*. With a title like that, you can be pretty sure what to expect. And if you were a fan of the video game (which I’d never heard of) you’d have an even clearer idea. As writer-director Paul W. S. Anderson, someone familiar with such transitions, puts it: “the movie is very much the video game put on screen.”
*. And finally, if you saw Anderson’s name, and that of his wife Milla Jovovich, your expectations would be set in stone. Now personally I think it’s kind of sweet that this couple have continued for so long now to churn out these massively expensive, brain-dead entertainments, beginning with Resident Evil (2002). Their partnership is testimony to the importance of finding a comfortable, mutual modus operandi and sticking to it. But you have to wonder if they ever think of this as a bit of a rut.
*. The plot is very video game. A bunch of Army Rangers led by Captain Artemis (Jovovich) and consisting of grunts with names like Marshall, Dash, Steeler, and Axe, are transported by way of magic portal to the MonsterVerse. Or, to give it its proper name here, the New World. A place full of monsters and not much else. In the New World Artemis meets up with a fellow named the Hunter (Tony Jaa) and together they fight monsters until Artemis can find a way to get back to this world. That’s it. That’s the whole plot. And since the Hunter doesn’t speak English they don’t even have to bother with much in the way of dialogue.
*. Given the lack of originality there’s not much to say here. Even the appearance of the monsters is taken from the game, and I can’t say they’re anything special. The dragon thing at the end is just another Rodan or Smaug, and as for the sand worms I prefer the originals from Dune or Tremors.
*. It didn’t take long before I started thinking how much better it would have been if they’d just played it from the start as a satire of such movies. After getting their collected asses kicked by the giant sand monster one of the soldiers breaks down in a Bill “Game over, man!” Paxton moment, saying “Oh my god, we’re going to die here.” Artemis immediately asks her how many magazines of ammo she has left. The soldier replies “What does that matter?” which is a very good question since they’ve just fired about 5,000 rounds at the monster to absolutely no effect. But Artemis isn’t having any of that shit. “It matters because we’re soldiers. And this is what we do: we fight. . . . You know, I don’t care what the hell that thing is. We do what we do best. We fight and we survive. No matter what the odds! You got it?”
*. That’s funny stuff. You have to imagine it as like the speech Robert Downey Jr. gives in Tropic Thunder. Or the one Samuel L. Jackson delivers in Deep Blue Sea just before getting chomped. Because immediately after this Artemis is snatched by another monster and nearly killed. Hilarious! She is rescued though, and the Rangers try to revive her by administering CPR. “Lack of pulse,” the one Ranger says. “Unacceptable!” the other roars back, “Try again!” At this point I was laughing hysterically. Why couldn’t it all have been this silly?
*. As it is, there are a few funny bit tossed out that gently play with expectations, not to mention Ron Perlman decked out like the lead singer from an ’80s hair-metal band. But there’s nothing like the comic treatment that I think it needed. Then again, Anderson wanted to make a movie for fans of the game, of which he was one, and they might have taken a satirical approach amiss.
*. No, what he figured the audience wanted was a video game. So he gave them just that. In return they stayed away, as the (admittedly pandemic) box office was disappointing. Leaving the end of this film, which is basically just “To be continued . . .”, still hanging. Will we see another? To be sure, but perhaps under a different franchise’s banner.