Movie Review: Alpha.
While visually pleasing, Alpha is a sentimental and implausible tale good only for the most ardent dog lover.
Based on early promotional material, I figured Alpha was going to be an unsophisticated sop to canine enthusiasts, and little else. Then reviews started coming in, praising the film’s visual elements. Despite not falling in love with Slow West, I was interested in the Alpha’s star, Kodi Smit-McPhee (X-Men Apocalypse.) Coupled with my avid enthusiasm for Caveman movies, I figured I’d give this film a shot. I would have been better served had I stayed home and played fetch with my dog.
Keda is the soft-hearted son of his tribe’s Chief. The big kahuna is tough and no-nonsense, and hopes Keda will grow up to be a strong leader. To that end, he takes the boy out to hunt …where things go horribly wrong. Keda is caught in a stampede, thrown from a cliff, and left for dead by his grieving father.
Keda survives and eventually pairs up with an injured wolf he dubs Alpha. The two survivors head out to find Keda’s clan before the brutal ice age winter sets in.
Something to Look At.
Alpha is one of those movies that hardly moves the needle in either direction. The visuals, aided heavily by CG, can be quite breathtaking…but they don’t matter much. They’re mostly sweeping vistas that don’t effect the story. It’s just window dressing. The CG animals are mostly realistic, but can look a bit goofy at times…especially the wolves, which is troubling in a wolf-focused film.
The rest of the film is of workmanlike quality. I tried to find any aspect to either love or hate:
…Actually, the story is not fine at all.
Keda – The Caveman Dog Whisperer!
The plot of Alpha is wildly implausible all the way around. The domestication of wolves is scientifically debated, along the lines of who what when where and how. So I’m not going to gripe about Keda befriending an injured wolf and domesticating it. I am going to gripe about the time-scale of the film’s premise being crazy bananas.
Over the course of what looks like a few weeks in-film time, Keda basically invents every modern dog trick imaginable. He learns they respond to whistles (despite never whistling before becoming the world’s first dog owner.) He discovers the game of fetch. He creates the dominant/alpha dog model of training. He learns to play tug of war. I’m surprised he didn’t get the pooch to roll over…though his lackluster hunting skills nearly taught it “play dead” repeatedly! The Westminster dog show he puts on is there as an emotional gimmick for dog lovers; it’s manipulative and transparent, even by this genre’s standards.
Keda – The Caveman Wolverine!
Similarly, Keda encounters and survives nearly every paleolithic peril imaginable, bouncing back each time fate has him dead to rights. He’s run over by a bison, tossed off a 5 story cliff, drowned repeatedly, attacked by every predator in the Pliocene, and spends days in Arctic temperatures without shelter. The kid is a freaking tank!
I barely believe he survives the initial attack. I don’t buy him splinting a broken ankle and being able to jog on it the same day. I completely don’t buy him lasting a frigid second in the winter, especially after he falls through the ice, loses his heavy fur cloak and gets soaked. It completely locks me out of any emotional engagement when it’s so completely unbelievable.
One Tall Tale.
Alpha, as a movie, is competently shot, paced and acted. Sadly, that’s not nearly enough to warrant spending your time and money on. When you tack on the absurd happenings in the story and the emotional manipulation, it becomes a product to actively avoid. I can’t think of an audience with expectations low enough to justify this film. There are much better prehistoric films out there that posit the origin stories of mankind’s greatest hits. This pastiche of implausible events makes Ringo Starr’s turn in Caveman seem like a historical documentary. At least that film knew it was being silly. At least it was fun as well.