Let me start off by saying that I am a huge fan of Idris Elba, ever since the 2010 premier of the BBC smash hit Luther (if you haven’t seen it, stop reading this article and go binge it now). So I of course eagerly jumped on the trailer of Universal’s new creature feature, Beast, when it dropped. And I have to admit, I was less than impressed. But I thought, “You know what, it stars Idris Elba, how bad can it be?” Oh, how I wish I hadn’t asked that question.
The movie starts out promising. The audience is immersed in the South African tundra with sweeping cinematography mixed with black and white photos of all manner of wildlife and a musical soundtrack that jovially mixes traditional African music with modern beats. We are introduced to Elba’s Dr. Nate Samuels, a recently widowed father of two teenage girls, played by Iyanna Halley and Leah Jeffries. We quickly learn that Samuels and his deceased wife were having martial troubles before she succumbed to cancer, something that his oldest daughter, Mer (Halley) still resents him for. This trip to South Africa is a chance for the family to connect to their mother’s past, and hopefully heal the wounds of the present.
After taking a helicopter ride to the outskirts of the mother’s/wife’s old village, the three Americans (I point out that they’re American, because Elba, as a Brit, either made or was directed into a dialect choice that I felt didn’t quite fit the character) are met by longtime family friend Martin Battles (played by the always engaging Sharleto Copley), a nature conservationist and possible anti-poacher. (Aka someone who kills poachers.)
The chemistry between Elba and Copley was palpable and I only wish we’d had more of it. The audience was able to see a fun and humorous side of Copley that has been sorely missing since the The A-Team and the (unfortunate) box office bomb, Chappie. The discourse between the two teenage girls and their single father is what you would expect: a mix of anger, resentment, bickering and love.
Talking in circles
And that’s when things start to go wrong.
The talking. There is just so much bloody talking in the film.
While some authors, such as Shakespeare, are able to take the written word and morph it into works of art where you don’t feel as though you’re listening to characters pontificate for three hours, that is not the case here. The talking in Beast just becomes tedious.
It seems as though director Baltasar Kormakur and writers Ryan Engle and Jaime Primak Sullivan were afraid the audience wouldn’t understand the movie unless they explained everything. Or they were just afraid of silence. There was exposition for the sake of exposition and even worse, repetitive exposition. An event happens, a character comments on what just happened, then another character comments on what just happened, and then another character reminds those characters what just happened. Over and over and over again. With such amazing sound design and music, the writers and director would have been well served to just allow the audience to watch and listen without anyone talking.
And while I’m writing about talking, I have to give a huge shout out to the medical consultant on the film, because boy oh boy did the writers include everything that person must have told them. Again, so much unnecessary dialogue when the film would have been much better served by allowing the audience to see the actors in action without explaining everything they are doing. That being said, if I ever need to suture a femoral artery, I know what size needle to use.
What about the actual Beast itself?
Now I know what you’re thinking. We’re already this far into this review and I haven’t yet once mentioned the titular “beast.” What can I say? There’s a giant lion that’s pissed because poachers killed his entire pride. Now he’s getting revenge on humans, first by killing everyone in this small village, then by going after Samuels, his daughter, and Battles. A bunch of people die, some who should have died live, and then nature finds a way to take her revenge.
Oh, and if you’re confused at the end as to what happened, don’t worry, there is some great repetitive exposition that reminds you of a scene you saw earlier in the film (because you know, there was so much going on you might have forgotten in 93 minutes).
As a vegan and an animal rights activist, I have to say, this was an interesting way to try and educate audiences about the horrors of poaching. Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to cheer when I saw the lions rip apart the poachers, but at the end, I wonder if this type of messaging isn’t best left to National Geographic or PETA.
Since I always try to end on a positive note, I will say the highlight of the film was the lions. In a time when VFX artists are being overworked and often ridiculed (I’m looking at you Taika Waititi), the VFX team that created the lions in Beast did a stellar job. Mixed with the sound designers who gave the animals distinct and compelling sounds and personalities, it was easy to forget these beasts weren’t real.
The verdict? Even if you love a good creature feature, and as impressive as the CGI, sound design, and music were, they’re just not compelling enough to sit through 93 minutes of tedious yammering. Fingers crossed that next week’s Three Thousand Years of Longing restores my faith in all things Idris Elba.
Beast premieres in theaters August 19.