Monster Hunter: Legends of the Guild accomplishes something that few video game adaptations can: capturing the source material’s essence. The Netflix film does a fantastic job with this, but it falls short in other aspects, such as pacing and character development, which prevents it from becoming one of the best game adaptations.
One Hunter, Aiden, takes a leaf from the veteran sailor Quint in Steven Spielberg’s Jaws in a frame tale that concludes Netflix’s short animated film Monster Hunter: Legends of the Guild. Hunters discuss how they’ll defeat the ancient dragon Zorah Magdaros on a ship going to a new realm. Aiden isn’t a cranky old fisherman who runs his fingernails down a chalkboard to silence them, but he’s a 20-something redhead who waxes lyrically about doll’s eyes. The vibe, however, is the same. Elder dragons pose a significant threat, and Aiden has a story from his past to share with his new Hunter allies to illustrate why they should be concerned.
Legends of the Guild is a prologue to Monster Hunter 4 that also connects to Monster Hunter World. It features Aiden (Dante Basco), a young man who calls himself a hunter but is no match for the genuine monsters beyond his restricted hamlet. He knows about Velocipreys and Deviljhos, and he’s always ready with a corny monster pun, just like in the games, but he’s still not the Ace Cadet or the Dorky A-Lister we know and love. When he discovers that his hamlet is on an Elder Dragon’s migration path, he must assemble a team of expert Ace Hunters to assist him in defeating the monster before his home is destroyed.
Legends of the Guild is basically “Seven Samurai with a Giant Dragon,” which sounds like a lot of fun but doesn’t always work. Simply said, this film lacks the time or the writing to flesh out the plot beyond the bare-bones archetype of strangers banding together to save a community from a powerful evil. It’s barely longer than a prestige TV episode at 58 minutes, which means it doesn’t have much time to develop its characters beyond clichés like the stoic leader, the smart one, and the one with a terrible past.
Similarly, the plots hop around so swiftly that by the time the credits roll, you might suffer whiplash. Sure, some fans may not be disturbed by the lack of characterization, as the film appears to excuse it by introducing Julius and Nadia, two well-known hunters from the games. Legends of the Guild, on the other hand, falls short if you aren’t intimately familiar with NPCs from an 8-year-old game or simply demand more from a character than a known name.
That said, it does a fantastic job at reproducing the experience of playing a Monster Hunter game while also adding to the universe in minor but significant ways. We see more of the day-to-day ambitions of hunters, such as researching a Nerscylla or estimating Lunastra’s wingspan, in addition to achieving glory and more potent weapons. In a way that the games only hint at, it also remarks on the act of hunting itself. Poaching, for example, plays a crucial role in the film, as Julius reveals that before the guild was created, hunters used to kill monsters in large numbers, which threw the world out of balance and devastated the environment. If more Legends of the Guild movies are made, this may be an intriguing addition to the game’s lore.
Basco as Aiden, who receives the same hotheaded appeal that made Zuko a fan-favorite character in Avatar: The Last Airbender, also helps to make up for the shallow characterizations. Regardless, some strange movement surrounding the facial expressions appears to be out of time with the speech acting. Thankfully, the rest of the animation is impressive. Steven F. Yamamoto and his crew at Pure Imagination Studios bring the titular monsters to life. The monsters’ movements resemble those from the games at times, and the way they act and the battle is accurate to the source material. The numerous action scenes are beautifully depicted, and there are a handful of moments deserving of a Twitter shoutout.
Yamamoto has worked on visual effects for films including Justice League, Deadpool 2, and the Transformers films, usually as a previsualization supervisor. However, Legends of the Guild is his directorial debut, so there will inevitably be growing pains. A sequel with a larger budget, a less awkward midlength runtime (either longer or shorter would be better), and a more experienced director, whether Yamamoto’s second time behind the camera or a different filmmaker entirely, may resolve the film’s shortcomings.
Despite the lack of story and characters in Monster Hunter: Legends of the Guild, it’s certainly entertaining to witness what feels like an extended cut scene from the game come to life. The animated battles are breathtaking, and there are a few surprises in store for even die-hard fans of the games, as the film depicts portions of the universe that have never been seen before. If it proves one thing, it’s that there’s a place in the Monster Hunter universe for more feature films. Let’s hoping the next one has a little more room to breathe.
Monster Hunter: Legends of the Guild could result in a split cinematic experience: People who aren’t familiar with Monster Hunter won’t get much out of this story, but Hunters will recognize themselves in Aiden’s exploits. Monster Hunter: Legends of the Guild has flimsy characters and a sluggish rhythm that pushes emotional stakes without justification. Despite this, it provides stunning visuals and a faithful representation of what it’s like to play one of the games.