By Christian Holub
December 16, 2020 at 01:29 PM EST
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Credit: Coco Van Oppens/Screen Gems

There are fantasy films with intricate worlds — sagas of faraway lands with fleshed-out rules. There may not be any elves or demons in real life, but some films work hard enough at world-building to help us suspend disbelief and get engrossed in the various dynamics of made-up places. Monster Hunter (out on VOD this Friday) is not one of those movies.

That's not necessarily a failing, since Monster Hunter isn't pretending to be Tolkien. It sells itself as a movie about Milla Jovovich fighting CGI monsters, and it is indeed a movie about Milla Jovovich fighting CGI monsters — no more and no less. Like Jovovich's previous collaborations with her husband, director Paul W.S. Anderson, on the Resident Evil films, Monster Hunter is based off a video game franchise. It certainly feels like an old-fashioned video game: Plot doesn't really matter, there's not much character development to speak of, but there is a lot of fighting against an endless swarm of enemies.

The opening scene shows us a giant ship crashing in the midst of a supernatural storm, but soon cuts to "our world" — indicated by an empty Coke can on the side of the road, and U.S. soldiers patrolling a desert area. (Credit where it's due: Those are two pretty on-brand descriptions of our modern world.) Jovovich's Captain Artemis is the leader of this squad, but it's one thing to lead your troops into battle against human combatants; it's another to suddenly find yourself pulled into another dimension by a freak storm.

This world is also a desert; it's not actually clear how much the two planes differ geographically. It's just that, while humans thoroughly dominate the food chain on our Earth, this one has a whole different class of apex predators. Giant spiders cause the most problems at first; one poor sucker (played by T.I.!) even gets eggs laid inside him, Scary Stories To Tell in the Dark-style. The rest of Artemis' crew doesn't last much longer, which frees us from having to worry too much about dialogue from then on. A survivor of that opening shipwreck known only as the Hunter (Tony Jaa) finds Artemis and becomes the only ally in her newfound war against monsters, but he doesn't speak English (and we viewers don't even get subtitles). The closest they come to communicating is agreeing that Artemis' Hershey bar tastes good, though one would think that consuming chocolate would be counter-productive in a desert devoid of water. Ah well, hopefully, the product placement was worth something.

Together, Artemis and the Hunter fashion themselves some reasonably-cool armor, weapons, and traps out of both the surrounding desert detritus and the corpses of monsters they kill, so that they can become even better at killing more monsters. This sequence is the heart of the movie, and there's fun to be had with the monster battles — especially when the Hunter shoots one triceratops-looking fiend through the eye with a poisoned arrow, allowing Artemis to mount its back via grappling hook and deal even more damage.

In between, these fights are training montages that raise more questions than they answer. Why do blades forged in this dimension emit blasts of fire? Who knows? The Hunter doesn't even tell Artemis, much less us. Eventually, Ron Perlman shows up as an old ally of the Hunter's, and he can speak the same language as Artemis, so there's a half-hearted attempt to dump some lore on us: Something something ancient race of technologically-advanced people whose reach exceeded their grasp, something something tower that connects these two worlds and must be destroyed for the safety of both, etc.

At a certain point, Monster Hunter just decides to end.  As the surviving characters gear up for a final assault on the magic tower, the credits start rolling. A film that doesn't even bother to wrap up its own story, instead gesturing vaguely at a hypothetical sequel, is telling you exactly how much you should care about it. At least some of those monsters are fun and gross. Grade: C

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