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Fighting beasties in new world
Daniel Bruehl skewers superhero stardom in his directorial debut.
Monster Hunter Rating: ✭✭✭✩✩
Director: Paul W.S. Anderson Cast: Milla Jovovich, Tony Jaa,
EVERYTHING I know about the Monster Hunter video game series is contained in Paul W.S. Anderson’s big-screen adaptation of the franchise, Monster Hunter (opens in cinemas on March 11).
There will be critics who can tell you who these characters are, or what’s up with the “new world” where monsters live, or why those of us in the “old world” should be worried about them, but that information is not presented in this visually interesting but narratively anemic motion picture, so please accept my apologies in advance: This review will likely be about as coherent as the film itself.
Milla Jovovich, who is married to Anderson and has starred in six of his Resident Evil movies (four of which he directed), wrapped that franchise a few years back and could use another. Here, she plays a US Army Ranger (the notes identify her as “Lt Artemis,” but her squad calls her “captain”) on some kind of UN mission tracking the disappearance of Bravo Team.
They went missing in the middle of a desert somewhere in “our world” – according to the coordinates provided on-screen (latitude: 33º 56’ 2.54” N, longitude: 67º 42” 12.35’ N), it’s the location of a Sheep and Chicken Store in Ghawcqol, Afghanistan, though South Africa supplies the movie’s stunning other-dimensionly locations.
Suddenly, a dark CG sandstorm manifests on the horizon, sparking blue lightning and closing fast. The digital phenomenon overtakes Artemis and her unit (a short-lived bunch that includes Tip “T.I.” Harris), transporting them, Dorothy style, to another desert – one that looks like Middle-earth, only with much whiter sand.
In the distance, a Mordor-like “Sky Tower” looms. Artemis and her unit drive around a bit, singing, until they happen upon a giant skeleton. Whatever this creature might have been, it was big. And whatever ate it was probably a whole lot bigger.
It won’t take long for Artemis and her team to meet this freaky sand-swimming reptile, which is, truth be told, a pretty impressive CG monster, “Diablo”. That’s what Thai martial arts star Tony Jaa (who’s referred to only as “Hunter”) calls it half an hour later, but first, Diablo has to gobble, stomp and impale a few of Artemis’ men.
They run toward the rocks, where some giant bug creatures attack (these look and act like the monsters in the vintage Vin Diesel movie Pitch Black). More gobbling, stomping and impaling ensues. This is where Ranger Artemis meets Hunter No-name. The two of them do not speak the same language, and the chemistry between them is ... awkward. They fight, then join forces, upgrading to bigger weapons. Their goal is to reach the Sky Tower, which means crossing Diablo’s desert.
But you’re not reading this review for a plot summary, are you?
Monster Hunter is one of the few relatively big-budget 2020 releases that hasn’t been pushed completely off the schedule by the virus (although it was pushed off the schedule by the Chinese government, pulled from theatres in that country over a racist joke that has since been cut from the film). I can think of some other things that might be cut from the film, although truth be told, it would be a lot more coherent if Anderson and editor Doobie White were to put some scenes back in.
As a filmmaker, Anderson has a take-it-or-leave-it style that confounds many, but pleases enough to sustain a career making hypervisual effects-heavy movies that play like feature-length trailers: Event Horizon, Alien Vs Predator, Pompeii and the four aforementioned Resident Evil movies.
Monster Hunter is no different in that it moves along at a steady clip, dispensing with all but the most rudimentary character details in order to maximise the stuff that excites the fans – namely, striking compositions and carnage.
Most of the time, during action scenes, you can’t tell what’s happening, but it seems to make sense to the characters, and the overripe sound design (which sounds like someone assaulting a couch with a baseball bat or smashing up the produce section at a grocery store) creates a kind of continuity through the Cuisinart cutting.
A bit more plot: After defeating Diablo, the Ranger and the Hunter reach an oasis, where they stumble upon a few more breeds of monsters, as well as another team of what look like pirates led by Ron Perlman, the Hellboy actor whose presence confers a strange kind of legitimacy on the project. If I had to guess, I’d say that Perlman’s character, the Admiral – and his mostly nameless fellow pirates, including a human-size CG cat – are probably monster hunters from the game, whereas Jovovich is someone who has been invented for the film.
Maybe they’ve all been invented. It doesn’t really matter, because they hardly qualify as characters.
Artemis has some numbers tattooed on the back of her neck and keeps a ring with the word “Forever” engraved inside the band, but that’s just about all we learn about her.
Admiral’s team looks like they mean business, although they disappear somewhere during the final showdowns with the Rathalos, a flying, fire-breathing super-monster, so they can’t be that important. Between the moment Artemis and Admiral set out for the Sky Tower and the scene where they reach it, Anderson gives us three longdistance beauty shots covering roughly the same amount of distance it took Peter Jackson two Lord Of The Rings movie to traverse.
This guy could tell Around The World In Eighty Days in 80 seconds. But he’s no Uwe Boll (another video game director with an even worse track record). A better comparison might be Justin Kurzel, who made the Assassin’s Creed movie.
Very little of Monster Hunter makes sense, but it’s visually interesting at least and not un-fun to see with a friend, asking questions and cracking jokes along the way. – Reuters
ACTOR Daniel Bruehl called on some of his more “humiliating” Hollywood experiences for the black comedy Next Door, his directorial debut that premiered in competition at this week’s Berlin International Film Festival.
The German-spanish Bruehl, who shot to fame aged 25 with the bittersweet Berlinale contender Good Bye, Lenin!, is now himself up for the Golden Bear top prize at an event that has gone all-virtual due to the pandemic.
Since his early success, Bruehl, now 42, has starred in hits including Rush, TV series The Alienist and the Captain America franchise.
Next Door (Nebenan) tells the story of Daniel, a preening German-spanish actor played by Bruehl who like the director himself lives in a gentrified district of Berlin and is up for a role in a major superhero movie.
On his way to the airport, he stops at one of the German capital’s traditional corner pubs to rehearse his lines.
Trying to understand his character’s “motivation”, Daniel frantically calls Marvel executives begging them for more pages of the topsecret screenplay so he can better prepare.
Daniel practises the ridiculous dialogue with a familiar Marvel comics growl while watched by Bruno, a mysterious local sitting at the bar who soon reveals he knows more about Daniel’s life than he should.
Bruno is a native East Berliner who doesn’t take kindly to the wealthy newcomers who have moved into the area and driven up prices, and he’s immune to Daniel’s attempts to charm him.
Their small talk turns combative, then sinister as Bruno shows the unctuous Daniel who actually has the upper hand.
Despite the obvious parallels, Bruehl joked: “I’m a vain and narcissistic man but I’m not as horrible as the guy we see in the movie.”
He said he wanted Next Door to tackle both the transformation of Berlin, where rents have increased more than 75% over the last decade, and the occasional silliness of the entertainment industry.
“I’m making fun of all the (movie) projects, all the ones that I really loved doing. But I also had some experiences in which I felt ridiculous and humiliated,” he said.
“I mean being sent a page where everything is watermarked and blurred and then you have three lines and don’t have any context and people expect you to pull off some magic performance and you think like ‘what the (expletive), what is this?’.”
Bruehl called it “a very purging, cleansing experience for me to show this humiliating aspect finally in a movie”.
But he admitted to being a little afraid of biting the hand that feeds him with his savage satire.
“Someone like (Marvel president) Kevin Feige – he has a great sense of humour. That’s something I like about Marvel. So I hope that when these guys see the movie they understand the joke,” he said.
He sought inspiration from the Coen brothers and fellow actor-turned-director Julie Delpy for the wild shifts in mood in the movie, which was written by bestselling German author Daniel Kehlmann.
Bruehl, who grew up in the western German city of Cologne but whose parents live in Barcelona, has called Berlin’s now upscale Prenzlauer Berg district home since the early 2000s.
He said he wanted to take on the ongoing friction between rich and poor in Berlin as well as easterners and westerners three decades after the Wall fell.
“I was privileged to be rather successful as a young man being an actor,” he said.
“But no matter where I went, I always felt like an invader, be it in Prenzlauer Berg or in Barcelona where I found an apartment in 2010.”
He said that even today, Berlin can still give him that fish-out-ofwater feeling.
“Even after 20 years, there’s certain encounters that I have where I truly feel, ‘Ich bin kein Berliner’ (I’m not a Berliner).” – AFP