I can imagine the pitch meeting for Beast went something like this: “we’re going to have Idris Elba fight a giant lion…”. Then the room got quiet as the studio execs at Universal went deep into thought. “That’s a brilliant idea”, and then they passed off the $36 million budget for the film.

Beast is deceptively simple in its execution but packs in a bit more than your average “man vs. nature” film. This time around, we get some layers from Elba’s (Dr. Nate Samuels) family in the film played by Leah Jeffries (Norah) and Iyana Halley (Meredith). They go to Africa as a family to try to repair some of the familial damage done by Nate after the girls’ mother passes away. Meeting them there, in the village where their mother grew up, is Martin Battles (played by Sharlto Copley). Outside of those four, some random poachers and a Park Reserve Ranger named Banji, the only other character in the movie is the massive Beast.

This simplifying and streamlining of the things you need to worry about during Beast aids it greatly. The script comes from Ryan Engle based on a story by Jaime Primak Sullivan. Baltasar Kormákur brings a special style of directing and excellent cinematography from Baltasar Breki and Philippe Rousselot. That cinematography and directing style that feels fluid and full of motion really lends itself to the tension and panic in the film. Like Elba’s character in the film, the camera is never jerky or panicked, but it’s constantly in motion.

The Man vs. Beast genre of thriller/horror hasn’t really been explored as much in recent years. Beast does it to excellent results, building a thrilling and tense actioner featuring one of the best leading men in Hollywood today.

The Detractors From Beast

(from left) Martin Battles (Sharlto Copley), Meredith Samuels (Iyana Halley), Dr. Nate Samuels (Idris Elba) and Norah Samuels (Leah Jeffries) in Beast, directed by Baltasar Kormákur.

Beast is by no means a perfect film. Even when it comes to turning on the suspension of disbelief in a movie, it goes a bit past that point a couple of times in the film. In particular, Sharlto Copley’s character Martin is an expert on lions and raised one of the main prides in the national park. Somehow, he commits multiple exceptionally dumb mistakes when it comes to the main lion, including going off on his own, trying to hunt down the lion by himself, and also wading into the water where he just saw crocodiles. He does get to redeem himself a bit, but his character pushes the boundaries of making bad decisions.

Complaining about CGI is like complaining about the weather at this point, it’s past a point of actually meaning anything, but the CG for the lions at the beginning of the film is a little suspect, especially compared to the CG on the actual Beast. When Martin goes up to the pride he raised, they do look exceptionally smooth and it takes a bit away from an impactful scene to show that some lions aren’t murderous killing machines.

Finally, the last little thing for Beast comes down to your perception of the film. It takes a far more grounded and “realistic” focus to how someone would deal with this Beast attacking people. It might be billed as Idris Elba vs. A giant Lion, but when it gets to that point and throughout the film, it never verges into that absurd action territory. The lion is still always the most fearsome and deadly. At no point do the humans get the best of it.

For me, that’s not really a detractor, because it adds an interesting wrinkle to the movie, but for some that were expecting an all-out balls-to-the-wall action flick might be disappointed.

Enjoy It For What It Is Though

Idris Elba as Dr. Nate Samuels in Beast, directed by Baltasar Kormákur.

Beast is an excellent time at the movies though. It doesn’t overstay its welcome when it comes to runtime. It doesn’t bog down in unnecessary “but humans are the real beast” kind of lecturing. It’s just man vs. beast in one of the most satisfying and inventive ends of a movie like this. If you want to see Idris Elba fight a giant lion, you won’t be disappointed. However, the familial dynamics between Nate and his kids do add a bit to the downtime between action scenes. There’s a narrative of a failed father who is trying one last ditch effort to rekindle his relationship with his kids, and it works for the film.

There are a couple of narrative choices that it looked like they would make from the trailer, that isn’t actually in the film. They could have gone with a subplot of them being kidnapped by the poachers, they didn’t. Anything that takes away from the spotlight on Nate and his family would have made the movie more diluted. In its finished form, it’s an hour and a half thrill ride that just entertains and gets out of the way.

The camerawork, tight script, and several absolutely badass moments with Idris Elba set Beast apart from the crowd. There’s plenty of tension, but that tension gets broken up with a couple of laughs, some tender moments, and of course, lion chases. Idris Elba is one of the best action leading men in Hollywood and most other actors might have looked silly in a film like this, but he makes it all work.

Beast releases in theaters on August 19th.

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