Until quite recently, movies based in worlds created first in video games have been … well, iffy at best. ‘Lousy’ would be more accurate. Prior to Detective Pikachu, in fact, you’d be hard-pressed to name a movie that was even half good, and some so bad you want to hide your head. It’ll take a lifetime to forget M. Night Shyamalan’s Avatar: The Last Airbender.
Yeah, yeah: Resident Evil. The first one was … good? .. but Milla Jovovich notwithstanding, the endless staggering sequels were pretty awful. And Doom didn’t make you want to puke on your shoes, but even with an early version of The Rock right up front, it really wasn’t much to write home about. Or spend money on. The list, quite sadly, goes on and on.
The whole evolution of this moviesque subgenre isn’t all that far from what happened with superheroes. A whole lot of people at a whole lot of studios would make the occasional, often terrible, attempt at a costumed hero, but even the ones that lifelong lovers of the superior subgenre could tolerate – Superman 1978, the first Tim Burton Batman – were tolerable almost in spite of themselves, and often teetered on the edge of TV Batman parody. But when a few smart folks finally recruited some writers and directors who understood and even loved comics storytelling and superheroes, whether it was Sam Raimi or James Gunn or so many since then, things got better.
Maybe that’s finally happening with game-based movies. I know virtually nothing about the game world that birth it, but as a fantasy/adventure series, there’s basically nothing wrong and everything right with Arcane. And now the newest Millia Jovovich movie, Monster Hunter, can be enjoyed in all its headlong, violent bang-bang glory, whether you know its video game roots or not.
I truly appreciated the opening hour or so, and not just the expert CGI or the new, fresh imagery in environment and monsters. I was just happy to see it roar right into the action without scrolling narrative or ominous voiceovers. The second half, once we get to the larger community of survivors, bogs down a bit, I admit, and sure enough we do get some ominous voiceover backstory .. .but hey, at least writer/direct Paul W.S. Anderson had the good sense to bring a bizarrely coifed Ron Perlman, ol’ Hellboy himself, to do it. It could have been far worse.
All in all: like a few of the better superhero movies (again), notably Shang Chi and Into the Spiderverse, the folks that made it clearly love the genre, know their stuff, and have built stories that casual viewers can enjoy without knowing any details of the world that birthed the film, or even that there’s an “origin” world at all. It’s just a good movie, and I’m hoping we can get past the “there are no good movies based on video games” prejudgments that killed superheroes for, oh, I don’t know, half a century or so.