A.I

Netflix’s animated Monster Hunter movie gets one big thing right

In a frame story bookending Netflix’s short animated movie Monster Hunter: Legends of the Guild, one Hunter, Aiden, takes a page from the veteran sailor Quint in Steven Spielberg’s Jaws. On a ship sailing to a new world, excited Hunters chat about how they’ll take down the elder dragon Zorah Magdaros. Aiden doesn’t run his fingernails down a chalkboard to shut them up, or wax poetically about doll’s eyes, and he’s a 20-something redhead, not a surly old fisherman. But the vibe is the same. Elder dragons are serious threats, and Aiden has a story from his past to tell his new Hunter friends, to illustrate why they should be afraid.

Aiden is a side character from several of the Monster Hunter games, but Legends of the Guild follows a much younger Aiden, a kid from a small village who wants to be a Guild-sanctioned Monster Hunter — just like players are in the game franchise. And while the 58-minute film is messy, it nails that early Monster Hunter feeling of being new to the hunt and eager to take down some big critters.

Every Hunter’s journey

Image: Netflix

Aiden’s journey starts just like many players’ stories, with him hunting a small, relatively harmless monster. But unlike in a Monster Hunter game’s early missions, Aiden’s Velociprey hunt gets interrupted by a Velocidrome, a much bigger version of the raptorlike monster. Before the Velocidrome can finish Aiden off, a more seasoned Hunter swoops in and takes it out with ease — a feeling that any new Hunter who has played with seasoned friends is well aware of.

The rest of Monster Hunter: Legends of the Guild’s runtime features Aiden and Julius — the Geralt lookalike Guild Hunter who saved Aiden — trying to stop a rampaging Teostra before it wipes out a valley’s worth of villages. And here, we see Aiden go from a wannabe Hunter with a cast iron skillet strapped to his chest to a true slayer of beasts.

Aiden’s “training” is what Monster Hunter: Legends of the Guild gets right. Not only does he ask excitedly about the bigger, scarier monsters he’s eager to hunt, but he fails spectacularly against each monster he and Julius encounter. While Julius and other Hunters try to take on creatures, Aiden fulfills the role of the player avatar, getting strung up in webs, dragged around arenas, and hit by most of the monster’s attacks.

In true Monster Hunter fashion, Aiden’s blunders make his team’s hunt far harder than it needs to be. But when the hunt is over and Aiden is beaten, bruised, and covered in viscera, he’s thrilled at his team’s minor accomplishment. It’s the same enthusiasm that propels all players through their early Monster Hunter journey, no matter how badly they’ve fumbled. Throughout Aiden’s story, he builds new confidence and folds the moment things get difficult. But he grows from each hunt.

Getting Monster Hunter right

Hunters discuss monsters over drinks in a warmly lit interior space in Monster Hunter: Legends of the Guild

Image: Netflix

It’s a bit trite, but Legends of the Guild does a nice job of progressing Aiden down the Hunter’s path. He goes from fumbling through a hunt, to false confidence, to failing at the first sign of real trouble, to finally being that hero Hunter every player ends up as if they stick with the series. It’s a relatable journey, and one that Monster Hunter fans know well.

While Legends of the Guild does well with the license — the hardest part of making something like this — it does fail on some pretty basic levels. The editing can lead to confusing cuts and odd camera shifts. The CG-animated art style looks decent on the poster, but the faces are flat and boring in motion. And the movie tries to pack too much character backstory into a very short runtime.

But as a fan of the games, I didn’t feel like my time spent watching Aiden’s hunt was completely wasted. Legends of the Guild is clearly made by people who understand how the games work, and want to see that translated to a different medium.

Director Steve Yamamoto has worked on visual effects — mostly as a previsualization supervisor — for some visual feasts like Justice League, Deadpool 2, and the Transformers movies. But Legends of the Guild is his directorial debut, and there are bound to be some growing pains there. The film’s issues could dissolve in a sequel with a bigger budget, a less awkward midlength runtime (either longer or shorter would be more suitable), and a more experienced director, whether it’s Yamamoto’s second time at the wheel, or a new director altogether. But the care for Capcom’s license can’t be taught.

Monster Hunter: Legends of the Guild may lead to a divided movie viewing experience: Audiences unfamiliar with Monster Hunter won’t get much out of this story, but Hunters will see themselves in Aiden’s adventures, and that’s worth an hour of messy editing and ugly art.

Monster Hunter: Legends of the Guild is streaming on Netflix now.

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