At the time of this writing it has been roughly 2 and a half hours since I went to go see the Monster Hunter (2020) at a drive-in theater with my friend. He and I are huge fans of the Monster Hunter franchise, with my journey starting with 4 Ultimate on the 3DS and his starting at Tri on the Wii. Now I knew going in that this movie wouldn’t be very good as I had been following the film’s development since its announcement and was very aware of the questionable decisions made during the film’s production. I however, am a fan of campy, schlocky, and laughably bad media and was more than ready to give this movie a recommendation if I managed to find some aspect of it that made it worth watching. I unfortunately must tell you now that the Monster Hunter (2020) has no such qualities to be found outside of the visual and props department. Now before I go further in depth I will warn you now THERE WILL BE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW. So if you wish to go into this film without any notion of what is going to happen, for whatever reason, please just keep my warning in mind and read no further.
I guess the best place to start is the plot, or rather, lack thereof. The premise of the movie is that Lieutenant Artemis and her squad of armed soldiers are suddenly teleported into the world of Monster Hunter by a freak storm. After her squad gets wiped out, she joins forces with a hunter that is native to the land, in order to find her way home. Now, I am a firm believer that not every story needs to be complicated, so long as the story has a solid foundation and likeable characters. However the simplicity of the plot in Monster Hunter has no such foundation or character. The first act of the movie moves way too fast, it neglects to lay a solid foundation that the rest of the movie’s lore, characters, and events could be set on. Artemis and her squad of UN soldiers are given no direct character development, rather they are used to simply imply characteristics about the members of the squad and that they have a history as a team together. After a hilariously on-the-nose “I’m 15 and this is deep” quote about seeing a new world that’s hidden under our nose, which means nothing but to signal this is the setting of Monster Hunter World, Artemis and her squad are almost instantly sent to the Monster Hunter world, which fruitlessly pits them against a Diablos (Essentially a giant ground based wyvern that screeches like a banshee and behaves like a bull) before they escape and are picked off one by one by a hive of Nerscylla (giant spiders) in the second act of the movie.
Artemis herself boasts her own bevy of issues that are put under a spotlight because of her role as a main character. This is mainly due to her own lack of character and sociopathic responses to various scenarios presented to her throughout the movie. For example, the only glimpse of Artemis’ life outside of the army we see is presented in the form of a wedding band that she keeps in an Altoids tin, that she will occasionally remember and treat as if it were important. This wedding band is never expanded upon or mentioned past the second act, nor does she really express any other kind of trait other than being strong and determined. We do see her have a very brief moment of weakness after surviving the Nerscylla attack; it lasts maybe 3-5 minutes before she’s back up on her feet and acting as if she didn’t just go through what would scar any person, sans a psychopath or sociopath, oh wait Artemis is a sociopath. See I say this because after the Diablos encounter (an encounter that killed one of Artemis’ men whom she considered a friend, mind you) one of Artemis’ squad has the reasonable response of freaking the fuck out because theres a giant wyvern that is unaffected by their only method of attack and Artemis, in her infinite wisdom, tells the soldier to settle down and listen to her orders because, “they’re soldiers and what soldiers do is fight and survive”, and to no one’s surprise the rest of the squad is mercilessly picked off one by one by grotesque, poison-filled hell spiders. One squad member in-particular was chest-bursted by several Nerscylla eggs that were laid in his stomach which Artemis witnesses in full, and no trauma manifests from that outside of frantically checking herself for eggs after her escape. After the Nerscylla trauma train, Artemis runs into The Hunter who was left stranded in the desert in the film’s opening shot. Now this is where I have to take a moment to talk about one of the weirdest decisions this movie decides to make. For some reason Artemis and The Hunter do not share a common language which, while logical, does not help at all with the paper-thin characters since this prevents Artemis and The Hunter from having any meaningful conversations. Then again, the film makes no attempt to show us how their friendship develops outside of montages. Hell, the friendship between The Hunter and Artemis just sorta happens after Artemis decides to not let The Hunter die at the hands of a Nerscylla and says she’s not his enemy (despite instigating the conflict that lead to The Hunter falling into the Nerscylla pit).
After that scuffle, the two decide to team up to take down the Diablos by infecting them with nerscylla poison. Artemis acts as bait to lure out the nerscylla (which again she expresses nothing but nervousness and not genuine fear after you know seeing one of her men have spiders be birthed out of his fucking chest) and The Hunter slices off half its head to get the poison. After this we get a dull montage of The Hunter teaching Artemis to fight using dual blades with bits of The Hunter carving the Nerscylla piece they cut off in order to make poison arrows, which admittedly was a cool mechanic for them to adapt from the games. When they finally confront the Diablos, the duo only just barely manage to defeat it through an improvised lobotomy with a greatsword with the only real damage the duo takes being The Hunter being knocked unconscious (ya know so the duo doesn’t have to do that whole pesky conversation thing). Artemis then makes a sled from Diablos parts to haul The Hunter, and once The Hunter wakes up, we proceed to get another montage though this time solely focused on their desert travel, with no relationship building between Artemis and The Hunter of course.
Then the last act of the film finally begins. Artemis and The Hunter meet up with The Hunter’s crew and proceed to have a brief encounter with a Rathalos, which is essentially a very stereotypical dragon but its a wyvern. When the encounter ends the chief of the crew (played by Ron Perlman, who is wearing an absolutely awful wig) knocks Artemis out and has his crew capture her for seemingly no reason other than not being from their world. This doesn’t last long and Artemis is let go to speak with the village chief, but not after we get a brief meeting of what I can best describe as a pale imitation of one of the best Monster Hunter World characters, the Meowscular Chef who is a buff cat who cooks food with a fucking broad sword. Unfortunately here he’s relegated to a cleaver and just performing his in game animation because they wanted a fun cameo. Once Artemis meets the chief, he explains the situation (in English surprisingly): a tower is creating portals to other worlds and the monsters from their world are too dangerous to risk escape. Artemis agrees to help them fight the Rathalos and the crew head off to the final battle.
When they finally get to the Rathalos, the fight is actually admittedly pretty good with the squad working together to fight it with the Monster Hunter weapons …. Until the last stretch of the fight when the Rathalos knocks Artemis – and only Artemis – into a portal back to her world. We get a fake-out with the UN army coming in to save Artemis, followed by army soldiers dying until Artemis finds an explosive (which the movie has also shown not to be very effective) and proceeds to chuck it straight into the gullet of the rampaging Rathalos causing its flame sac to rupture and explode internally, which while admittedly clever unfortunately does not kill the Rathalos. Before Artemis becomes the Rathalos’ next snack, two familiar explosive arrows hit the Rathalos, it being revealed The Hunter and chief came to rescue Artemis. A couple more explosive arrows to the neck and the Rathalos is defeated in the most anticlimactic way possible, but after it’s been put down the chief proceeds to tell everyone to be on guard as another attack is about to begin. Cue the Gore Magala (an actual legit dragon that spreads a virus that causes those infected to go in a frenzy) appearing and the heroes charging into the fray before cutting to the credits.
Now I know that most plot synopsis aren’t super detailed but there legitimately is not much more to the events from the movie than this. Seriously I had more fun recapping the damn movie than watching it because I can at least add in my thoughts and frustrations for comedic effect and make you and myself laugh. The plot is so plain and cookie cutter that honestly you could inject any other franchise with big monsters like god eater, final fantasy, the witcher etc etc. and nothing would change. That’s my biggest issue with the movie, the paper-thin plot and characters I can excuse because that’s not what makes this movie bad since it’s par for the course for video game adaptations. What makes this movie bad is how much love was put into the actual Monster Hunter parts. The props are lovingly crafted and look like they were pulled straight out of the game, the monster-CG and movements were spot-on and looked great, and the movie does a good job of sticking to the rules of the game (setting traps, applying status effects, carving monsters, etc etc.), but it all gets wasted on a movie that’s so generic in structure and premise that the titular Monster Hunter aspect is really nothing more than just set dressing and flavour.
As a fan of the franchise, this leaves me severely disappointed as it really wouldn’t be difficult to make a good Monster Hunter movie because the series has a very loose plot to begin with. It would have been infinitely more interesting to have seen a greenhorn hunter come into their own or a squad of hunters learning to trust each other and work as a team, but instead we got this lazy safe disappointment that misses what I believe to be the defining trait of the franchise. What is that defining trait? Growth and bonds. Learning to work with your team and overcoming the challenges presented to you by the monster you’ve been tasked to face are, to me, the core pillars that make up the Monster Hunter experience and this movie shoves that into montages. With that in mind I cannot recommend Monster Hunter (2020) and, instead I recommend you play the Monster Hunter series of games. I personally recommend starting with Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate for 3DS owners, and for PC and console players, Monster Hunter World is a good place to start. The games go on sale often and they encompass what truly makes Monster Hunter special. And before I leave you today, I would like to thank my friends PJ and Coops for introducing me to this wonderful franchise and I would like to thank everyone who has joined me in the hunts throughout my time in the franchise, the experience wouldn’t have been the same without you. Now then Merry (belated) Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a Happy New Year to you all! Let’s hope Monster Hunter Rise is better than this shitshow of a film!