What do you get when you combine Mad Max with a little bit of Lord of the Rings, as well as some giant monsters and a hint of the American military industrial complex? There are some out there that would say to themselves that such a mix would be something they would want to see. There truly is no accounting for taste. The cinematic mess you get from combing these elements, with a healthy dose of I don’t understand what is going on here, is Monster Hunter.
The first thing you see in Monster Hunter is a circa 1800, three-masted sailing ship gliding smoothly over . . . sand dunes. Why this could not have been on sensible water, I do not know. Then again, “sense” was checked at the meeting room door when they were putting together this film. At any rate, the ship is attacked by a behemoth “swimming” through the dunes. Again, why not water? It is also the last we see of this particular creature, anymore sailing scenes, and much of the vessel’s crew. Next the film cuts to a small unit of American Rangers cruising the desert in a humvee and a dune buggy, this last of which is, of course, standard army issue. They are led by Captain Natalie Artemis (Milla Jovovich). She cares about her soldiers. That is all we know about her, except, I suppose, for a desire to not die. What a unique character trait, huh? As they are out looking for one of their sister teams that lost its ways, what appears to be a giant sand/electrical overtakes their squad. In the midst of the tempest they pass by these strange runes glowing blue on a set of stones. The next thing they know their vehicles are tumbling through space and dimension (in a set of rolls that would crush to death you or me, but all the characters seem to have bones of steel). Not long after their arrival in this strange land, they are attacked by a four-legged beast that can also swim through the sand and has a set of horns that would make the proudest ox envious. They flee for shelter in a rocky oasis . . . only to discover the myriad crevices to be infested by spider-like creatures the size of campers. These finish off the rest of Artemis’ team, though the bugs decide to save her for a late-night snack, for whatever reason. She inevitably escapes and finds that she is not alone on this stony island. This other person is simply known as The Hunter (Tony Jaa) and together they sneak off their outcrop (because, of course, the spiders cannot come out in the daylight), dispatch the beast that had chased Artemis there before, and set off for a mysterious tower they can see in the distance. It is never completely explained what this structure is (something about some ancient, inter-dimensional traveling civilization), but I guess being in the middle of nowhere, where else are you going to go? Once they get within a mile or so of the structure, the landscape abruptly changes from barren desert to lush, tropical jungle. The new terrain also means a new set of dragons (literally) to deal with, but this time Artemis and the Hunter are saved by The Admiral (Ron Perlman), whose boat we saw in the opening. After deciding to imprison Artemis (again, for no apparent reason at all), The Admiral decides to help her get back through an inter-dimensional gate that will take her home in exchange for aid in dealing with a fire-breather. During the subsequent battle, Artemis gets knocked back through the gate, but before she can relax in the perceived safety of the American Army, the dragon decides to follow her. Luckily for her, so did the monster hunters. Fire and humungous teeth take care of Artemis’ rescuers, but the hunters take care of the monsters. Problem is, the storm starts up again and, because she says so, they think that more monsters will start coming to Earth, so she goes back through the gate in order to stop this threat. Then the movie ends.
Monster Hunter is about killing monsters. That is it. It does not attempt to do anything else. Sometimes action films try to add a little philosophy or character development, perhaps for us nerds who actually follow a plot. It is a tricky proposition between giving the right amount of exposition without bogging down the pace. The ones that manage to strike the right balance between the two are the ones that are usually the most successful, in any sense of the term. I cannot emphasize this enough: there is zero character development or plot in this film. The only thing you need to know is that they are trying not to die. It is a concept that anyone can get behind, even this usually pacifist Catholic, particularly since they are fighting giant, blood-thirsty animals instead of each other. However, this also makes the film frustrating. They toss in this . . . I hesitate to call it a sub-plot as there is no overt-plot, so side-story? Anyway, there is this thing about the ancient civilization responsible for traveling between dimensions, but it is mentioned in an off-hand manner as if it is supposed to explain everything that is going on. By the time the film got to this point I was too bored to care.
Should I say something about the fellowship that comes about between Artemis and The Hunter (and these names are so pandering, by the way) in Monster Hunter? Nah. This movie sucks.