Friday, 14 December 2018

Mowgli: Legend Of The Jungle (2018) - Movie Review like its titular character, this latest iteration of the archetypal feral child finds itself stuck between two worlds. It finds director Andy Serkis back in his theoretical wheelhouse of CGI-boosted fantasy, but his abilities behind the camera show a marked step down from his previous outing. Not of lack of trying, as this film’s darker tone on the source material and the extrapolation of its nature vs. nurture themes definitely give it solid footing alongside the more recent Jungle Book adaptation, but the results of pretty much everything here is inconsistent.

For a start, the acting has a lot of talent behind it and even a few pleasant surprises like Christian Bale’s turn as Bagheera but parts of it still feel off. A lot of that blame rests on Benedict Cumberbatch as Shere Khan, who takes a step down from his recent trajectory as a voice actor by essentially recycling his Smaug delivery. After hearing his work in The Grinch, which has all but solidified his place as a genuine talent in this arena, this portrayal feels beneath what he’s shown himself to be capable of. The rest of the blame sits with Rohan Chand as Mowgli, who keeps feeling out-of-place in his character’s skin, making for a rather unfortunate first attempt at a leading role.

Then there’s the effects work, which features the kind of well-handled motion-capture one would expect from a film with Serkis attached to it, but it exists in this weird middle-ground where it both works and doesn’t work. The designs for the animals are quite good, even if Shere Khan has a little too much Tigress-from-Kung-Fu-Panda going on with his facial features, but the texture quality leaves a lot to be desired. It’s that weird effect where it looks good until you see it integrated with the live-action scenery and actors and it becomes apparent that the two worlds clash rather jarringly. Which is a shame since when it's on its own, particularly the hallucinogenic visuals afforded by Kaa, it can get quite stunning.

But all of that could be forgiven. As wonky as the production values can get, there’s enough good here to outweigh the bad. Where this goes from begrudgingly good to undeniably hindered is with the writing, courtesy of first-time scribe Callie Kloves, daughter of producer Steve Kloves. While I could cut out the middle man and just chalk this one up to misguided nepotism, that doesn’t quite explain how all-over-the-place this story turns out.

It taps into familiar territory for the story regarding Mowgli’s place as too human for the animals and too animal for the humans, but through all the musings about being stuck in-between two worlds that are in near-constant conflict with each other, there’s no clear through-line that ties everything together. Again, the darker tone allows that conflict to bear some interesting fruit, like the role of game hunters and the surrounding human culture on the jungle (considering how cows are considered sacred animals by both societies), but it lacks cohesion to make it stick.

After Breathe, I was genuinely anticipating Serkis’ next project, and to his credit, this does have enough of its own identity to stand out against pretty much any other adaptation of this story. However, it still lacks the consistency to truly stand out all on its own, resulting in a disappointingly mixed offering.

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