Monster Hunter (2020) ****

They’re back – with a bang! Writer-director Paul W. S. Anderson (Resident Evil, 2002) and wife Milla Jovovich (The Fifth Element, 1997) hit the ground running in a pedal-to-the-metal all-action sci-fi rock’n’rolla. Coming up for nearly a quarter-of-a-century as the reigning action queen, Jovovich delivers in style.

The platoon of U.S. Army Ranger Lt. Artemis (Jovovoich) is inexplicably transported to an alien planet to fight, what else, aliens. The platoon doesn’t last long and in a tidy riff on John Boorman’s Hell in the Pacific (1968) – and its futuristic remake Enemy Mine (1985) – she has to battle then buddy-up with a guy known only as Hunter (Tony Jaa).

The title is a bit of misnomer. The monsters are the hunters not the hunted. Dune-like, and of uber-dinosaur proportions, they emerge from the sand, or scuttle out from the rocks in daylight, or pump forth from the tops of cones of stone, or range down from the sky with weaponry that can turn sand into glass. When not trying to knock six bells out of each other, the pair spend their time escaping or trying to outwit the monsters and then to reach a distant lighthouse around which all types of ancient vessels have run aground.

I should point out the terrain is all-desert, sand not water, so quite what purpose the lighthouse plays is a bit of a mystery. That neither Artemis nor the Hunter can speak the others’ language gets in the way of bonding, that and the fact they are still intent, in the way of sworn enemies forced to work together, in acts of one-upmanship. But that doesn’t prevent small touching moments.

I didn’t know this was based on a video game and for once it appears not to be so reliant on holding true to its antecedents. I had no trouble understanding it. What do you need to understand, for heaven’s sake? We are used to people ending up in strange dimensions with hostile populations. Although later on the story develops a bit more, the bonding and the battling is enough to get on with. Simplistic, by the way, tends to be the hallmark of a good action picture.

By the time you get to the end you realise it’s actually more of an origin story especially when other characters – namely The Admiral (Ron Perlman) and a piratical scene-stealing cat – enter the frame. In fact, what’s most clearly signposted is a sequel.  

Jovovich is back to her running, jumping and fighting best. I’ve no idea why Hollywood has not invested decent money in her. She is a far better fit for the action genre than many of the actresses the studios have invested bigger bucks in. Put her in a Die Hard – with requisite budget – scenario and see where she takes you would be my advice. Like Bruce Willis or Charles Bronson, her actions speak louder than words.

I can’t believe that Paul W.S. Anderson hasn’t been on the big screen since Resident Evil: Final Chapter (2016) and had to make do with DTV sequels to Death Race (2012). He has enough visual style you would have thought to stand a chance of landing something in the MCU or DC universe. Could be that he’s not all that keen on conforming to other peoples’ visions.

Whatever the reason, he’s certainly got panache where it matters most – on the screen. As the writer, too, he’s allowed his characters more time to breathe, and in Tony Jaa (Ong Bak, The Thai Warrior, 2003) recruited a more-than-estimable co-star. That Jaa does his own stunts brings a different dimension to the screen battles.

It’s worth pointing out that both stars are in their mid-40s, Jovovich the older by a year, but both look fitter than actors two decades younger. They share terrific screen charisma and might well turn into one of the best screen action pairings.

I was going to say it’s good to see Ron Perlman (Hellboy, 2004) back in action but it turns out he’s rarely been off our screens – he’s got nearly 200 movies and television shows and animated games to his credit and already another 14 movies in the pipeline. This is barely more than a cameo, however,  looking like it’s setting him up for the sequel. Also making brief appearances are Meagan Good (The Intruder, 2019) and composer Tip T.I. Harris (Ant-Man and the Wasp, 2018).

Welcome back, Paul and Milla and bring on the sequel.

For sure, these action-packed sci-fi numbers aren’t everyone’s cup of tea but they certainly float my boat.

I saw this on the big screen, by the way, as part of this week’s Monday triple bill at my local cinema, the others being In the Heights and In the Earth. It’s not out on DVD yet, but there’s no doubt it will have a bigger impact on the big screen so if you get a chance catch it.