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Monster Hunter ★★★★★



Director: Paul W.S. Anderson

Cast: Milla Jovovich, T. I., Tony Jaa, Ron Perlman, Diego Boneta, Meagan Good, Josh Helman, Jin Au-Yeung

Released: 18th of May 2021

It’s actually quite fascinating to see Paul W.S. Anderson evolve as a filmmaker alongside the very video game franchises that first brought him into the mainstream limelight. Where games are now reaching for photorealistic experiences beyond the traditions of classic gameplay, Anderson remains true to his cinematic form and visual language, engaging with worlds and set pieces through the power of carefully crafted images and modern technology. Once again, that visual eclecticism storms back onto the silver screen with the release of Monster Hunter, yet another video game-based genre mayhem from Anderson with a distinctive sense of space, scale, and spatial awareness unlike anything else on the modern CGI-dominant market.

Much like the often abstruse Capcom video game series, Monster Hunter throws its unwitting viewer right into the sprawling lands of the New World, where ships sail straight across the desert, and terrifying monsters occupy the starkly varied naturalistic terrain. Anderson spares no time to explain some odd rules or characters of this universe, letting visual storytelling take helm amid the frenetic narrative momentum that gets established with the introduction of the first lead character — Captain Artemis (Milla Jovovich), a seasoned US army vet who gets transported into the New World. As per usual, Anderson remains loyal to his narratively thin tendencies, with most of the backstory being reliant on visual cues and restricted to key story beats, making way for the traditionally high-octane action set pieces. A filmmaker of words he is not, hence why Monster Hunter finds emotion and character in the sheer physicality of its performers and their engagement with the hostile environment surrounding them.

In the New World, Artemis finds an unlikely companion in a local Hunter (Tony Jaa), a warrior who wields a disproportionately large Great Sword and displays a strange obsession with chocolate. The language barrier prevents the duo from ever truly understanding each other, yet that doesn’t mean they can’t form a spiritual connection, which Jovovich and Jaa convey with a surprising amount of tenderness and emotional complexity. Their buddies-in-arms tandem is the incorporeal heart of the film, bringing out its earnest sincerity and no holds barred martial arts extravaganza. Jovovich has always excelled at physical acting, which Anderson used to continuously highlight in his Resident Evil series, and that rings especially true here, against the backdrop of uncharted deserted landscapes and unbridled kaiju action.

Thankfully, Anderson has never been a filmmaker concerned with shoehorned referential fan service, which is why Monster Hunter is mercifully free of winking antics and quotes from its source material, instead channelling all that energy into its anti-imperialist undercurrents and cinematic world-building. He is one of the few mainstream filmmakers working today who knows how to stage action that has a unique sense of scale and weight to it: giant sand creatures, Diablos, ravage through the desert with the kind of mass and force that make any human body look totally insignificant in comparison, while arachnid Nerscyllas crawl through dimly lit caves as nasty remnants of Anderson’s body horror past.

It really is a massive treat that something as unpretentiously earnest as Monster Hunter emerged right around the time when cinematic universes and major franchises are experiencing their heyday period. There isn’t much here that doesn’t concern either monsters or the process of hunting them, loyally living up to the title and making a case for ideal mainstream genre filmmaking. This is blockbuster entertainment stripped down to its most essential components: each scene, every frame, and every cut perfected with faithful precision, designed purely to give its viewer a kinetic jolt of excessive spectacle. Monstrous chaos filtered through formal excellence and dazzling cinematic language — this is what the audiovisual medium is all about.

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