Film Review – Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle (2018)
It’s as if it was only yesterday that we watched Disney’s live-action remake of The Jungle Book in theaters. Now Warner Bros. and Netflix are teaming up to deliver Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle. Comparisons between the two are a sure thing, but at the end of the day it all comes down to quality. If Mowgli can bring something to the table, it too could stay relevant for far longer than we originally thought.
The following review will be spoiler free.
Directed By: Andy Serkis
Written By: Callie Kloves
Who brings a baby with them into the jungle? Seems like a recipe for death and in this case, one at the clutches of the tiger, Shere Khan (Cumberbatch). Luckily the baby (who is later identified as Mowgli) survives when a black panther, Bagheera (Bale), takes him in and leaves the boy (Chand) in the paws of wolves. The wolves pledge to raise him as their own with the help of the bear Baloo (Andy Serkis) as his personal trainer.
Years pass and Mowgli must now prepare for the test which will decide whether he truly is worthy to call himself a wolf. But things won’t get any easier when the word around his human origin makes its way to the boy himself. Is he a wolf? A human? Both? Maybe neither?
I feel bad for this movie. If it weren’t for Disney it would’ve found itself in a much different situation. However, if there’s anyone to blame it’s Warner Bros. and their ever-messy studio. I long thought about the causes of their recent, high-profile misfires. If the DC Shared Universe and the Fantastic Beasts movies are any indications, all signs point to their disorganization.
It’s either that or the Big Mouse’s impending chase for greenbacks is quite the motivator.
Development began in April 2012, a whole year ahead of Disney’s version. They had a year head start and still managed to sift through three different directors before settling with Andy Serkis to lead the project. One of those choices was Alejandro González Iñárritu which in retrospect seemed like a no-brainer. Little did we know at the time that he’d go on to make Birdman and The Revenant.
The film finally started announcing cast members in 2014 with plans of a release in October 2016. Supposedly, the reason for the delay was to improve the special effects, but you can’t fool us. We all know the truth especially when I’ll get to talking about the VFX later in the review.
Finally, just as the movie was about to hit theaters, Netflix announced their acquisition of the distribution rights. That’s one walk of a shame that this movie did not deserve. Warner Bros. was asking to bring a curse upon themselves and they sure got it.
Thankfully, the end product is nowhere near as turbulent.
Let’s Talk About That Stellar Cast
Simply put, these actors are amazing in their roles. All of them. Lucy Bevan did an extraordinary job as the casting director with the perfect understanding of the presence and performance needed for each character. The star-studded cast includes the likes of the heartfelt Christian Bale, robust Cate Blanchett, and strong-willed Naomie Harris, however, it’s Benedict Cumberbatch and Andy Serkis who are the real MVPs.
Cumberbatch sounds intimidating and unremorseful in all of his scenes as Shere Khan. As a result, he delivers on the demanding requirement of carefully exhibiting the menace that would have gone wrong if approached any differently. After playing Smaug in the second Hobbit film he found his calling as the villain in ALL the mo-cap movies. Benedict Cumberbatch loses himself to the role to the point where you can’t tell it’s him. Often times celebrities are hired to work in voice acting to sell their name and recognition. Here, the actor sells us on his range while retaining his mark.
The same exact idea applies to Andy Serkis. The man is the king of motion capture. His countless list of achievements led me to believe he showed us everything he had. Well, I was wrong. Not only does Serkis give us the best animal performance, but the best live-action rendition of the character — at least as alive as you can get with CGI.
We sadly don’t get any “bear necessities”. This Baloo doesn’t need any. Like a family member, he’ll help, protect, and, when the need is apparent, scold. He’s much rougher both in personality and in the eyes, yet you’ll easily find the trustworthy friend in him.
Now, notice I didn’t call Andy Serkis’ performance the best out of everyone in the movie. That honor goes to Mowgli himself, Rohan Chand. If you wanna compare this to the Disney version there is no doubt he’s the better of the two.
Chand pulls off some truly difficult scenes that require sensitive and impassioned work. This kid has a bright future ahead of him. As a viewer, you feel the distress he finds himself in during the most gloomy of circumstances.
Darkness, No Parents
Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle is a darker take on The Jungle Book that sets it apart from any version we have seen on the big screen thus far. Though others have called the film’s tone “excessive,” I disagree entirely.
The movie does dive deeper into detail when it comes to things such as the death of Mowgli’s parents. It’s also more eager to let us in on the tragedies without any sugarcoating. To call those qualities extreme and unfounded would not only feel untrue, but it would also deprive Mowgli of its essential trait.
I don’t believe this would’ve worked as well without some of its minimalistic edge. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have gotten some of the best scenes of the movie that added extra tension. Unfortunately, it might also be its only other area of expertise.
Legend of the Jungle doesn’t impress anywhere else. The plot really slows down as it gets from point A to point B. The running time starts to make its presence felt as the unextraordinary storytelling becomes noticeable.
That’s why I am thankful for the new, darker pieces of this story. If not for them we could have been in for a longer ride.
The Screenplay Doesn’t Have Much Depth
As mentioned earlier, there is nothing intriguing about the contents nor the style in which the story tells itself. There’s always something missing. An angle that would elevate the plot from simply being about the boy trying to find his way.
I would have appreciated an entirely different take, one that focuses on something on a grander scale. Staying true to the source material is important, but there are more possibilities here than repeating the already familiar beats. Just as I praised the refreshing tone, I would have loved seeing something alike applied to the plot.
If there’s anything excessive in Legend of the Jungle, it is its persistent message about how special Mowgli is. The constant reminders of his importance beat you over the head from the beginning until the end. In fact, a solid piece of the first half of the film goes out of its way to do everything in its power to let you know this idea. And when the movie ends, it pretends to deliver on the promises it tied itself to.
Sure, Mowgli is a key player, but not one for the reason the movie thinks. It’s using false equivalence to reaffirm its thesis statement, therefore the viewer is incorrectly led to believe everything comes full circle in the end. It’s as if the screenwriter lost track of her own story.
Noticeable Visual Effects
It’s ironic considering Andy Serkis is a director of a movie that fails to convince with its VFX. Surprisingly enough, the animals look as if they were from a video game. They stand out like a sore thumb, specifically when standing next to a human.
One factor that might’ve played a role was whether it was necessary to sacrifice realism to convey the animals’ feelings. In animated movies, it’s much easier because of the unrealistic visual style and proportions working to the character models’ benefits when displaying an array of emotions. But in replicating real images, it’s difficult to strike that balance.
Yet it wasn’t just the animals. Some of the environments, especially at the beginning of the movie were obvious greenscreen/bluescreen. All of this is pretty disappointing when the film was allegedly delayed for this exact reason.
Although, superior to its Disney live-action counterpart, the slightly darker and more mature story might not find the same amount of love. The definitive performances hold the film’s weight up, at the same time proving they were wasted on less-than-spectacular material. Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle lacks a direction and focus to what otherwise could have been a stellar new take on the familiar adventure.
Thank you for reading! What are you thoughts on Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle? Comment down below!
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