bizarrely, his first impulse upon seeing a fellow human is to attack her. Anderson stages a long, senseless fight before the two inevitably team up to kill themselves some CGI beasties.
Forced to communicate with gestures, the two do manage to give a name to their most immediate enemy after those spider-crabs: Diablos, a snake-with-arms that’s as big as a freight train, travels under the sand, and has gnarly horns befitting its devilish name. Fortunately, Hunter has scavenged explosives to use with his trusty archery gear, and can somehow wield a sword that appears to weigh about as much as he does. The two gather up an arsenal ranging from magic weapons to steampunky ones (the movie relies surprisingly heavily on a wrist-mounted grappling hook) and engage in a familiar gear-up montage. Viewers who find all this martial chest-puffery stale may find themselves unreasonably entertained when Artemis utters a grim “let’s do this” and her partner, who still doesn’t speak English, responds with a puzzled “hmm?”
There’s plenty to blow up after the diablos, and the movie solves its language barrier with the introduction of Hunter’s bilingual old shipmate The Admiral (Ron Perlman, whose eye-grabbing wig does a lot of the acting for him). The Admiral efficiently dumps a franchise’s worth of exposition into Artemis’ lap, then gathers the rest of his crew so they can all go hunt a dragon. The only question remaining is how much of a resolution Anderson will give before making it clear he hopes to milk this franchise for as many sequels as he can get.
Production companies: Constantin Film, AB2 Digital Pictures
Distributor: Screen Gems
Cast: Milla Jovovich, Tony Jaa, Tip “T.I.” Harris, Ron Perlman, Meagan Good, Diego Boneta, Josh Helman, Jin Au-Yeung
Director-Screenwriter: Paul W.S. Anderson
Producers: Jeremy Bolt, Paul W.S. Anderson, Dennis Berardi, Robert Kulzer, Martin Moszkowicz
Executive producers: Edward Cheng, Howard Chen, Hiro Matsuoka
Director of photography: Glen MacPherson
Production designer: Edward Thomas
Costume designer: Danielle Knox
Editor: Doobie White
Composer: Paul Haslinger
Casting director: Tamara-Lee Notcutt
PG-13, 103 minutes
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