12th Dec2018

‘Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle’ Review (Netflix)

by Jak-Luke Sharp

Stars: Rohan Chand, Matthew Rhys, Freida Pinto, Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Benedict Cumberbatch, Naomie Harris, Andy Serkis, Peter Mullan, Jack Reynor, Eddie Marsan, Tom Hollander | Written by Callie Kloves | Directed by Andy Serkis

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Andy Serkis sophomore effort, Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle, arrives two years after Jon Favreau’s monumental critically and financially successful live-action reinvention of the much-beloweved Disney classic, Shot two years previously and focusing on a darker more adult-oriented material, expanding further upon the work of author Rudyard Kipling rather than the property from Disney, Mowgli has had a rocky road to the screens of millions. A rumoured troubled and heavily set back production forced Warner Bros to draft visionary director Alfonso Cuaron into the ranks to put the property on track. Plague of issues of the comparison to Favreau’s impressive and beloved film, only furthering the pressure on release and box office standards after the flops of Justice League and critically drubbing of numerous Warner Bros potential franchises. Ultimately led their hand in selling the property to distributors Netflix for worldwide release.

First things first, Serkis’ film doesn’t touch the height of Favreau’s epic. It isn’t even remotely close in comparison of both stylistic production and execution. The set piece of Serkis’ passion project is, of course, the motion capture the director has helped curate and birth in numerous properties from his roles of Gollum in The Lord of the Rings and Caesar in the newly rebooted Planet of the Apes series. Both franchises led by astonishingly beautiful special effects have driven to the growth and enormous success of live action motion capture and its acceptance in the canonical tale of cinema. Mowgli continues the evolution and growth of such a production method, further establishing it as the pinnacle and forefront of development and progression. To say it looks remarkable would be an understatement and mendacious to the extraordinary depth and quality of just how breathtaking such effects are on screen. However, one will need to see the pinnacle of special effects in the right environment. Motion blur aside, to really find oneself transported into Serkis’ story a 4K environment is a necessity for full absorption. If one can miraculously catch it on a cinema screen I envy you enormously, for such a majestic tale is begging to be showcased on the big screen, for which of course will be damaging to the overall appeal of Serkis’ epic.

The production design aside, Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle boasts an astonishing voice cast that doesn’t disappoint, with Rohan Chand as the titular character, Christian Bale as Bagheera, Benedict Cumberbatch as Shere Khan, Cate Blanchett as Kaa, Naomie Harris as Nisha and Serkis himself as Baloo. Rohan Chand has the biggest obstacle in his path with the envisioning of his environment that is far more practical and physically substantial than Disney’s counterpart. It allows Chand to really open up with his surroundings. Every touch of the jungles menacing green plant life, every dash of mud on his face and scratch on his body exhibits authenticism and believability, therefore creating engagement with the audience. With this physical engagement comes emotional connection, however, this is where Serkis film slightly falters in terms of breezy and inconsequential character depth. When Mowgli is endangered by Shere Khan the stakes are undeniably high in the wonderfully wicked and dark brooding atmosphere, yet when the film slows down and begins to open up with character acrs it fails to convey a substantial manner of endearing material. The screenplay and writing don’t serve up enough appealing or charming narratives or threads.

To Serkis’ promise and credit, the material is unquestionably darker than in the 2016 counterpart. Blood is spilt and tempestuous themes flare in an intense brooding fashion. One scene in Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle‘s third act is terrifying to behold with how dark and haunting in such evil it evokes. Yet, tonally Serkis finds just about the correct balance between thematic conventions of genre. One part nightmarish and haunting in a darkly foreboding tale, spliced with a glimmer of hopeful promise in its majestic floundering of character.

Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle is available on Netflix now.

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