The early red flag about the Monster Hunter movie, among my hunting buddies at least, was the inclusion of modern-day marines. What the hell have they got to do with Monster Hunter? The answer of course is nothing. But they do have a lot to do with Hollywood, and in fact marines are something of a go-to plot device. I'm not normally one for rumours, but I once heard that a Minecraft movie was being considered, and the first pitch involved marines discovering the world of Minecraft. Hell, that's pretty much the plot of Monster Hunter.
Point is: the marines are how this movie got made. And Monster Hunter knows exactly what to do with them.
This movie has pace. It opens with the marines investigating some sort of dimensional rift, following in the footsteps/tire treads of a previous expedition. They're soon sucked into the world of Monster Hunter, discover a bunch of wrecks, and then the movie starts killing them all off as fast as it can—and how!
I'm not going to spoil too much here, but it's important to understand what Monster Hunter gets absolutely right: the monsters. The featured monsters are Diablos, in a desert; Nerscylla, in a creepy cave system; and finally Rathalos. By god do they make short work of marines (except, of course, Milla Jovovich's character Artemis). One of the grunts gets impaled on Diablos' horn and goes out by detonating his grenade belt: fantastic. Another gets bitten by Nerscylla, then his chest bursts open into tiny spiders that eat him! You just can't knock that.
The special effects on the monsters are outstanding—in particular their adherence to how the monsters in the games are animated. Diablos doesn't just look the way you always imagined, but the through-line from the games to this beast comes across in every motion: the way it moves its head, swishes its tail and dives into the sand. When Rathalos lands on the ground, the air billows out and his body briefly crouches into the impact. Watching this thing take to the skies is worth the price of admission alone.
If that wasn't enough, the battles themselves are constructed in a manner that pays homage to the games. At one point Diablos is tricked into spiking up from the sand into a barrel bomb. In another sequence they manage to break his horn off (the damage profile, of course, matching the game exactly). What becomes very clear, very quickly, is that the team behind Monster Hunter the movie have played a tonne of Monster Hunter the game.
The sets are perfect: here a tangle of lush vines echoing MH World; there a bleak and bare desert from Generations, titanic dunes stretching into the distance; now a verdant, shallow stream where aptonoth graze. When Diablos is defeated, the characters carve off bits of his body!
And the fan-service just keeps on coming. Artemis and the nameless Hunter character (Tony Jaa) get off on the wrong foot, but are soon roasting some delicious meat on a spit. At the side of scenes you'll see little details, like the Hunter crafting potions, and when it comes to the set-dressing everything from the furniture to the way the food looks is perfect. Do you know what happens when a hunter gets injured in this movie? He gets carried back to base on a stretcher. This movie has a god damn Palico in it, and doesn't even bother to explain! Ron Perlman, playing the Hunter Admiral, notes Artemis's disbelief at a giant cat serving his dinner, and just grunts "You don't have cats in your world?"
Artemis learns the ways of the hunter, specifically a dual blades hunter, and everything builds up to a fight against a Rathalos. Sorry, but I loved this too. The special effects during the Rathalos climax are the most spectacular in a pretty spectacular movie, and even achieve the impossible: they make you glad this movie has marines in it. Look: the Rathalos fights a bunch of tanks, choppers, planes, you name it. At one point it lands on a tank and just bites the top half of it off.
Monster Hunter understands that the monsters are the stars. We all know the deal, we know that Artemis and the Hunter are going to win out in the end, but the reason this film is worth seeing is the incredible realisations of Capcom's fantastical creations, and what the movie then does with them. I want to see Rathalos fuck shit up, and Monster Hunter knows that, and so that's what it delivers.
There is one criticism. During fight scenes, the Hunters use fire element weapons on Diablos and Rathalos. Both of these monsters are of course resistant to fire damage, meaning these hunters don't properly understand their gear types. Tut tut tut.
I unironically loved this movie. If you're a Monster Hunter fan, this is pretty much an essential watch: the script won't be winning any Oscars, but who cares. This is a film about watching great big monsters cause havoc and, in action scene after action scene, it brings the world of Monster Hunter to life in the most exciting way it can. This isn't a 10/10 movie. But it is a 10/10 Monster Hunter movie, and I did not expect that.