Monster Hunter review

For F*** Magazine

Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
Cast : Milla Jovovich, Tony Jaa, Ron Perlman, Cliff “T.I.” Harris Jr, Meagan Good, Diego Boneta, Josh Helman, Jin Au-Yeung, Hirona Yamazaki
Genre: Action/Adventure/Fantasy
Run Time : 104 min
Opens : 24 December 2020
Rating : PG13

Paul W.S. Anderson, best known for the Resident Evil films, tackles another videogame adaptation, bringing Capcom’s Monster Hunter to the big screen.

Captain Natalie Artemis (Milla Jovovich), whose squadron includes Link (T.I.), Dash (Meagan Good), Marshall (Diego Boneta), Steeler (Josh Helman) and Axe (Jin Au-Yeung), is a U.S. Army Ranger. A freak electrical storm suddenly whisks Artemis and her team into a mysterious realm dominated by other-worldly monsters. Artemis meets the Hunter (Tony Jaa), who has spent his life fighting the monsters, including the Black Diablos and the Nerscylla. Despite initially being antagonistic to each other, Artemis and Hunter must overcome their differences to help each other survive, and so that Artemis can find a way home.

Monster Hunter is not as bad as many of the Resident Evil films and is often entertaining. One would be hard-pressed to call it “good”, but there are a few enjoyable sequences, and some of the monsters are rendered well.

Milla Jovovich may have limited range as an actor, but she is very good at playing tough characters, and the Artemis character caters to all her strengths. The best parts of the film are not the monster fight sequences, though there are plenty of those – the best parts of the movie are the scenes that Jovovich and Jaa share.

Jaa is immensely charismatic, a winsome movie star through and through. There is not much in the way of characterisation for Hunter, let alone any of the other characters who aren’t him or Artemis, but Jaa makes the most of what he’s given. The movie also isn’t as bloated as it could’ve been, given the amount of lore in the game series.

This is a movie that evaporates almost as soon as it’s over. There’s just not a lot here, and it is frustrating because there are interesting textural elements, and there are things about the movie one wishes Anderson had focused on more. Perhaps this is due in part to the appearance of his oft-collaborator Ron Perlman, but this reviewer spent most of Monster Hunter imagining what a filmmaker like Guillermo del Toro could have done with this material. The games are action role-playing games and are not primarily story-driven, which means there was room to create a story here, and it’s just threadbare.

The entire aspect of a human military unit entering the world of Monster Hunter is not taken from the games. Anderson was inspired by a one-off crossover event in the 2010 game Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, in which a military squad briefly fought monsters from the Monster Hunter series. This means that, just like in the Resident Evil films, Milla Jovovich is playing a character who was created from whole cloth for the movies and is not present in the games on which they are based. As such, Artemis feels like an avatar, it feels like there’s basically nothing to her, and that Hunter is a much more interesting character by comparison. Anderson also probably thinks it’s quite clever that the character is named after the Ancient Greek goddess of the hunt. Elements from Mad Max: Fury Road, the live-action Transformers movies and Stargate feel grafted onto the movie.

The supporting characters are mostly non-entities. This renders the controversy surrounding one line that was meant to be throwaway banter, that resulted in the movie being pulled from Chinese cinemas, and which has now been deleted from the film, all the more pointless.

A problem that has plagued many of Anderson’s films is also evident here: hyperactive editing. Hand-to-hand combat scenes are rendered essentially incomprehensible, which is even more of a shame considering that a martial artist of Tony Jaa’s calibre is the second lead.

The selling point of the movie is the monsters, which were designed with the input of game director Kaname Fujioka and producer Ryozo Tsujimoto. Some of the monsters are better-executed than others – the fire-breathing Rathalos is a good movie dragon and the climactic battle is one of the film’s more exciting moments. Unfortunately, the spider-like Nerscylla often feel artificial when they should be scary and unsettling. Overall, the monsters can’t help but feel generic and lacking in character, even if some are integrated well into the live-action footage.

Summary: Monster Hunter is a passable diversion, but it’s hard to connect to much in the movie at all. Sporadically entertaining but ultimately flimsy, this video game adaptation doesn’t seem interested in exploring the world of the source material. It is a lot more watchable than many of the same director’s Resident Evil films though, and Tony Jaa is a significant bright spot.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Terminator: Dark Fate review

For F*** Magazine

TERMINATOR: DARK FATE

Director: Tim Miller
Cast : Linda Hamilton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes, Gabriel Luna, Diego Boneta, Enrique Arce
Genre : Sci-fi/Action/Horror
Run Time : 2 h 8 mins
Opens : 24 October 2019
Rating : NC16

The Terminator franchise is a defining one in the genres of sci-fi, action and horror. While the imagery and the catchphrases have become ingrained in popular culture, the film series has struggled to recapture the glory of the first two entries. The underrated spinoff television series was sadly short-lived. James Cameron, who directed the first two films and helmed the theme park attraction but has had no direct involvement in the series since then, returns as a producer for this sixth film.

It is 27 years after the events of Terminator 2: Judgement Day. A young Mexican woman named Daniella “Dani” Ramos (Natalia Reyes) has been targeted by the Rev-9 Terminator (Gabriel Luna), who has been sent back in time to kill her. Grace (Mackenzie Davis), a cybernetically-enhanced human soldier from the future, has been sent back in time to protect Dani. Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), who has spent the last two decades hunting Terminators, joins Dani and Grace to fight the seemingly invincible Rev-9. Along the way, they meet the T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger), one of several sent back in time after Sarah’s son John Connor years ago, who has been keeping a low profile. The future is once again in the hands of Sarah Connor, who has gained new allies in her long-term battle against the machines.

Terminator: Dark Fate learns from the failure of the previous entries. The most recent Terminator film before this, Terminator: Genisys, was a jumbled mess of multiple timelines and attempted to remix beloved elements of the series, alienating fans in the process. Dark Fate benefits from more of a back-to-basics approach, presenting a straightforward story without relying too much on exposition. It functions as a direct sequel to Judgement Day, with all the other films taking place in alternate timelines. This is not dissimilar to 2018’s Halloween, which was a direct sequel to the 1978 movie and ignored the many sequels that were made in the intervening years.

The film’s biggest asset is Linda Hamilton, who has not appeared in any of the films since Judgement Day. This is much more than the glorified cameo which we could’ve gotten, with the Sarah Connor character front and centre. Hamilton took some convincing to come back on board, and the film really wouldn’t have worked if she had said no. Hamilton easily conveys the no-nonsense toughness fans of the series know and love, but also delivers a genuinely good performance beyond that. The R-rating means that she gets to swear a whole lot, and she’s amazing at it. There are several moments when just a look from Hamilton tells us so much. This is a character who has been through the wringer and would like the world to think she can just shrug it off, but there is a lot of sadness and pain that she’s internalised – when those shards are visible, that’s when Hamilton’s immense contribution to the movie really registers.

Arnold Schwarzenegger appears in more of a supporting capacity, but completely steals the show when he’s onscreen. The film wisely makes use of Schwarzenegger’s comedic talents while also preserving the formidable physical power associated with the T-800 character.

One scene in the film showcases the most convincing digital de-aging/face replacement effects we’ve ever seen.

The film clearly aspires to the heights of Judgement Day, so it is noticeable when it falls short of those heights. There are moments when the film is almost emotional, and while there are some moving beats, there is nothing nearly as sublime as “I know now why you cry, but it’s something that I could never do.” While the stronger connection to the first two films anchors Dark Fate in the tone and mythos of the earlier movies, it also prevents the movie from being too innovative on its own terms. Also, much of the events in Judgement Day seem to have been rendered moot – not quite to the level of “Ripley finds Newt and Hicks dead at the beginning of Alien 3,” but it does approach that.

While some action sequences are brilliantly executed, others feel just a touch too synthetic. The visual effects are leaps and bounds over the somewhat unpolished work seen in Genisys, but there are still moments when one thing made of CGI is being thrown into another thing also made of CGI. Out of necessity, the earlier films made ingenious use of practical animatronic effects and miniature models. Director Tim Miller of Deadpool fame is a co-founder of Blur Studio, best known for making animated cutscenes and cinematics for video games. The action sequences in Dark Fate can sometimes come off as a little too video game-esque, but Miller does often demonstrate a keen awareness of how to place elements in space to create action sequences.

The Dani character is sympathetic and Natalia Reyes gives the role her all, but she can sometimes come off as a little whiny and is not written that well.

 Another way that the film echoes Judgement Day is in its villain, the shape-shifting Rev-9. Like Robert Patrick, Gabriel Luna is less conspicuous in a crowd than Arnold Schwarzenegger, meaning the Rev-9 is more convincing as an infiltration unit. It also has a neat gimmick of being able to separate itself into liquid metal outer shell and endoskeleton, allowing it to perform tag-team attacks. Rev-9 is perhaps a touch too indestructible, such that the action sequences become a little repetitive.

Mackenzie Davis’ Grace is a great addition to the canon. This reviewer enjoys seeing actors whom one wouldn’t typically associate with action movies take on action-heavy roles. Davis underwent a complete physical transformation to play the muscular, angular Grace. There is a tragedy to the character, who has sacrificed her physical autonomy for the cause, so she is always sympathetic.

Terminator: Dark Fate is in a way commenting on the history of the series. There is so much that’s memorable about the first two Terminator films that it’s hard to resist the temptation to make constant references to them. Yes, Sarah Connor does say “I’ll be back”, but Dark Fate demonstrates restraint and refuses to lean on the series’ storied past as a crutch.

It’s not brilliant, but especially when compared to Genisys, this is a lot closer to what a Terminator movie should feel like. Terminator: Dark Fate is not a film that strictly needs to exist, but by building a strong connection to the second film and by getting Linda Hamilton back in a starring role, it satisfyingly echoes the franchise at its best.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The Titan movie review

For inSing

THE TITAN

Director : Lennart Ruff
Cast : Sam Worthington, Taylor Schilling, Tom Wilkinson, Agyness Deyn, Nathalie Emmanuel, Diego Boneta, Noah Jupe
Genre : Sci-fi
Run Time : 1h 37m
Opens : 5 April 2018
Rating : NC16

In 2009’s Avatar, Sam Worthington played a man who transfers his consciousness into an alien body. In this sci-fi thriller, Worthington turns into an alien-like being again, albeit under different circumstances.

It is 2045, and mankind is forced to find new means of survival. Overpopulation and environmental destruction have doomed earth. Professor Martin Collingwood (Tom Wilkinson) has devised a revolutionary new procedure which will alter the genetics of test subjects, changing their physiology so they can live on Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. Collingwood believes that this “forced evolution” is the future of humanity.

Former soldier Rick Janssen (Sam Worthington) is one of the test subjects in the Titan program. Together with his wife Abigail (Taylor Schilling) and son Lucas (Noah Jupe), Rick moves to a research facility where he will undergo the transformation into a new species adapted to life on Titan. Unexpected side effects begin to occur, with the other test subjects turning uncontrollably violent. Abigail realises that she hasn’t been told everything about what exactly will happen to her husband and must face the horrifying reality that this terrifying leap forward in evolution might just be the end of humanity as we know it.

In Singapore, The Titan is being released on Netflix and in theatres. Smaller-scale sci-fi films have always fascinated this reviewer – it’s fun to see how filmmakers circumvent budgetary restraints and tap on their creativity to convincingly create world with limited resources.

The Titan has an intriguing premise and establishes it with a degree of plausibility. The production values pass muster, and the film benefits from the picturesque shooting location of the Canary Islands in Spain. The film has a slow build and there is a sense of dread as to what unexpected mutation lies around the corner for Rick. Towards the end, it enters action movie mode, and that’s when the movie feels a little clumsy and not fully realised.

The theme of man playing god has often fascinated filmmakers, and while The Titan stays a safe distance from schlocky silliness, its exploration of this theme lacks depth. The wider social implications of this type of genetic experimentation don’t quite take hold. Director Lennart Ruff, working from a screenplay by Max Hurwitz (with Arash Amel receiving a ‘story by’ credit), attempts to put the focus on the characters rather than the technical aspects of the procedure. Unfortunately, the characters aren’t especially interesting.

Sam Worthington seemed destined for A-list stardom after the success of Avatar, and while that has eluded him, he’s continued working steadily in smaller projects. Rick is a rather generic hero and the movie doesn’t get far enough into his head for us to appreciate the inner torment he experiences as he undergoes the procedure. It’s not a bad performance, but it could’ve been more affecting.

Taylor Schilling’s Abigail is a paediatrician, and she has a more proactive role in the story than most designated love interests in films of this type do. Thanks to her medical expertise, she can tell that’s something is amiss, and takes it upon herself to find out just what is happening to her husband. The film’s most emotional moments are when we see Abigail process that her husband is being taken from her bit by bit.

Wilkinson lends gravitas and dutifully delivers exposition, but by the end of the film, Dr Collingwood emerges as a rather one-dimensional character.

The other test subjects, who are played by actors including Nathalie Emmanuel, Diego Boneta and Aaron Heffernan, aren’t given huge amounts of character development. The fates that befall the less fortunate test subjects are shocking enough but aren’t quite as horrific as body horror movie aficionados have come to expect. The film’s restraint in not falling back on over-the-top gore is admirable.

The Titan isn’t bad, it’s just one of those films that sounds more interesting on paper than it winds up being. As a smaller scale sci-fi film, The Titan doesn’t take its premise far enough to truly capture the imagination but is unique enough to warrant curiosity.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong