Tuesday 11 December 2018

Film Review: Mowgli - Legend of the Jungle

Andy Serkis' sophomore film as director sees the acclaimed actor tackle a literary classic with mixed results.

Originally slated for release in October 2016, Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle was pushed back to avoid direct comparisons with Disney's Jungle Book adaptation – something which, even now, is unavoidable.

And much like how Paramount offloaded The Cloverfield Paradox on Netflix earlier in the year, Warner Bros has done the same here – shafting a project they don't have faith in to Netflix for (presumably) a quick return rather than forking out for promotional and screening costs. And it's easy to see why.

Too dark, twisted and grisly for young children, too slow and dull to be aimed at teens and too simple to be strictly for adults, Serkis' Mowgli is an uneven film that doesn't quite settle on who its intended audience is. The blood and violence suggests it isn't the same crowd looking for a fun singalong to 'The Bare Necessities', especially when Disney's recent adaptation is right there staring them in the face. But what is obvious from the get-go is that Mowgli has more meat on its bones; more 'depth' (quotations because it doesn't always work) for audiences to wade through.

Let's backtrack a little. For the uninitiated, Mowgli is billed as an adaptation of Rudyard Kipling's original Jungle Book novel, rather than a remake of Disney's beloved animated rendition. That means no Bare Necessities, no King Louie and a much darker, more serious tone. But the basics are all here; Mowgli (Rohan Chand) is a young boy raised by a pack of wolves in the jungle. Bagheera (Christian Bale), a panther, and Baloo (Serkis), a bear, are also part of the pack, acting as teachers to the young 'man cub' and his four-legged brothers and sisters. Shere Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch) is the villainous Bengal tiger out to destroy the wolf pack and eat Mowgli, becoming ruler of the jungle in the process.

Right from the off, Serkis is all about shaping the myth of the jungle, with Cate Blanchett's opening monologue (she voices the mysterious snake Kaa) remiscent of her opening monologue from the Lord of the Rings saga. We're told the jungle is this entity with its own laws and wills, but not really shown it – outside of dialogue, the concept of the jungle as this all-powerful force doesn't come across. And despite a lengthy opening act, the core characters are sketched pretty thin – Baloo and Bagheera especially are reduced to 'grumpy bear' and 'angry panther'.

The performances themselves are okay – Benadryl Cabbagepatch is doing the same growl as when he played Khan and Smaug – with Matthew Rhys a highlight as a human hunter tasked with putting an end to Shere Khan.

The CGI also isn't up to scratch either; close-ups of the motion capture animals are too remiscent of video game cutscenes to truly convince, and the designs themselves aren't exactly oil paintings – disproportionate, strange or ugly to look at, they aren't a patch on Disney's pitch-perfect versions from a couple of years back.

The Verdict: 5/10

So is Mowgli worth your time? If you don't already have a Netflix account, this isn't the reason to get one. For exisiting subscribers, it's a decent hour and 40 minutes that strips the classic story back to its basics – but some patchy pacing, VFX and an unfavourable comparison in recent memory make this nothing to get amped up for.

Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle is streaming on Netflix right now.

1 comment:

  1. I'm with you on this. It was just okay, the only voice actor that really stood out to me was Christian Bale. I'm not sure directing is really for Serkis.



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