Andy Serkis has to be one of the most interesting people working in cinema right now. Serkis started off as a character actor that specialized in over-the-top roles. He mostly gained acclaimed for his television work, but it wasn’t until his trailblazing motion capture performance as Gollum in the The Lord of the Rings trilogy where he came to fame. Since then Serkis has been the preeminent motion capture performer in the business, and more recently Serkis has begun to work behind the camera. Serkis’ directorial debut was the mild biopic Breathe. Serkis’ latest movie, though, is something that you would think would be more up his alley, Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle. Mowgli is yet another adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, but what makes this one different from the other adaptations is it is a more faithful adaptation of Kipling’s work. This difference at least makes the movie standout from Jon Favreau’s recent live-action adaptation of the Disney version, but the movie itself struggles at times to find the right tone and the movie clearly needed a little more work in post production as the visual effects don’t really standout as much as they should.
Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle begins with a very familiar scene of Cate Blanchett (who plays a much more different version of Kaa the snake than you are used to seeing) narrating the table setting over images of jungles and forests. From there we are introduced to young Mowgli (played by Rohan Chand) and we see his upbringing by the Akela wolf pack. Most of this first half of the movie is fairly standard stuff. It’s entertaining, but you can’t help but feel like this movie isn’t getting the most out of Benedict Cumberbatch (who should have been a slam dunk choice as Shere Khan but rarely gets a moment to pop off the screen) or Christian Bale (who plays Bagheera and sees most of his use in the story given to Andy Serkis’ Baloo). Nor are the visual effects working as well as they should. The facial work on the animal creatures is astounding, but it seems like the visual effects artists patted themselves on the back after that and what we end up with is a bunch of faces surrounded in a sea of pixels.
Fortunately, the movie picks up steam once Mowgli finally caves in to the human side of his nature and journeys into the nearby village. Here with a lack of CGI, we get to see that Serkis does have a very interesting visual eye. We also get one of the more interesting characters of the movie in Matthew Rhys’ hunter. The hunter character is able to throw some interesting wrinkles into the typical Jungle Book storyline that adds some questions that you wouldn’t think you or Mowgli would be forced to answer in a movie like this. These sequences also set the stage for an ending that comes right from Kipling’s books, which is something we haven’t yet seen in a movie.
Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle is a bit of a mess that certainly needed some more time in post production but it does enough to separate itself from the numerous other adaptations of this work.