Andy Serkis returns to the director’s chair with Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle, and this time he is working with his area of expertise: motion capture. Serkis is known for his fantastic performances in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy and the recent Planet of the Apes Trilogy. Awards shows have snubbed him for years and he is the reigning king of motion capture, so to see him direct and star in his own Jungle Book film sounded like a dream come true. Unfortunately, right before this film was scheduled to release in 2016, Jon Favreau’s masterful remake The Jungle Book was released, which derailed Serkis’ passion project. Fast forward two years later and now Mowgli has been released on Netflix, not getting the wide release that Serkis had originally planned.
Unfortunately for Serkis, it didn’t seem like he could keep all of the production delays from affecting the finished product. If anything, the product feels unfinished, for the CGI is nowhere near what I had hoped it would be. The film isn’t awful, it’s just inconsistent. There are some chase scenes with the animals that look absolutely magnificent, and are realized to their full potential. However, for as many great scenes included, there are just about as many mediocre and dull scenes. Serkis never makes it especially bad, but it never quite soars like I had wished it would going in.
One of the interesting parts about filming the Jungle Book with motion capture, is that the star-studded cast doesn’t only voice the cast, but they also embody them. If you think that the panther Bagheera or the evil tiger Shere Khan look familiar, that’s because they are played by Christian Bale and Benedict Cumberbatch respectively. This is perhaps one of the more impressive aspects of the film, and it’s exactly what I was expecting when I heard that Serkis would be helming it. Bagheera is a fully realized character in this film who stands out from a writing standpoint, and from an acting standpoint Cumberbatch as Shere Khan is the standout, mainly because of the look his character has. Khan is genuinely creepy-looking, which is bound to happen when Cumberbatch’s already weird-looking face is copy/pasted onto a Bengal tiger. However, I can’t help but compare this to Idris Elba’s portrayal in the Favreau version, and that version is still far better than anything this movie has to offer.
In fact, one of the largest flaws of this movie is the lack of likable characters. Most of Serkis’ creations aren’t awful; they are just disposable. Serkis’ portrayal of Baloo is a strange direction to take that character, which I appreciate, but it doesn’t really pay off in the long run. Other side characters, like the monkey kingdom, are hardly included at all. However, the worst character in the film is Mowgli himself. The title character is borderline annoying, and makes way too many irrational decisions for me to care about his fate. In fact, I found myself wishing that Shere Khan would just eat Mowgli, because that would have been far more interesting than what was actually going on.
The first two acts of Mowgli are competent and entertaining enough to watch, but the final act is where it falls apart. Bagheera, the most interesting character in the film, disappears by the third act, and the film focuses in on Mowgli, who, like I said earlier, is insufferable. Mowgli never does anything throughout the whole film to prove himself to be a good warrior or even anything more than a traitor of the clan. At the end he gets kind of lucky, and then the rest of the characters treat him like he’s some reincarnation of Jesus. The film feels incomplete from a visual standpoint, but it also feels like the writers gave up a little more than halfway through and just rushed the ending.
I love Andy Serkis, but Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle is a misstep. It is not a complete waste, for there are thrilling chase scenes here and there, and you can see some of what made the Planet of the Apes films so great in here, but the story-line does not sustain that talent. It is very difficult to not compare this to Favreau’s version, and when you do, it is easy to see that Favreau’s is better in every possible way. Serkis attempts to make a darker, grittier version of the Jungle Book story, but it feels exactly the same in tone as the last remake except with some blood inserted in to get the PG-13 rating. Honestly, the 2016 film hits some darker places than this one does and scared me far more, and that was a Disney film, for crying out loud..
Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle isn’t a terrible movie by any means; it’s just an ultimately forgettable one.
I give Mowgli:Legend of the Jungle a C-.