I’ll be honest with you all. I was going into the Monster Hunter movie ready to not like it very much. One look at the trailer and I already I figured I’d dislike it. And that’s unfair of me really. Judging a movie before actually seeing it is never a cool thing to do. But now that I have scene it I shall judge it all I want! And oh boy do I have a lot of judgments.
Before I really get into the discussion I think it is important to talk about how I will first. I certainly could discuss the movie on it’s own. After all, despite this being based off a video game series, it is still a movie that does not narratively tie into the games it spawned from. After all, despite being based on a book, Casino Royal is looked at as a movie, not just as a movie cashing in on a popular book. And certainly we can make a diction based around the langue of film that an adaptation uses. However, I don’t think that approach is appropriate for this context. After all, this is a video game blog that focuses on the narrative of games. I think looking at this through a lens of adaptation will not only relate it more in line to what my blog is about, but also allow me to discuss what I see as the major failing of the movie.
But I guess we should start with what exactly I mean when I say I’m looking at something as an adaptation. Now, despite what some angry literary critics and internet nerds may have you believe, I will not be looking at how faithful this game is to it’s source material note for note. After all, if I looked at Monster Hunter with that in mind then the movie would fail completely as it follows no individual game plot. If we do look at an adaptation through that lens I think it is much more useful to ask the question in terms of thematic. What is the original about, and does the adaptation deliver on this? The other is a bit more complicated. What does it mean to alter? If we except that adaption will inherently have changes (which we must after all a story is now being told in a different medium) then the next question we must ask is what changed and what does that change mean? Usually the second question is more of a sociological question then anything else. I’ll get more into what that means when I get to the topic more, but for now let’s just focus on what I mean by thematic adaptation.
Although thematic might not be the correct word in this situation. Sure, Monster Hunter may have themes present, but as a game I think looking at the appeal of a game. Now, I guess I should start by saying (four paragraphs in) that I don’t actually like playing Monster Hunter. Every time a demo comes out for a system I own I give it a try, but consistently I walk away from it thinking that it is just not for me. With that being said I love these games. I love the monster designs. I love the environment. I love just seeing a hunt of skilled players. As such, while I don’t have much perspective on the appeal from an interactive stand point, I certainly do from a passive one. From my perspective the appeal of watching Monster Hunter gameplay is threefold: Preparation, Implementation, and Growth. Preparation is how the hunter gets ready. It’s learning what the monster will do from experience, picking the best weapons, making sure you have the right food, knowing the environment, and if you’re in a group making sure everyone understands the plan. Implementation is the actual hunt itself. Working together to bring it down, laying traps for where you think it’ll go, getting a feel for the movements so you can break away to heal or sharpen weapons, and then making new plans on the fly when called for. These first two are honestly a lot more like a heist film then anything else. The surface level appeal is seeing people prep for a complex job, the job going forward, the elements of tension as things seem to go wrong, and the ultimate success of the job. A good hunt is the same way. What takes it beyond that then is the growth. After a monster is defeated you get out a knife and start carving away at it. Then you use what you grabbed for the next hunt. You make new armor and more powerful weapons, all so you are better equipped for the next hunt. And what I think is absolutely amazing is that the movie does that…kind of.
We can divide the movie into three major monster encounters. It is escaping the Nerscylla, Hunting the Diablos, and then fighting the Rathalos. As might be evident by only calling one of these encounters a hunt, I think only one of these sections really captures the appeal of the games. To ignore context for a second, our protagonists need to kill a Diablos and in order to do that, they hatch a plan that involves baiting it in different directions so they can get to an RPG and shoot it as well as poison it to help wear it down. What works about this is how they get the poison. The fight a Nerscylla and use one of it’s own fangs to make a poison typed arrow. This is making a plan, implementing it, and growing from the last encounter! This is a solid adaptation of the appeal. Sadly this does not last. Yes, we can forgive the first encounter with the Nerscylla, as that is largely acting as set up for how dangerous these monsters are and how currently out of depth own Isekai protagonist is. But the Rathalos fight is not informed by the previous Diablos fight at all. Nothing of the Diablos was used in the Rathalos fight. Not even the Diablos horn that fell off was used for anything. Instead all we get for the Rathalos fight is a vague weakness and general prep work. No build up or specific planning on how to fight it. The movie somehow looses it’s original’s appeal before the climax.
Of course this alternation of appeal is not the only thing different about this movie. Probably the biggest difference from the games to the movie is the fact that it is an Isekai, and after saying that word in the title I should probably explain what it means. An isekai is a genre in Japanese animation and manga that is typically described when a narrative involves characters of the modern normal world being sent to a fantasy world. In most cases the genre is a power fantasy. The shut in nerd who had nothing going for them is now suddenly an incredibly powerful knight or wizard or something. Captain Natalie Artemis and her group of soldiers are from the real world and suddenly are taken to this world of monsters. This in an interesting adaptation choice as literally no Monster Hunter game has had this as their plot. Every protagonist prior has been an ill defined hunter. They are your avatar with no real personality, but they are still part of the world. So it makes sense why they want a hunter with personality in a movie’s staring role, we are no longer in an interactive medium. But turning the protagonist into another world story goes above an beyond that. So why have it like this?
I have two ideas as to why. The first is to have an audience segregate. As this is a fantasy world removed from the real world (in a literal sense, something like Harry Potter or Twilight had a fantasy world, but it was still part of the “real world”), have a character who doesn’t know things and can be explained to is useful for exposition. What is odd then about this movie is that their isn’t really any world to be explained. Sure, their are monsters to explain and the concept of hunting but the games do that already. You could have just had a rookie hunter fill that role. The world itself is primarily a desert (we get the oasis and the ruins, but the majority of the movie is just desert). Their is no fantastical world or culture to explore. It’s just a desert. Their is no world to be explain. The only think aside form the monsters that are used in the film is a Melynx chef, which is never get any real explanation. It’s just an odd thing we as the audience is suppose to except. I know that because that is what the Captain does when she first sees the chef. So I think an audience window doesn’t work well. As such, the main reason why I see it happen is with the word Captain.
It is a fairly known fact that the US Military is willing to fund films as a form of propaganda and recruitment. Stephen Stockwell and Adam Muir in there article The Military-Entertainment Complex: A New Facet of Information Warfare (Link Here) bring up the fact that the Military has been doing this sense the Iraq war, trying to glamorize the act of war. If you are making a film then that is promilitary then you can receive funding from the US government. If you ever wondered why this like the first Iron Man movie or the first Transformers movie involved the US Armed forces so much this is why. Because they received funding in exchange for have the military appear in the movie, and in a positive light. Now full disclosure, I was not actually able to fine information on if the Monster Hunter actually had received funding like this, but given the fact that the military has been added to this story from no where I think it is fair to assume as such.
Now, I knew this stuff before watching the movie. I was also confident after watching the trailer that I new what this movie was going to be about. It was going to be about a showcase of the Army and sure they might stumble but they would eventually still prove their superiority over the monsters. And I was kind of right? So we do have Captain Artemis who comes to this new world, stumble a bit, then learns and functionally conquers it (not in a literal sense, but she learns to survive and fight monsters). However that is larger her as an individual. After all, the rest of her squad gets killed very quickly. The weapons they have on them are basically ineffective. And once a Rathalos invades the real world, the wyvern basically wipes out the military present with modern weapons being ineffective. It is only through Artemis and her hunter friend that they are able to defeat the Rathalos. So clearly this depiction of the army doesn’t have a focus on glorifying the institution as a whole, as it is largely shown to be ineffective.
Instead of this focus glorifying broader institutions, by focus on Captain Artemis, the movie is instead saying something along the lines of “Look at what being in the army is like. It’ll turn you into a big action movie hero”. After all Artemis is shown to constantly be able to over come things, but still should as being morally good. I think about her first 10 minutes with the Hunter. They fight and are confrontational for the longest time with Artemis ultimately coming out on top. Despite that complete hostility to each other, she still saves the Hunter from the spiders, claiming she is not his enemy. She has asserted her dominance but proven she is not a bad person. And if you join the military too you will also gain the ability to take control of a situation, but don’t worry. You won’t be a bad person once you do. With that idea of focusing on the induvial it actually does make sense then why Monster Hunter was chosen for this message. After all, Hunters in game have a larger organization, but the individual (you) are the one who does the resolving of the plot. Even if they game says that others are helping, we know playing through that they don’t. We are the only one who does. Makes sense then why we got the movie we got then.
Then again, while I can see where this idea would come from, I’d still say that misrepresenting the games as a whole. Sure, the big action pieces of fighting monsters is left to the the player almost exclusively, we can’t forget that back at their home base is a large support network that makes those grad victories possible. From the smiths who make armor and weapons to the cats who feed feed us with buffs, the player isn’t really alone. And those are just NPCs. I’ve been watching Daniel Floyd’s playthrough of Monster Hunter Words and one of the things he brings up more then once is that taking a monster on by yourself is great, but taking one down with a group is down right incredible. It’s a sentiment I’ve heard echoed by others. Yet it is an appeal that is ignored for the sake of a semi-misinterpretation of the text that matches with the message of the movie it was always aiming for.
When I started writing this I didn’t want this to be a review. I didn’t want the summation of this post to be watching this movie or don’t. I wanted this to be a discussion as a video game adaptation and what meaning can come from that. I think I succeeded in that but I must say that this movie is just not great as an adaptation. I only rented the movie from Amazon, and I’m glad I did honestly. It’s not a movie I would like to return to.
I liked this little experiment into delving into a video game adaption. I think I’ll probably do this again. Maybe next time I try this I’ll actually get around to reading Linda Hutcheon’s book A Theory of Adaptation before writing that post.
Oh, and one last thing, this movie doesn’t play the Monster Hunter theme ONCE! It is one of my favorite games theme and they don’t even add it. Disgracefully!