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People love ‘Alpha’ and I’m not entirely sure why

August 24, 2018

As I sat restlessly in my seat counting down the minutes until the (cave) boy meets dog (ancestor) story “Alpha” was over, I became convinced of two things: the movie is a substance-free fluff piece that’s easy on the eyes, but rough on every other sense, and that the vast majority of people would agree with me.

 

And then it happened – the majority of my fellow critics ended up liking it (or at least not hating it enough to give a negative review), and audiences seem to be lock-step with them.

 

And, quite frankly, I don’t understand why.

Keda (Kodi Smit-McPhee) with Alpha in Columbia Pictures and Studio 8’s “Alpha.” (© 2018 CTMG, Inc. All Rights Reserved. **ALL IMAGES ARE PROPERTY OF SONY PICTURES ENTERTAINMENT INC. FOR PROMOTIONAL USE ONLY. SALE, DUPLICATION OR TRANSFER OF THIS MATERIAL IS STRICTLY PROHIBITED.)

“Alpha” is the story of Keda (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a prehistoric boy on the verge of manhood. In his unnamed tribe, the measure of a man comes with his ability to hunt and provide for the tribe. Keda sets out with his father/chief, Tau (Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson), and the other tribesmen to slay some bison. But that attempt goes horribly wrong, and Keda is separated from the tribe and left for dead.

 

Lost and hobbled, Keda sets out for home, but quickly realizes the road will be much more treacherous than he expected – he must brave the elements, avoid the wild animals, and forage for food and water to keep him alive on his journey.

 

He is befriended (eventually) by an injured wolf, and the two forge an unlikely bond. The ride or die duo works to stay alive in the face of insurmountable odds.

Keda (Kodi Smit-McPhee) with his father Tau (Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson) in Columbia Pictures and Studio 8’s “Alpha.” (© 2018 CTMG, Inc. All Rights Reserved. **ALL IMAGES ARE PROPERTY OF SONY PICTURES ENTERTAINMENT INC. FOR PROMOTIONAL USE ONLY. SALE, DUPLICATION OR TRANSFER OF THIS MATERIAL IS STRICTLY PROHIBITED.)

Promising, right? On paper it is, but rather than an actual human-animal bonding film, it’s just a subtitled kid (unless you speak the tribe’s made up language, you’ll need these) and a growling wolf licking their wounds and making faces at each other when it’s dinner time.

 

There were times during the first two acts that I actually considered leaving … it was simply too plodding and pointless to be fun. The final act – the one where boy and wolf start forming an actual connection and facing anything resembling danger together – is actually pretty decent, but by the time you get to that point, it’s far too late.

 

Smit-McPhee’s acting, considering he’s speaking a made up language and playing opposite an actual animal and many other of the CGI variety (saber tooth tigers, wooly mammoths, herds of bison, vultures, etc.), is acceptable. He’s just not given much to work with in terms of story.

Keda (Kodi Smit-McPhee) with Alpha in Columbia Pictures and Studio 8’s “Alpha.” (© 2018 CTMG, Inc. All Rights Reserved. **ALL IMAGES ARE PROPERTY OF SONY PICTURES ENTERTAINMENT INC. FOR PROMOTIONAL USE ONLY. SALE, DUPLICATION OR TRANSFER OF THIS MATERIAL IS STRICTLY PROHIBITED.)

 

About the only thing “Alpha” has going for it is its visuals and CGI. From the animals to the settings to the weather and everything in between – it’s more often than not a treat for the eyes.

 

The treats end there, however, and “Alpha” is just another vapid human-animal buddy pic that’s easy on the eyes and attempts to tug at heart strings rather than craft an actual story.

 

★ of ★★★★★

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