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Anti-Lion King: 'Beast' Film Review

The majesty of the lion is overshadowed by man’s self-importance, making for an anemic actioner.
Idris Elba as Dr. Nate Samuels in Beast. Courtesy of Universal Pictures.

Idris Elba as Dr. Nate Samuels in Beast. Courtesy of Universal Pictures.

When Dr. Nate Samuels arrives in the African bush with his two daughters and his youngest one Norah notes there's no wifi, she says they're in a "way back" situation, meaning it’s like something from back in the day, old school. Beast, starring Idris Elba as Nate, is indeed a throwback type film. It recalls the man vs nature and nature run amok films of the 70s like The Food of the Gods, Day of the Animals, Empire of the Ants, and Sssssss. However, where this should have had a cinematic scope because of the landscape alone, it ends up playing out like a “way back” MOW (movie of the week), because of limited locations, cheesy dialogue, over-the-top, unbelievable situations, and an overly familiar storyline.

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We barely get to meet Dr. Samuels, his two daughters Norah (Leah Jeffries) and Meredith Samuels (Iyana Halley), and their longtime family friend, Martin Battles (Sharlto Copley) before they’re thrown into peril facing a deadly man-hating lion. Leah Jeffries and Iyana Halley are convincing as the frequently at-odd siblings who are trying to emotionally reconnect with their distant dad. However, not even their earnest performances can elevate the sometimes clichéd dialogue. Idris’s performance is dialed-in and uninspired.

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We only get a limited view of the African landscape because most of the action takes place at night and is restricted to a couple of locations. When Nate and his daughters are vulnerable and prey for the lion, the possible danger from other animals in the African outback is ignored, which removes a level of realism this film could have had.

The lion looks like Stephen King’s Cujo, scarred and foaming from the mouth. We don’t know how long the lion has been attacking and what set him off. The capacity to make the lion menacing is curtailed by the many times it’s made to look foolish. At one point, Nate hides in the water under a branch with the lion standing directly over it, yet it doesn’t smell him and attack.

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The overall message of the film seems to be that animals are tired of getting attacked and killed by men, so this one lion goes rogue. Poachers are the villains of the movie, besides the killing machine lion. While poachers are responsible for the decimation of wildlife populations, so are other factors like habitat loss, climate change, invasive species, and overexploitation, which includes trophy hunters. If the film was going to tackle such an important topic, it shouldn’t have taken such a myopic view. It can’t decide whether it wants to be a message film or a senseless action/adventure. The one touching aspect about the film is the backstory about Nate’s wife and her favorite African tree. That adds a bit of poignancy to the film.

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At one point Martin tells Nate he’s not designed to go one-on-one with a lion. What the end of the movie promotes is man being “king of the jungle,” not the lion. This is a mixed-message film that’s not fun or thought-provoking. If one enjoys seeing a villainized lion kicked in the face and punched, then this is the movie for you. Otherwise, The Lion King this is not. Even The Ghost and the Darkness showed respect to lions. In Beast, the majesty of the lion is overshadowed by man’s self-importance, making for an anemic actioner. 

Beast, a Universal Pictures release, exclusively hits theaters on August 19, 2022. 


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