Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle, 2018.
Directed by Andy Serkis.
Starring Rohan Chand, Andy Serkis, Christian Bale, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett, Freida Pinto, Naomie Harris, Peter Mullan, Eddie Marsan, Matthew Rhys, Jack Reynor, Tom Hollander, and Louis Ashbourne Serkis.
A human child raised by wolves must face off against a menacing tiger named Shere Khan, as well as his own origins.
No one necessarily needed Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book, and although charming, it itself ultimately felt unnecessary, a momentarily distracting vague-retelling of a lesser-Disney flick.
So word of motion-capture mogul Andy Serkis taking on a similar retelling of the source material felt further perfunctory. How many more times are we going to be told of Mowgli’s inter-species relationships with a host of wild, lovable characters?
Turns out just the once. Serkis abandons the charm of Favreau’s or that of the Disney original and placates it for a genuine grimness. Mowgli is torn and cut by Shere Khan – motivated by a wild bloodlust, Baloo is disfigured and Bagheera is all melancholy, as if his inner-monologue plays out to Tom Waits and his most dire.
Serkis sets the tone early on, showing the mauling of Mowgli’s parents by Khan leaving the “man-cub” orphaned and alone in the jungle. He is rescued by Bagheera (Christian Bale), who brings him to a wolf pack lead by Akila (Peter Mullan) and Nisha (Naomi Harris). As he grows up, he finds comfort only in his friendship with Brother Wolf (Jack Reynor) whilst the rest of the pack reinforces his outsider status.
Shere Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch) on the other hand is playing the long game. Akila is growing old, and once leadership is passed on, Khan will finally have his chance to murder a child.
For what it’s worth, Serkis at least achieves in his goal of creating a darker reimagining of Rudyard Kipling’s source material. A sequence in which Mowgli finds himself kidnapped by a horde of monkeys and tortured by Khan is about as disturbing a sequence seen in a supposed “children’s” film in an age.
But for all the darkness, it’s often difficult to be immersed when the CGI is just so peculiar. The animals are all photo real, impressively so, except for their eyes, which step somewhere between the actors and those of their chosen animals. This results in strange cases of them being at once emotive and at once impossible to read. They look as if they’re wearing those cheap coloured contact lenses you buy in Camden Market.
Rohan Chand impresses as Mowgli. He’s believably feral, especially during his interactions with humans Matthew Rhys (always great) and Frieda Pinto (given practically nothing to actually do).
It’s all rather heavy-handed in its limp attempts to scream, “men are the real animals,” because no one has ever argued that when discussing deforestation and white imperialism.
For what it’s worth, it at least feels like something new. Serkis clearly had a vision and no one told him no. Mowgli has moments of the spectacular – a sequence of Mowgli running through the jungle with his wolf pack is exhilarating stuff – but for a film so proudly grim, it’s all rather limp.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★