The Monster Hunter movie had all the makings of a total flop. From the husband-wife creative team behind the Resident Evil film series, Monster Hunter diverged from the video game in a pretty major way. While all of the games take place exclusively in a fantasy world filled with monsters and hunters, the film magically teleports a group of soldiers from the real world into the monster world. Monster Hunter fans were understandably irritated about this change, especially after six Resident Evil films of debatable quality that had very little to do with the source material. What’s more, the film had a complicated and confusing release schedule because of Covid restrictions, and when it finally did come out, it sparked controversy with Chinese audiences thanks to a racist joke (which had been cut out of the version I watched on Google Play). Monster Hunter may seem like a cynical cash-in on the outrageous success of Monster Hunter World, but as it turns out, it’s a surprisingly competent movie with plenty of fanservice and some truly thrilling action scenes. It’s not going to win any Oscars, and trying to follow the story — which is all crammed in at the very end — will make your brain short circuit. But if you love Monster Hunter, the Monster Hunter movie isn’t a betrayal to the franchise, not even close.
I’ll admit that the premise of Monster Hunter did not excite me at all. The “character from Earth has been transported to a fantasy world” is an entire genre that I find to be rather paint-by-numbers and predictable. In anime and manga, this genre is called Isekai, and Hollywood has been doing this to video game movies forever. The Super Mario Bros movie is an Isekai about two human brothers who get transported to Dinohattan, and of course, it’s terrible. I hated when they did this to Sonic last year, and while, admittedly, I think the Sonic movie is decent, I would have much preferred to see a Sonic movie that takes place in Sonic’s world, not ours.
Naturally, it seemed like director Paul W.S. Anderson was just using this “safe” formula for Monster Hunter and that the film would have very little to do with games. Surprisingly, I think going Isekai worked really well for Monster Hunter. The Monster Hunter games are definitely not known for their compelling storylines, but the movie does such a great job of introducing viewers to the world with Milla Jovovich’s Artemis serving as the audience surrogate. The film is nearly as light on story as the games, but I was pleasantly surprised by how much fun it was to watch her discover all these things about the world of Monster Hunter that I’m already familiar with. In an interview, Jovovich explained that the story was meant to feel like playing the game for the first time, and I think that’s totally apt.
Most importantly, the movie gets the world of Monster Hunter so damn right. It’s filled with fan-service, including a palico chef that recreates the cooking cutscene from Monster Hunter World. But even when the movie isn’t winking at MH fans with obvious references, it’s always representing the games through the setting and storytelling.
Artemis teams up with a hunter, played by the incredible Tony Jaa, in the film’s second act. Through him, you get to see a variety of authentic weapons, cooking, camps, slinger ammo, part breaking, and plenty of other video game details and iconography. The movie feels like it exists in the actual Monster Hunter world from the beginning until just before the end. The story even mirrors the progression loop of the game. If you’ve got a monster that’s too strong to take down, in this case, Diablos, then you need to first hunt a weaker monster and craft gear out of its parts. All of the Earth weapons that come through with Artemis are shown to be completely useless against Diablos. Only a weapon made from a monster can kill a monster, and Artemis quickly learns how to fight like a true hunter.
The trailers really only ever showed off Diablos, but there are few more monsters. Although I would have loved to see tons of monsters from the games, I also sort of appreciate that the movie features about as many monsters as one could realistically fight in 90 minutes of playing Monster Hunter World. I have to spoil this so no one gets their hopes up though: there are no turf wars in the movie. This is by far the biggest letdown.
During the final act, there’s a huge info dump scene that lays out a bunch of lore and answers to questions that no one would have asked. It’s really dumb, and if you happened to go to the bathroom for just two minutes, you would miss the entire thing. It seems like a big setup for a sequel, but it was the first time in the movie that things got so stupid I that I couldn’t believe what I was watching. There’s some great action at the end of the movie (and even more weapons) but the story also gets even more outlandish and further away from the source material.
Ultimately, is Monster Hunter a cash grab, or does it respect the fans and stay true to the games? I say it’s about 90% authentic, and any Monster Hunter fan will almost certainly enjoy it. I had enough watching it to ignore that contrived lore jammed in at the end. It’s not a masterpiece, but if you love Monster Hunter, you won’t be disappointed.
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Eric Switzer is the Livestream News Editor for TheGamer as well as the lead for VR and Tech. He has written about comics and film for Bloody Disgusting and VFXwire. He is a graduate of University of Missouri – Columbia and Vancouver Film School. Eric loves board games, fan conventions, new technology, and his sweet sweet kitties Bruce and Babs. Favorite games include Destiny 2, Kingdom Hearts, Super Metroid, and Prey…but mostly Prey. His favorite Pokémon is Umbreon.
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