Beast (2022)

AUGUST 27, 2022


When I saw the trailer for Beast, I had two thoughts:

1. Idris Elba punching a lion in the face is prime cinema.
2. "I bet the poachers are the real threat throughout the movie and they're overselling the lion stuff."

Well, I was right about the first one, of course (Idris Elba punching anything is usually pretty good cinema at the very least), but ironically, I merely WISH I was right about the second one, because while the lion was a suitable horror/thriller villain, the movie never really put anyone beside Sharlto Copley in actual danger. Elba plays a doctor whose ex has recently passed, and he's now the sole provider for two teen girls. As is always the case, he's not ready to be a full time father, he's a bit out of touch with their interests and passions, etc. So naturally, the movie is about him proving that he can be the father they need, whether it's helping them grieve and move on with their lives, or stitching up a wound they got from a crazed lion while in the middle of the African Bush.

All well and good, but... we know he'll make it, because a studio movie isn't going to orphan two teenagers, and also because it's his story from start to finish. I think if the story unfolded from the girls' perspective, showing how maybe the older one (who is 18, the other is about 12) is capable of taking care of them both and maybe don't really need their dad, then maybe Elba's fate could be more of a question mark. Likewise, there's no way either of them are going to be killed, and there are no other characters of note out there with them, so that only leaves Copley, as their honorary uncle/best friend to both parents. He's a nature lover who takes care of the animals in the area (a scene where a lion plays with him like a cat might is both astonishing to watch on the technical side of things, and just plain adorable) and is also an anti-poacher, i.e. someone who will resort to extreme measures to protect the animals from those who are after their fur/bones/etc. Making him the movie's most interesting character.

Naturally, he gets a major wound almost instantly, so there really isn't much suspense to his fate either - a "when, not an if" kind of deal that nonetheless gives the film its most suspenseful moments. There's a scene where Elba is walking him through a quick patch for his wound via walkie talkie, with the lion's location unknown, and you're constantly wondering if the lion is heading to finish him off, or if it's about to pounce on Elba and the girls and interrupt the impromptu medical advice. The movie could have used more of that sort of thing, because once Copley's out of the picture you're just sort of watching it roll along until it hits the 90 minute runtime.

As for the poachers, their appearance in the trailer (surrounding Elba and co. with guns, attacking him) is pretty much their entire role in the movie. The lion shows up and makes quick work of them, once again leaving us only with the people we know the lion won't actually get. Copley's assistant is introduced early but then returns back to their base or something, making him a non-entity, and hell even other animals don't even show up to mix things up. There's a scene of Copley tracking the lion when he sees a gator (or croc, I can't and never will be able to tell them apart) wading past, but that's all we see of it - give us a lion v croc scene, dammit! It's admirable to strip a movie down to its bare essentials, but sometimes they go too far and as a result the movie gets too uninvolving, generating about as much suspense as a movie you've seen a dozen times.

Incidentally, the last trailer before it was for Jaws, which is being re-released on Labor Day weekend in both 3D and Imax. I've watched that movie 30 times and I still hope Chief can hold on to Quint long enough for the shark to swim away or something, so it's even more disappointing that this first time viewing didn't inspire even half that much intensity for any of its scenes. Luckily, the lion itself looked terrific; I never once doubted it was real (it was entirely CGI from what I can understand; no animatronics or whatever) and they thankfully didn't make it a mutant or anything - it's just severely pissed off. That said, I'm curious about the film's R rating, as nearly every bit of violence is off-screen (they find a village that it wiped out; most of the poachers are also dispatched under the brush or while we watch someone else react to it). The parents guide on IMDb says there are two F bombs, but I don't even recall those - it really just felt like a PG-13 movie throughout. Not that that's a bad thing, but when you promise an R and everything is pretty tame, it's hard not to feel like you got sold a bill of goods.

Basically it's a movie that is just aggressively fine. Elba and Copley's chemistry was good, the scenery is of course gorgeous, Steven Price's score is effective, etc, etc... but it just never really got my pulse pounding the way these things should. Director Baltasar Kormákur (who made the incredibly fun 2 Guns and has some survival movie experience with Everest) favors long takes for many of the film's big moments (and even smaller ones, like the girls seeing their mother's house for the first time), and I can't help but wonder if some traditional editing could have given them a little more oomph. It's the sort of movie I often found myself watching at the drive-in during that first covid summer (i.e. stuff that would have debuted on streaming in normal times), where it was generating just enough excitement to make me think "Well at least I'm not sitting in the house", but precious little more.

What say you?


Post a Comment

Movie & TV Show Preview Widget