Okay, this is going to be a long one, so buckle in. This is a FULL RECAP OF THE MOVIE. Spoilers, but I needed to talk about this thing in full.
First of all, I can recognize this movie is trashy; the writing is bad, the set-up for the story is lame, the characters are pretty stupid and the pacing is really, REALLY strange.
So, I kind of loved this movie… and yes, it’s completely predicated on the fact that I love the video game series and had googly eyes for all the fanservice presented to me.
Starting off strong at the beginning, it was kind of surreal to see a fleet of hunters in a sandship sailing across some unnamed desert on “the big screen” with stars like Ron Perlman playing “The Admiral” and various Hunters (with supporting Handlers, might I add), primarily of which we followed played by Tony Jaa. It was even MORE surreal to see a Black Diablos in all it’s glory attack the ship and set up why Tony Jaa (who I will only refer to as Hunter now) is no longer with his fleet.
Things are going too good for me, so we need some time in “The Real World” where we meet our main character, Captain Natalie Artemis (Milla Jovovich) and her group of dipshit US Army Rangers as they search for a lost team of soldiers. The dialogue here is horrible. The Rangers are horrible. While searching around, they get hit by a storm and end up in The New World. Yep, that simple.
The Rangers find the remains of the missing soldiers, burned and dead. Hunter sees them, fires an arrow to warn them that they’re about to get fucked and, they proceed to get completely messed up by the Black Diablos that’s hanging out, one of the members even being pierced through by a horn.
Running away, the group gets attacked by Nerscylla in a small cave and end up webbed in a giant nest underground. Atermis gets out, meets up with random dipshit Ranger (who I don’t remember the name of) that isn’t feeling too good and we get to see him die from multiple Nerscylla sacs in his body explode in a gruesome, disturbing death (cool!).
Artemis gets out, has a bit of a moment and then happens on a graveyard of sandships nearby where she’s attacked by Hunter and they duke it out for awhile until she’s bested by Hunter, tied up and taken hostage to his hideout for the night. In the morning she breaks out while Hunter scouts, ties him up, taunts him and they have another large fight that winds up almost killing Hunter by him falling into a Nerscylla den before getting saved by Artemis. With the two able to “talk” for a moment, Artemis gives Hunter the last big of Hershey’s chocolate in her pocket and the two become best of friends because chocolate makes everything OK again.
BFFs now, the two try to come up with a plan to take care of the Black Diablos problem that has been holding them back in this area for the whole movie so far. Artemis wants to get to her vehicle to get her bazooka. Hunter suggests killing a Nerscylla to harvest their poison stinger & tranquilizing fluid to help bring the beast down so they can make the killing blow easier. The two compromise by Hunter forcing Artemis to act as bait when the sun goes down as he jumps out at last minute to kill the monster and take the part they need before reinforcements arrive.
After some more character relationship building moments, learning about Hunter’s motivations (and the fact that he now thinks everything is “chocolate”), the two get to training to take on the Black Diablos. Hunter wraps his arrow with the entrails of the Nerscylla, stinger attached to the arrowhead, Artemis gets fitted out with the Slinger and a set of Dual Blades, both of which she’s given a crash course on how to wield (until she accidently activates demon mode and slightly burns herself, to Hunter’s amusement). The trap is set, Black Diablos is engaged and they fight until the monster falls to a nasty splitting headache, but not before knocking Hunter unconscious in the scrap.
Using part of the hide from the hunt, Artemis drags Hunter until night when a storm hits and she uses her Ranger survival kit (and skills) to keep them both alive through the night. Upon waking up, the two walk until they stumble onto a beautiful oasis in the middle of the desert, full of lush greenery, lots of water and herds of Apceros enjoying their life. As good as any place to set up camp, Artemis gets attacked by a single Cephadrome as she rushes for a drink of water which is promptly killed and cooked in a cooking scene that so clearly fails to capitalize on one of the games’ best moments.
The night is cut short when a Rathalos flies by to set fire to a bunch of vegetation and Apceros, causing them to stampede through the area. Luckily, waiting in the wings is the lost fleet of Hunter’s come to save the day when The Admiral jumps into the scene beside Artemis with his Switch Axe to scare the stampeding monsters around them, to which she joins in with her Dual Blades and the two dance around like morons for no reason for a few minutes. Meanwhile, Hunter ran away from the herd, reaches a dead-end and is picked up by Handler, Second Handler and Other Hunter. The stampede subsides and The Admiral promptly sucker punches Artemis in the face like she owes him money.
This is where they obviously realized how little runtime they have left in the movie as everything from this point on is crammed into the final 30 minutes.
Artemis wakes up in a cage on the sandship at the beginning of the movie to the fleet members taunting and watching her. As they are called off to leave her alone by random offscreen voice, she notices a way out of the cage into the hold of the ship that she manages to break into. Utensils and pots line the path as Artemis sneaks towards a food prep table with a cleaver hanging nearby and, as she reaches for it, it happens. The thing I didn’t think the movie had the balls to do. She’s stopped and threatened by the Meowscular Chef. That’s right, not only did they include a Palico into this movie, they specifically put in the Chef. As Hunter comes into the scene to bring Artemis to get unshackled, he informs her that the chef is a Palico and, before a scene transition, we get a small vignette of him cooking some classically delicious looking Monster Hunter food.
The Admiral unshackles Artemis and the two have a discussion (conveniently in English) about what the hell is going on. Apparently she isn’t the first human to come into this world and the other ones he knew “a long time ago” ruined some stuff. That’s also when he learned English. They are looking to head to the Sky Tower, an ancient place full of ancient magic and ancientness that might be a key to getting her home as it’s where the original humans probably ruined everything by creating a portal between the two worlds. Easy, except a Rathalos is protecting the tower for some reason. The chef comes back to serve food, gets accosted for leaving his fur in a drink and the crew agree to leave in the morning. Which they do, but not before some really, REALLY weird flirtatiousness between the Meowscular Chef (you know, the cat thing) and Artemis…
The hunting party gets up to the Sky Tower, realize that it has machinery inside that is causing the storm and creating the gateways to Artemis’ world. They walk up and, surprise surprise, are promptly attacked by a giant Rathalos. A fight between the Hunters and the monster ensue and it’s really the first time in this whole movie that the characters are acting like you might expect; they get into fighting positions and attack like they’re trying to hunt the damn monster. Nothing really happens though other than some cool Rathalos shots and Artemis running off the cliffside to avoid being burned alive, falling into her world in the process. She’s picked up by a MedEvac helicopter, the whole damn army is around for some reason and everything is going to be okay.
Except it isn’t when the giant Rathalos from The New World not only followed Artemis into her world, but attacks the helicopter she’s in by ripping the front of it off and throwing it away like a gum wrapper. Luckily, the army is here to shoot everything it has, tanks and all, into the Rathalos and do nothing but provide charcoal for the monster’s barbecue. Oh, it also rips one of the tank’s gun turret off with it’s beak. Things really come to a head, though, when the Rathalos grabs onto an Airbus by the wings and rips it apart like it’s nothing. With the army force dead, it’s up to Artemis to take out the monster… which she does pretty easily by using her slinger to load up an explosive of some sort (flare or something?) and shoot it into the Rathalos’ mouth before it spits fire at her. Yup, that cliché.
The Rathalos blows up from the inside, seems to be dead for a moment, but isn’t but it’s okay because Hunter is here now and uses his bow to finish it off. Then he asks for chocolate. The Admiral walks into the shot from the sunset, says monsters are coming into Artemis’ world and a Gore Magala is seen in the distance fly through the storm. The movie ends on a final shot of the Hunters running in to attack the Gore Magala; Artemis with a sword, Hunter using an Insect Glaive and The Admiral’s strange Switch Axe. Those patient enough to wait are treated a mid-credit scene of the fight, well underway, being watched over by a shadowy figure from the Sky Tower as the group pushed the monster back into The New World and the Palico chef drawing a weapon to join the fight.
So… is it a good movie?
No. It isn’t. There are caveats you need to go into if you were to recommend this movie.
First of all, if you’re a “diehard Monster Hunter fan” and you wanted this to perfectly represent a game that is hundreds of hours of fun with perfect representations of the monsters you’ve seen millions of times and read the wiki entry for even more, you’re going to be disappointed. This is a movie by the guy who did Resident Evil (my favorite game series) so I knew what to expect going in and I feel like it made the experience okay for me. Expect a movie that gets some things right, a bunch of things not hitting the mark and an overall feel of mediocrity. Also, welcome to the club.
Second, watch this movie knowing it’s a silly representation of a video game. There isn’t anything to talk about for a story but, thankfully, even what little ham-fisted narrative they do set up is inconsequential at worst and at best gave the monsters some human fodder for murder. Most of the monsters looked pretty good (in my opinion anyways), the sets and scenery were spot on (especially with the oasis) and it was fun to see all the small callbacks to the series I love. I liked seeing a weird, methy Palico. I liked the weapon movesets being represented and forcing a 70 year-old Ron Perlman to dance around with a stupid looking axe. I liked seeing Tony Jaa eat up scenery as a (for all intents and purposes) mute who only know what “chocolate” is and, finally, I just like the charisma Milla Jovovich brings to every role she does, good or not.
Finally, and maybe just on a personal note, there was something interesting to see how long the movie would meander on the single situation of the Black Diablos. There was a surprising amount of restraint and patience shown using the first monster as a device to force the characters into a situation where they had to work together to continue and think a little outside the box to kill it. They needed to create a distraction, they needed to use “status effects” against it, hell, she even carved the corpse for useful pieces to help continue the journey. There’s also a surprisingly small amount of dialogue for the first hour or so of the movie which helped hide just how repugnant the writing truly was.
There are glimpses in the first hour of what could be the structure of a truly amazing Monster Hunter movie could be and although some might take that as a tease, I see it as hope that perhaps one day we will get that movie. Until then, I’m hoping we at least get the obvious sequel they tried so hard to set up. Maybe as long as they stop with the offensive jokes in their trailers, they can get China onboard.