After many years of struggling for human survival in a post-apocalyptic landscape dominated by zombie hordes, starving animals and the sinister Umbrella Corporation, British writer and director Paul W. . S.. . Anderson reached the final chapter of his Resident Evil series of video game adaptations with the helpful title Resident Evil: The Final Chapter. That was in 2016 – and since then his fans have wondered where he could go next.
Now we have the answer. Monster Hunter, the first film Anderson made since then, marks the start of an equally long-lived action-horror-fantasy saga. The source material is again a series of Japanese video games, Anderson’s wife and muse Milla Jovovich plays the lead role again – and even more than before, the title gives a clear indication of what to expect.
We’re somewhere on earth today (or maybe in the near future: it doesn’t matter). Jovovich plays the die-hard Lieutenant Artemis who leads a small group of American soldiers on a vaguely defined rescue mission through an unknown desert.
Then a sandstorm takes them to another world – that is, where the Resident Evil films were marked by recurring allusions to Alice in Wonderland, the Wizard of Oz seems to be an even looser template here.
There is no such thing as a munchkins or a wicked witch. There is no one to welcome the lieutenant and her team into their new environment: a second, even more abstract desert with finer, paler sand.
But Artemis and Company don’t have much time to ponder the mysterious circumstances surrounding their move. This barren landscape turns out to be inhabited – and so the hunt continues, although the people are initially less the hunters than the prey.
Although the monsters are usually gray and armored, they come in several varieties. Some resemble dragons or dinosaurs, others seem to be related to creatures from other films: the giant beetles from Starship Troopers or the sandworms from Tremors or Dune.
They have the satisfying inaccuracy – gaping insectoid throats, the wrong number of limbs – that we expect from any monster worthy of the name. But little more needs to be said about them: the film is not really about them, in the sense that the Godzilla films (of every era) are about Godzilla.
Part of the appeal of Anderson’s films is that they aren’t about much at all. Here, as in the Resident Evil films, the freaky digital images have a deep, openly produced quality that corresponds to the tradition of video games, as if the monsters were easy-to-copy consumer goods moving by one after the other on a conveyor belt.
Anderson’s action sequences retain some of that linear simplicity, even in their fastest, chaotic form, and let us get involved in the most basic physical sense. This also applies to his approach to plot construction, which in turn seems to be directly inspired by video games: about every half hour, his stories reorient themselves, as if the protagonist had jumped from one level to the next.
While Monster Hunter begins as a film about a close-knit unit, only two human characters can be seen on the screen in the middle for a long period of time, Artemis and an initially cautious figure who is only identified as « The Hunter » and by Playing Thai martial arts star Tony Jaa (who in truth doesn’t have much leeway to demonstrate the kickboxing skills that made his name).
Although these two do not speak each other’s language, they learn to communicate as they band together against their common enemy. Undoubtedly there is a message here of the need for East-West collaboration, but taking it too seriously would be about as useful as viewing the Resident Evil series as a denunciation of Big Pharma.
What deserves to be taken seriously is the on-screen presence of Jovovich – an action icon that Keanu Reeves easily has in some ways, her male equivalent in some ways. All of Monster Hunter’s grotesque absurdities could be designed to stand out against the beauty of her face, and that face, in turn, could sum up Anderson’s entire aesthetic: the same sharp clarity, the same engaging void.
Monster Hunter, Resident Evil, Capcom, Milla Jovovich, Paul W. . S.. . Anderson, Nintendo Switch
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