Monster Hunter

Who could have guessed that 2020 would be the best year ever for movies based on videogames, a category not exactly known for high quality? Spring brought us the surprisingly entertaining Sonic the Hedgehog, and now comes Monster Hunter, based on the popular Capcom game. A ton of fun from start to finish, it hits the right balance of hard-core action and tongue-in-cheek humor. The 102-minute running time zips right by.

In the opening titles, we're told that there are two worlds: ours, and one inhabited by monsters. Lt. Artemis (Milla Jovovich) and her platoon of soldiers are searching for a different team that went missing in a remote location. Their vehicle becomes engulfed in a storm, triggering a magical portal in the process. When the storm passes, the group is beaten and battered, and, to their shock, in the monster world.

The creatures are pretty amazing. There's a massive sandworm that runs right below the ground, a fleet of humongous spiders, and more. Artemis and crew aren't the only humans in this world, though. Martial arts legend Tony Jaa plays “The Hunter,” a mysterious figure who doesn't speak English and therefore can't explain where he came from. Despite the language barrier, Artemis and the Hunter are able to team up to identify a way out. To make their plan work, they of course have to slay one especially menacing monster. Then Ron Perlman shows up as another warrior, kicking Monster Hunter to a whole new level of delightful craziness.

Director Paul W.S. Anderson has a history adapting videogames for the screen, having helmed four of the Resident Evil movies. He creates a lighter tone here. Action sequences are over-the-top in the best possible way. At one point, for example, Artemis finds herself trapped inside a sprawling, labyrinthine spider web that she has to find a way out of. That's cool. So is the manner in which the sandworm springs out when we least expect it. The monsters are approximately a thousand times bigger than the human characters, meaning that the people have to be clever in how they fight.

“Clever” is the right word for Monster Hunter overall. I found myself chuckling with pleasure at how Anderson stages the set pieces. On the rare occasions when the story settles down for a little character development, it also elicits laughs. Artemis and the Hunter form an unlikely friendship, bonding over – of all things – a Hershey bar. Jovovich and Jaa prove to be a dynamic duo, creating a believable, charming collaboration between their characters.

Top quality visual effects work is another plus. CGI monsters can seem boring sometimes, but the ones here are interesting to look at, in addition to having unique attack moves. More than that, the film does a convincing job creating the alternate world. Actual locations are mixed with computer imagery to build an environment that feels suitably isolated and peril-ridden. It's eye-popping, for sure.

You won't find any substance here, which is fine. Monster Hunter makes no pretentions of being anything other than what it is – a great big escapist creature feature, packed with wild wall-to-wall action. If that's your thing, and it's definitely mine, the movie offers a very good time.

out of four

Monster Hunter is rated PG-13 for sequences of creature action and violence throughout. The running time is 1 hour and 42 minutes.