“What the fucking hell am I doing here?” I thought to myself as I waited for Paul W. S. Anderson’s ‘Monster Hunter (2020) to start, a movie I had voluntary come to the cinema to see. My intense worry was due to the fact that if you subscribe to the auteur theory of cinema — that a film bears the undeniable stamp of its director — then Paul W. S. Anderson is the perfect example of that in action as practically every single one of his movies is an unwatchable piece of shit. Christ, I knew I’d been missing going to the cinema over the last year or so but this didn’t feel like unbridled enthusiasm and more like misguided gluttony. Still, the film was produced by Toho and has monsters in it so maybe it won’t be too awful.
‘Monster Hunter’ starts off with one of the most baffling sights I’ve ever seen on screen as a giant monster chases a Spanish galleon across a moonlit desert, a Spanish galleon captained by Ron Perlman in a wig so ridiculous he looks like Will Ferrell doing Final Fantasy cos-play. “Well, this is certainly different and stupid”, I thought to myself as, being a fan of both “different” and “stupid”, my hopes began to rise.
Unfortunately this opening is the only aspect of ‘Monster Hunter’ that feels even vaguely different or original as everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, that comes after is, in typical W. S. Anderson fashion, either plundered, cribbed, borrowed, stolen, lifted, Xeroxed, duplicated, replicated or simply ported over from countless other films and properties.
The story is so simple, so slight, that it wavers on the cusp of existence and is so minimalistic it could be used as a form of contemplation in Zen Buddhism. Milla Jovovich is in the army. She gets transported to another planet. She fights monsters. Roll credits.
To give some, any, form of substance to this koan of a narrative W. S. Anderson pulls in visual and story references from everything ranging from ‘The Descent’ (2005), ‘Dune (1984), ‘Aliens’ (1986), ‘Enemy Mine’ (1985), ‘First Blood’ (1982), ‘The Mist’ (2007), ‘Robinson Crusoe on Mars’ (1964), ‘Starship Troopers’ (1997) etc and because ‘Monster Hunter’ is based on a video game there’s a good chunk of ‘Shadow of the Colossus’, ‘Final Fantasy’ and ‘Skyrim’ in there too.
So it’s derivative nonsense but is it entertaining derivative nonsense? Possibly. To a very small extent. The amount of entertainment here could be contained inside a hamster’s lunchbox. It’s certainly nowhere near as entertaining as it needs to be and doesn’t come close to promising the cheesy madness promised by Ron Perlman’s hair at the start, which is a real let down.
This means ‘Monster Hunter’ lands firmly in that parched desert of movies that are not awful enough to qualify as ironic fun yet not good enough to qualify as legitimate enjoyment. It’s a film that, like the Buddha himself, simply is. In that way ‘Monster Hunter’ is the closest cinema has come to achieving the teachings of Zen because this movie, literally, exists in a state of “No Mind”.