I may have over-done it during the ‘Ween and ‘Mas seasons, as for all of January and half of February, I did not watch a single film. I watched a couple speedruns that were longer than films, but that’s totally different.
However, a couple of movies recently came out that I’ve been really excited for, so I’m sort of getting back into the world of movies. Also, I was pretty sure that both of them would be terrible before watching them, but one is based on a video game franchise that I adore, and one of them is a plot strangely reminiscent of a video game franchise that I adore. Were they actually bad? Let’s find out!
~ Willy’s Wonderland ~
I had no idea that Willy’s Wonderland existed until I saw a Tweet with the trailer roughly a month before release. I don’t remember why I even watched the trailer, but once I realized what I was seeing, I knew then and there that I needed to watch this movie.
See, a Five Nights at Freddy’s movie has been “in the works” for years now, and keeps getting delayed and scrapped and restarted for various reasons, and I’m at the point where I don’t actually believe that it’s real or will ever happen. But I still desperately want to see a FNAF movie, no matter how terrible it might be, so I was elated that someone else decided to step up and make their own legally distinct film about possessed animatronics. And to have it starring Nicolas Cage is just gravy.
There are two important takeaways here: Willy’s Wonderland isn’t a good movie. It’s clearly a tongue-in-cheek, low-budget cheese-fest, but that doesn’t necessarily excuse it for being kind of bad. Knowing you’re making a bad movie doesn’t absolve your movie of it’s badness. That said, I think it’s still an entertaining movie. At least, I had a lot of fun watching it. Though I can’t confidently say how much of that was genuine, and how much was due to my desperation for a FNAF movie.
The plot of this film follows Nic Cage -who is either mute or simply refuses to talk to hillbillies, as he doesn’t speak a single word throughout the entire film- who runs over some conspicuously-placed road spikes, which leaves him stranded in a backwoods town. He accepts a deal with the locals to clean up an abandoned Chuck-E-Cheese-style restaurant called Willy’s Wonderland in exchange for repairing his car. Only it turns out that the animatronic characters in this particular restaurant come alive and murder anyone who enters, and so his janitorial job becomes a fight for survival.
The conceit for the murderous robots is that Willy’s was originally run by a collection of serial killers and pedophiles, who used the place to conduct their misdeeds. Once they were found out and about to be taken down, they completed a satanic ritual to transfer their souls into the animatronics. This allowed them to continue their crimes, but then they started killing townsfolk once the restaurant was closed. This obviously did not sit well with the people, so they started tricking travelers into becoming blood sacrifices to the robots, the latest of which is our main man, Nic Cage.
The plot is pretty dumb, but that’s not why I watched this movie. I watched it entirely for the killer animatronics, and to see Nicolas Cage fight them. In that regard, I was not disappointed. Cage’s character is great, and has a few absolutely hilarious moments. The animatronics are fun too, but I think there are a few too many of them, which means that each one gets limited screen time. The two that get the most chance to shine are Siren Sara and Cammy Chameleon, who are suspiciously the two with the least complicated costumes and didn’t require the use of actual robots. Hmmmmmm. The other human characters are very obviously there just to get murdered and spout exposition. They’re all quite flat an unmemorable.
One thing that really annoyed me is that for some reason, many shots switch over to a wide-angle lens for no reason. Like, sometimes they’re doing a shot/reverse-shot dialogue sequence and one of the shots will randomly be using a wide-angle lens, which just makes the character’s head look misshapen. There’s no rhyme or reason to it. It just happens now and then, and makes the movie look weird. Never once does it actually convey anything or improve a shot. I think they used it for some exterior shots to try to make the Willy’s building look bigger, but… it totally doesn’t come off that way.
There are also a ridiculous amount of lens flares that were definitely added in post. I don’t know why, as they frequently don’t make any sense. Most of the time it seems like they’re added in an attempt to add some zazz to otherwise uninteresting shots, but it just looks weird and out of place. I have a theory that some of the lens flares are used to cover up incomplete practical effects in fight sequences. I’m hoping that I’m wrong about that, because it’s a pretty sad way to hide your deficiencies. It would have been better to just embrace the low-budgetness and leave those “oopsies” in for the world to see, as that would be more authentic to the 80s horror that Willy’s Wonderland is trying to replicate.
And I think that sentence sums up the film really well: it’s a throwback to cheesy 80s horror films. You’ve got bad dialogue and a fairly thin plot, but a lot of intentionally and unintentionally funny moments to keep viewers entertained. There are lots and lots of really great practical effects, and I think that the digital effects are mostly limited to the copious lens flares and maybe one death scene. Nic Cage is as fun to watch as ever, even though he has zero lines of dialogue to ham his way through. If slashers of old are something you’re into, I would definitely recommend Willy’s Wonderland. I strongly doubt that anyone outside of that niche will find much to enjoy here, though.
~ Monster Hunter ~
If there is one video game franchise that I’m more obsessed with than Five Night’s at Freddy’s, it’s Monster Hunter. Despite that, though, while the idea of a FNAF movie left me with nothing but excitement, the announcement of the Monster Hunter movie filled me with a sense of inescapable dread.
There are two big differences: one being that Willy’s Wonderland was visibly made on a shoestring budget and is absolutely aware of how silly it is. Monster Hunter, on the other hand, had the financial scope of a summer blockbuster film and takes itself way too seriously. Also it was made by the same team that made all those Resident Evil movies, and we know how those turned out. (If you don’t know: Not Good.)
The thing that I dislike most about Monster Hunter is its plot. Instead of setting it in the rich world of the Monster Hunter video games, the plot starts in the Real World, and has army captain Milla Jovovich and her squad sucked into the Monster Hunter world (called the New World) by a big ol’ thunderstorm. Somehow. All the other army dudes are quickly killed and/or eaten, which leaves Milla Jovovich to wander the desert on her own, trying to survive and figure out exactly what happened.
Eventually she meets up with a hunter from the New World. The language barrier initially sets them as rivals, but eventually they learn to cooperate thanks to a convenient Hershey Bar product placement. Jovovich and Hunter eventually meet up with his friends, the leader of which quickly hand-waves his perfect knowledge of English, and informs Jovovich that a tower in the distance is the source of the thunderstorms that cause the interdimensional portals. They all travel over to the tower, battle a monster, and then fall through a portal back to Real World, where they battle and defeat the monster again after it destroys an entire army regiment. Then the New World team decides to stay in the Real World to protect it from monsters that will no doubt be pouring out of the portal.
It’s such a stupid story, and nobody cares. Monster Hunter games don’t really have the most gripping storylines to begin with, but they’re about the complicated relationships between humans and monsters, and learning more about the mysterious nature of the monsters. This movie, on the other hand, is just another fish-out-of-water action movie, except with big CGI monsters instead of army guys or robots or whatever. It’s so pointless and boring and I couldn’t have cared less about Milla Jovovich’s character because there wasn’t really much of a character there. And as with Willy’s Wonderland, all of the other characters are completely flat and exist simply because you can’t have a blockbuster film starring only two people.
The other thing that drove me crazy is that there is so little appreciation for the source material. There are some elements thrown in to make sure you know that it’s based on the Monster Hunter video game series, but so little of it means anything. It’s all thrown in there just for the sake of being there. Most egregiously, the Monster Hunter theme is never used. Not once. Not even over the credits. I get that they wanted an original score, but how could they not include such an incredible theme? Big fail.
The one thing that I think was really great about Monster Hunter was the monsters themselves. The CGI is incredible, and the monsters look so much better than ever. It was so cool to see a handful of these beasts given a really in-depth treatment, and really, I just just wanted more of that. Diablos and Rathalos aren’t my personal favourites, but they are two of the most emblematic monsters of the franchise. Nerscylla was a weird choice, but I suppose it was put in there because it was the most swarm-friendly monster in the stable. And of course there needed to be at least one sequence where the humans are chased by a swarm of gigantic spiders.
The part that had me torn the most was when one of my all-time favourite monsters, Gore Magala, gets five seconds of screentime. On one hand, when it swoops in all cool and menacing is my favourite shot of the entire film. On the other hand, why couldn’t Gore have gotten a little more love? Oh well. Maybe it’s a blessing, because that “love” would just be an extended sequence of the humans murdering it. But hey, we all still root for cool bad guys even when we know they’re destined to lose.
I can’t in good faith recommend this film to anyone. The plot is stupid and goes nowhere, and there isn’t even enough fanservice to really satiate Monster Hunter fans. I have to imagine that people who’ve never even heard of the Monster Hunter franchise would just be completely baffled. It’s just a bad movie. It’s not even a fun Dumb Action Flick, really. The Real World part of the battle against Rathalos is a decent action sequence, but other than that I was bored the whole time. Fortunately, Monster Hunter absolutely bombed, so we probably won’t be seeing six or seven also-bad sequels like we did with Resident Evil. Actually, compared to Monster Hunter, the Resident Evil movies don’t seem all that bad… At least they were still kind of fun to watch.