I’m a recent convert, but I love me some Monster Hunter videogames. They’re simple on the surface, but nearly impossible to truly master without pouring countless hours grinding and studying the habits and weaknesses of each bit of prey assigned to you as a player. For this reason, Monster Hunter hasn’t taken off in the West nearly as much as it has in its origin country Japan and surrounding regions, at least not up until the release of the more user friendly Monster Hunter World. This in itself makes the Monster Hunter film feel like a damn miracle that it exists at all, especially as an English-language action film (albeit produced by German, Chinese, Japanese, and British studios). Divisive director Paul W.S. Anderson takes on adapting the Capcom video game series to the screen with his wife, Milla Jovovich, almost immediately after finishing up work on his six-film arc of adapting Resident Evil, another Capcom video game series, also starring his wife, Milla Jovovich. This man is a lot of things as a filmmaker, but the one thing everyone can agree on is that he’s consistent in what he wants to make, regardless of what you think about what he makes.
And because of that comfort in what he does and how he does it, Monster Hunter might just be Anderson’s most successful movie of late, if only because it seemingly cares this time around about capturing the Monster Hunter vibe and just running with it, goofiness and all.
Army Captain Natalie Artemis (Milla Jovovich) is investigating the disappearance of an Army convoy in the desert with her team when they are overtaken by a massive sandstorm. After being struck by a violent bolt of lightning, the team emerges from the storm in a different desert, filled with white sand and giant dunes. Unaware of their new surroundings, the team discovers they have been transported to an alternate world through a sort of portal, a world filled with giant, dangerous monsters unlike anything ever seen on Earth. With the help of a stranded hunter from this new world (Tony Jaa), Artemis must figure out how to fight these impossibly unbreakable monsters to return to our world.
Barring the strange military movie storyline that plagues the first act of this film and takes us out of anything remotely resembling Monster Hunter, everything else past the opening successfully does capture the epic, oftentimes goofy nature of the Monster Hunter universe. For once, I can actually applaud Anderson for sticking to the source material relatively well once the film begins to pick up into a true swashbuckling action film. The film obviously takes most of its inspiration from Monster Hunter World, and rightly so, I would say. While hardcore Monster Hunter originalists might argue the game simplifies itself for a broader appeal, this decision makes the most sense considering that Monster Hunter World is both the most cinematic Monster Hunter game by far, but also serves as a wonderful jumping in point for anyone unfamiliar with the game series who is looking to try it out after watching the film.
Unsurprisingly, Jovovich and Jaa kick 10 metric tons of ass in this film, as one would expect from two of the most physically capable action stars of their times (and two of the most criminally underrated, as well). What I didn’t expect was the amount of chemistry the two would have in the film as it went on. There were times I found the middle act of the film to feel slow, but I began to realize, as it went on, that it was sowing the seeds of Artemis and the Hunter’s deep camaraderie as warriors and the beginning of a meaningful friendship. Even with the language barrier between the two characters, their performances and playfulness with each other really speaks louder than words. These are two actors are worth far more than just their physical prowess as action stars.
However, what goes up must come down in some respects, and there is one element of Monster Hunter that is honestly next-level irritating: its editing. There is an insistence, particularly in the first half of the film, where so many quick cuts are inserted into the action that it’s impossible to focus on literally anything going on. Even during quieter, intimate scenes of dialogue there is simply too much going on. It does even itself out a bit in the second half of the film (to which I probably surmise someone had to step in and guide his hand away from the “cut” option in the editor), and is really is a prime case of learning that editing well does not remotely mean editing the most. It’s a shame, too, considering that Monster Hunter is also Anderson’s most visually stunning film to date, and not letting us marinate in the landscapes and visual effects just feels like we’re being cheated.
If you’ve looked at my Twitter even a single time since last October, you would know that I have not been remotely happy at Sony’s decision to give this film a full theatrical release during a pandemic, and the box-office returns on the film hopefully should teach them a lesson about working with new systems of film exhibition when the time calls for it. As a Monster Hunter fan who also cares about not getting and spreading COVID-19, I felt cheated out of being able to support a film I truly wanted to at the time, and this led my first viewing of the film to be on 4K Blu-ray, which made me sad…until I saw the transfer that Sony put forth on this Blu-ray.
Of course, I would’ve rather seen it in IMAX or Dolby Cinema during its theatrical run, but without pretense I can honestly say that Monster Hunter is the finest 4K transfer I have seen to date. While Sony is not a stranger to fabulous Blu-ray transfers (they invented the format, for Christ sake), the scale, clarity and color density of Monster Hunter lends itself to a clean, pristine digital transfer that makes the fact that I couldn’t experience this to the fullest a whole lot less sad. The usage of HDR makes the bright scenes pop with vivid color, but, more importantly, it gives the darker scenes a much more tangible amount of depth and clarity that would be lost without it. Everything feels tailor made for each individual locale the film spans and the transfer to home video is truly spectacular here.
And that’s not even taking into account the Dolby Atmos soundtrack accompanying the film. With Paul Haslinger’s truly excellent score pumping throughout, there’s nary a moment where Monster Hunter isn’t completely enveloping you in sound. From the grandiose roars of the rathalos to the quiet, eerie atmospherics of the Nerscyllas’ cavern, there is always something engaging and immersive about the audio track available here, and I can’t imagine it being much better than it is. Note: Only the 4K Blu-ray contains the Dolby Atmos audio track. The standard 1080p Blu-ray contains a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio track, which while I’m sure is also stunning, will be a bit more constrained than the full Atmos mix.
Special features aren’t particularly extensive or exuberant on this release, as I didn’t really expect them to be in this day and age, but for anyone interested, there are three small featurettes on the production of the film and two (completely pointless, understandably cut) deleted scenes for your enjoyment, but Sony really seemed to imply that the A/V transfer of the film onto 4K was a special feature enough on its own, and I can’t really blame them. A Criterion or Shout! Factory release this is not.
There was a point early on where I thought that Monster Hunter might fail me. I wasn’t really feeling the modern military setup of the film’s premise, and the frenetic editing was putting me off more than it should’ve, but once the film finally found its groove, I began to feel that familiar comfort that the Monster Hunter series of video games provides to me so wonderfully. It’s decidedly goofy, but never poorly crafted, with Jovovich and Jaa finding both physical and emotional chemistry (that, thankfully, never turns into a romance) that’s magnetic and lovable. The film finds that giant sense of fun that’s all I can ask for from a Paul W.S. Anderson film, but particularly from one carrying the Monster Hunter name. While I can roast Sony for trying to pass theatrical releases off as something safe and responsible last December, I am a bit sad they did that, as its poor box office returns seemingly screwed over any major sequel (which this film desperately calls for) potential going forwards. It’s not open-ended for the sake of itself, because I truly believe Anderson has more to build within this universe, and I’d be genuinely excited to do it again…but maybe with a new editor next time.
Available on digital February 16th, 2021.
Available on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and DVD March 2nd, 2021.
For more information, head to the official Monster Hunter website.
Final Score: 3.5 out of 5.