Monster Hunter

Monster Hunter ★★★½

Even when this was first announced I was pretty sure it wasn't gonna be comparable in quality to PWSA's incredible Retribution -> Pompeii -> Final Chapter run that preceded it, but I still imagined that I'd be going to see it on opening night as I did for RE:TFC, and to be watching it on my laptop a good couple months after its general release feels frustratingly anticlimactic. Four years between movies is really not a very dramatic gap for a director, but the gap between 17 and 22 years old certainly is, and the gap between RE:TFC and Monster Hunter for me is the gap in time between now and my introduction to online cinephilia, via a director who felt to me at that time like maybe the most important director working. A new Paul W.S. Anderson movie almost demands a reflection on myself as a Letterboxd-poisoned teenage cinephile, but I'll try to shut up about that for now and write about the movie, or at least, about Anderson in general.

Well, one thing that's changed is that it feels much less necessary to intellectualize about PWSA, who can be talked about as clearly and honestly as one would any other auteur when one doesn't feel the breath of incredulous doubters over one's shoulder. Whether or not Resident Evil: Retribution really does concern the alienation of the neoliberal subject under digital technocapitalism or what the fuck ever, it's only one aspect of Anderson's central theme, which seems to be the individual's struggle against powers far greater than them, which are not chaotic but in fact function with a very precise logic which may be amoral or explicitly malevolent. These powers change from movie to movie- they could be nature, God, technology, or the movie itself- but the relationships between them and the characters rarely do. It's become popular to claim that Anderson has said that Fritz Lang is his favorite director; if there's an actual source for this, I haven't found it, but it seems to be a misinterpretation of a line from an interview with Dave Kehr in which he remarks that he once asked Anderson about Lang and Anderson responded that he "love[s] him." The Lang comparison comes from Anderson's concern with geometry and conspiracy, and they likely do share a concern with innocent people caught in sinister worlds, but the comparison ends when one considers how unabashedly optimistic Anderson's worldview is. This considered, it's probably good his career trajectory has moved towards action and away from horror. Already by AVP (very underrated, even by PWSA fans, by the way) we can see his insistence on giving his cosmic horror happy endings (weird, somewhat pyrric happy endings, but happy nonetheless).

Here, Anderson does look a little lost in the vastness of the desert, with no opportunities to integrate the rat mazes we love him for. But the pleasures of Anderson's mise-en-scene remain sturdy, and those who were frustrated with the unprecedented speed of the editing in The Final Chapter will be happy to hear that he has "slowed" back down to his usual rhythm, which remains as eccentric and destabilizing as ever (actually, I'd be happy if The Final Chapter forever remains Anderson's fastest-cut film, not because it's bad- it's incredible- but because it feels fitting for the climax of his decade-long epic to remain his most furious and sensorially assaultive film). Even in 2020, Anderson remains one of the only directors in American cinema I know of whose mise-en-scene feels so perfectly suited to digital filmmaking, his wide shots of the sprawling white sand dunes are worth the watch alone. But what strikes me more than anything else is how weirdly barren, even minimalistic Monster Hunter is for a blockbuster. Jovovich and Jaa are adorable together and go a long way to giving the film a heart, but that doesn't change how empty the film is. I think there are like 20 people total in this film, even counting everyone who doesn't even have any lines, and only two of them, maaaaybe three, could honestly be called "characters." This does make the film feel slight and ephemeral, but I have nothing but admiration for how uncanny the resulting vibe is. The only comparison I really have is Mamoru Oshii's Assault Girls, which feels somewhat like the film Monster Hunter would be if Anderson was fully committed to the avant-garde. I honestly hope the promised sequel to this never happens, for one because I'd rather Paul devoted himself to, frankly, more interesting projects than this, but more importantly because it would complete the uncanny sense that Assault Girls (and a few other Oshii films) achieves so well of a movie that should be part of a larger "cinematic universe" but just isn't, a relic from a world that never existed. On the other hand, it would be pretty funny to see how anyone could possibly build a franchise out of this weird little blockbuster-in-a-bottle; never has a film intended to start a series been so flagrantly uninterested in "worldbuilding."

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